The Middle East and Libya are currently facing some rather dramatic moments that are conditioned by foreign powers, mainly the United States and Russia, but also other powerful regional players such as Iran, Turkey, the UAE and Egypt. Unfortunately, the European Union is in the group. Once again, the EU has not managed to play the role it should have in such important regions.
Why? EU member states cannot agree on one approach in order to design and apply their own narrowly national policy. This demonstrates the urgent need for EU to forge a common foreign policy.
But there is another, deeper reason. It’s the fact that the EU has abandoned their goal of integration. The safeguard of strictly conceived “national interests” divide the EU and harm its image.
In fact, during the last couple of years, the EU has faced a wide range of challenges and struggled through crisis. The annexation of Crimea, the occupation of Eastern Ukraine by Russian-backed rebels and the Kremlin-orchestrated cyberattack of European elections. These events tested seriously the European capacity of reaction to threats against its interests.
The safeguard of strictly conceived “national interests” divide the EU and harm its image
Some EU member states felt closer to Kremlin than Brussels. This openly undermined the EU policy of sanctions against Russia.
Similarly, a large number of EU member states have been mesmerised by the economic power of China and refuse to follow a common European policy that would protect the bloc from an economic invasion with questionable long-term benefits.
The refugee and migration crisis exposed not only the lack of solidarity among EU member states but also the total absence of the EU fundamental values from some governments. The racist approach advanced by Hungary and Italy (during the coalition government between the far-right and the populists) – to mention just two cases – damaged seriously the EU’s capacity to defend the human rights and the rule of law around the world.
Concerning respect of the rule of law, the EU did not avoid many instances violating judicial independence and media freedom, of incurable corruption including the looting of EU’s money and large-scale social exclusion. Was the EU able to require member states to follow EU principles or to apply the appropriate measures against the transgressors? No!
In the case of the Iraq and Syrian crisis, the EU experienced an unprecedented refuge wave. Unfortunately, the EU did not have a prime level role leaving the decisions to Russia, the US, Turkey, Iran and Syria.
Recently the continuing civil war in Libya once again proved there is a deep gap between the EU policy decided in Brussels and defended by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and the policy every single member state considers best to advance its national interests.
It is without a doubt that the war in Libya is another case of proxy war in the neighbourhood. The government of Libya is supported by Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood while the rebels by Egypt, the Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Salafist milieu.
However, the government of Fayez al-Sarraj is recognised by both the UN and the EU. This means if we still believe in the Union, the EU member states should follow a common policy that would support the legitimate government and would condemn the rebels.
This is not the case. We experienced a disorderly situation in which Brussels recognised the government of Tripoli even though some EU member states officially followed the common line and supported the rebels.
Without the goal of integration, the goal of a politically united Europe, the EU is deprived of the moral and political legitimation to impose its presence and defend its interests
Why did this happen? One reason is that narrowly understood national interests are in competition with those of the EU. For instance, France, Italy and Greece have their own agenda and their own alliances in the region that impose practices distant from the common policy.
The fact is that without the goal of integration, the goal of a politically united Europe, the EU is deprived of the moral and political legitimation to impose its presence and defend its interests.
Without a doubt, the EU – with its huge market of half a million citizens – is a considerable power. Its political system based on specific values – at least in the majority of member states – provides the Union with a set of unique characteristics. However, it is just an economic power and not a political one.
As for national governments, they will unilaterally decide for their internal and foreign policy, contract alliances disdaining the common interest which is in the interest of the EU, as an idea, structure and institution. This will be permanently undermined. Taking into consideration that there are many and a wide range of challenges, threats and dangers we face, weakening the EU means carving out a rather gloomy future for its states and citizens.