Dude, Where's my Europe? Why is the EU the Last to Speak on Tunisia, Egypt and now Lybia?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland, British politicianBaroness Ashton (British politician) at her bestImage via Wikipedia
What is the EU doing on the international scene? Why does it always speak last, after the US and the UK, and France, and Germany and a score of other European countries?  Why is everyone commenting on the Tunisian, Egyptian and now Lybian revolution and the EU keeps mum or barely mutters? Why is Europe such a pigmy in foreign affairs?

What's the matter with Lady Ashton, the new European Foreign Affairs Minister? Why won't she speak up? Why doesn't she travel? She was supposed to go to post-Ben Ali Tunisia and everyone got there before she did, starting with the Americans. And post-Mubarak Egypt? Same thing. She's travelling there on February 22nd but that won't make her the first: Cameron got there before. He shook hands with the military leadership - Defense Minister Mohamed  Tantawi and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq - then met some of the organizers of the Tahrir Square protest but - and that was stupid - refused to meet anyone from the Muslim Brotherhood. Naturally the latter were of no interest to him: among other things, he happened to be in Egypt to promote British business interests, including the sales of weapons...

When will our politicians ever learn that DIALOGUE is the basis for international peace and understanding?

Repression is not the answer, as Lybia's Gaddafi is discovering these days. On 22 February, he gave a despicable performance on Lybian television, theatrically standing in a bombed out building, alongside a metal monument showing a gigantic hand crunching an American fighter plane. That building was bombed out by the Americans in 1986, and presumably he hasn't repaired it in order to turn it into some sort of testimonial against the West. Wearing a brown desert outfit and looking appropriately somber, he ranted and raved for a full 80 minutes, threatening his own people with death, brandishing about an unidentified green book (no, it wasn't his green book but some earlier Lybian code of laws calling for the death penalty) and invoking the example of Tienanmen. I'm not sure the Chinese appreciated... Moreover he had the gall to pretend he hadn't yet ordered anyone to shoot protesters but warned that he would - and to think that so far, since the turmoil started, at least 250 people have been killed and according to some reports, much more, up to a thousand. Here is a man with blood on his hands who is truly out of touch with reality!

At this point in time, nobody knows how it will turn out, whether Lybia will descend into civil war and he will be ousted, but surely strong condemnation from the international community is called for. Within hours of his speech, condemnation punctually arrived from the United Nations Security Council and from the Arab League. Lady Ashton spoke afterwards to the BBC  from Cairo but didn't add anything to the statement prepared for her the day before in Brussels by the 27 foreign affairs ministers of the EU.

Naturally the 27 ministers in question had a hard time agreeing on the wording of the condemnation: at one extreme, the Finnish wanted a strong-worded condemnation and sanctions (not surprising, given the distance to Lybia) while at the other extreme the Italian called for restraint (even less surprising considering the proximity of Lybia). Indeed, Italy has much at stake and much to worry about: huge Italian investments in Lybia and vice-versa, thousands of nationals trapped in Lybia, not to mention that 27 percent of its oil is exported to Italy, plus the possibility of an exodus of "biblical proportions" of Lybian refugees: Mr. Frattini, the Italian Foreign Affairs Minister, evoked the possibility of 2 to 300,000 Lybians arriving in Italy. Add to this mix the French embarrassment about its own Foreign Affairs Minister (mis)behaviour in Tunisia  - she had offered Ben Ali help to control the protest, travelled in the private plane of a Ben Ali friend during her year-end holiday while her parents were signing the purchase of a hotel in Tabarka, the famous Tunisian resort on the north coast. Result: a much delayed and weak statement. 

Poor Lady Ashton! Institutionally, she cannot speak before getting the green light from 27 European ministers. No wonder she is mum and doesn't travel!

I'm truly, totally pissed off. I've always believed in a United Europe, I've always felt that was the way forward to put behind us, once and for all, the wars and injustices that have lacerated Europe for the past 2000 years - and especially in the past century. We were supposed to have new, stronger European institutions with a newly created Foreign Affairs super-ministry and an EU President. It was all getting installed in 2010 and we were told to be patient, that the new super-partes institutions would take some time before becoming fully operational.

Okay, we've waited over a year. That should be about long enough to start having results. Instead, what have we got?

Nothing. The EU President -  Herman Van Rompuy, a Belgian politician and a clever economist and negotiator - is remarkably low key. Every six months, we hear a lot about the new country whose turn it is to preside over the Union (now it's Hungary) and never hear about him - though he tries hard to call for "EU summit" meetings...On the other hand, he's another one who hasn't hesitated to walk on Lady Ashton's territory: he's just set up his own foreign policy unit in his office.

That does seem rather unnecessary, doesn't it, when Lady Ashton is supposed to put together a 7,000 diplomat force together? And, by the way, why so many? And why didn't she start with the beginning, i.e. develop a policy framework, so she would be guided by general policy principles regarding all the likely areas of EU international relations: Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, Turkey, the Israel question, China, India, Japan, Brazil, not to mention the US etc? Really, those areas are well known in advance - no need to wait for a crisis to arise -, and consulting her 27 Foreign Affairs Ministers over the past 365 days (especially at a lower, technical level), she and her team should have been able  to discover common threads and space for her to move in.

Did she do this? I doubt it. I even suspect the worst: that our political leaders, Merkel and Sarkozy foremost among them, were more than happy to select a non-entity as the first European Foreign Affairs Minister. Probably the only dissenter was Berlusconi, given his liking for pretty women...But in the end, they could all agree on Lady Ashton since nobody likes to be overshadowed by someone brilliant, particularly not a politician...

I am really disappointed and very, very angry. What about you? Do let me know... 

PS. In case you were wondering about the title to this post, Michael Moore's fans will have recognized it: it's a take on his bestseller entitled Dude, where's my country?

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