EU Forum


The reality has taken over europe's realpolitiek

10 Mar 2011 - 15:53


The wind of the jasmine revolution that started in Tunisia brought down an iron curtain in the Arab world. Blowing on midan al-Tahrir in Cairo, new protests in Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen and Jordan are going on.

The Guide of 1969 Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Qaddafi, is today jeopardized. The Jamahiriya was supposed to give power to the 'masses'. But 41 years later the 'masses' have decided that it was enough. Seven days ago, the city of Tobrouk fell in the hands of the opposition. Hour after hour new cities and villages are siding with the opposition. Egyptians and Tunisians workers are fleeing back to their home countries, concerned for their safety and the violence of African mercenaries. Obama denounced the ongoing repression, calling for the world to speak with one voice. Although Paris and Berlin have called for EU sanctions, it seems though that the EU is not yet able to speak with a single voice amongst themselves, let alone with the rest of the world.

The EU has been a bewildered and embarrassed spectator watching passively as history is unfolding at its doorstep. Apart from suspending the negotiations on the EU-Libya Framework Agreement, the Foreign Affairs Council could not agree on a common position. Discussions on possible EU sanctions have instead focused on the concerns of southern EU member states to see more migrants arriving on their shores. In view of the violence in Libya, however, the EU indecisiveness on a swift and collective answer is a cause for dismay, recalling the hiccups of EU foreign policy during the fall of ex-Yugoslavia.

The recent Arab revolts have unveiled the Achilles' heel of EU policies towards the region. The realpolitiek of the EU and its member states was to favour 'stable' governments, economic deals and controlled migration over democratic principles. This exercise of realpolitiek where the EU 'normative principles' were weakened is perhaps best illustrated by its relations with Libya. After his comeback within the international community, Western chancelleries rolled out the red carpet for Qaddafi on several occasions. As a pay-back for the release of the Bulgarian nurses, the Colonel planted his tent in the Elysée gardens. Italian businessmen paid court to the Libyan authorities for their oil and gas resources.

Concerned by its own internal security, the EU and its member states colluded with Qaddafi in order to stop migrants coming to Europe. Such agreements were quite convenient for Italian authorities, in particular to ship intercepted migrants back to Libyan territorial waters, breaching the principle of non-refoulement that forbids states to send back refugees in countries where their lives or rights are threatened. Border technologies and military equipment were promised to Libya in exchange for preventing migrants to come to Europe. Also, since the lift of the EU embargo on arms export, Europeans have rushed to Tripoli. France was until recently expecting to sell Rafale aircrafts to Libya. Such policies had an adverse effect, allowing Qaddafi to hold Europe to ransom with the specter of a 'black continent'.

The support for stability in the region through authoritarian regimes is boomeranging back. The EU is likely to still be confronted with increasing numbers of migrants fleeing conflict situations and looking for jobs and a better life. The coming months will also bring surprises as to who will be EU's future interlocutors on the other side of the Mediterranean. The EU should look beyond the narrowness of its own internal security and realize that its true security goes through a tough position vis-à-vis its old Libyan friend.

Beyond Libya, European chancelleries should revise its policy towards the region. Transition processes will not be done overnight. Highly educated young people are in desperate need of a better life which means also jobs. Economies in the region need to undergo structural reforms, which means also free trade with their European counterparts and amongst countries in the region themselves. The 17 million Euros promised by Lady Ashton to Tunisia and 1billion Euros to Egypt seem however to be little to match the expectation of a "Marshall Plan" for the Mediterranean as announced by Italian foreign minister Mr Frattini.

Today there is no time left and decisions on Libya have to be made. The EU is in confronted with the dilemma of normativity and realpolitiek like during the fall of ex-Yugoslavia. In the case of Libya the reality has taken over the realpolitiek. It is probably time to rethink the type of international actor the EU wants to play in a remodeled Mediterranean region.