What is common in Cyprus, Hungary and Syria? They were all on the agenda of the recent 15 March 2013 EU summit, and they represent for the time being the three main waives of the multiple crises Europa faces nowadays. Cyprus and its bailout marks the new level of the economic/social crisis, Hungary provoked harsh critics by modifying its Constitution in a very controversial way, but we should not forget Syria which perfectly shows not only the complete failure of the lack of a common EU foreign policy, but also describes the weaknesses of the EU in the global politics.
Humanitarian, political and military catastrophe called ‘Syria’
The Arab Spring turned upside down the status quo in the Middle East. The fall of dictatorships in Egypt, Tunisia and Lybia gave us hope that the new wind of change of the XXIth century will touch upon Syria, as well.
It did not.
The regime of Bashar Al-Assad survived even the fall of Kadhafi. It is a shame to take note that the freedom fight has started already in March 2011 and although Syria is in the backdoor of the EU, the EU could not prevent the death of approximately 20,000 people since then. The Syrian state collapsed and open war is a daily reality. We must declare: neither the EU Foriegn Policy nor the EU Defence and Security Policy was able to resolve this problem. The EU shew a blind eye to the s.o.s. messages of Syrian refugees (such as those in front of EU aid Warehouse in Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan on the photo) Source of the Photo: © European Union – 2013 European Parliament audiovisual unit
The two pillars of the EU’s external actions: Common Foreign Policy and Common Security & Defense Policy
The Syrian situation is a good indicator of the weaknesses of the EU, as a global power. The failure is twofold, it concerns both pillars of the EU’s external actions.
1. EU foreign policy – does not exist at all
The EU has not entered into the phase of a political Union, yet. Nevertheless, only a full political Union (such as the United States) has a unique foreign policy. The current ‘common’ foreign policy is nothing else that a beauty-spot on the harmonisation of sovereign foreign policies of regional European powers such as the United Kingdom, France or Germany. My earlier question is still valid: Does Europe Really Need to Speak Always in One Voice and therefore to Have a Truly Common Foreign Policy?
2. EU military staff – limited capacities and lack of coordination
As the European Parliament TV recently reported, the EU has only limited military capacities but still huge ambitions. The EU Military Staff is more-or-less operational since 2003 but it is acting only when the NATO (with 21 EU Member States) is not willing to act. The EU has been involved in 30 military operations (including Afganisthan, Bosnia Hercegovina, Kosovo, Somalia and Iraq) in 19 countries and on 3 continents. However, although there are some capacities, the military forces of the EU regional powers have been used mainly without real and effective coordination (see the UK unilateral military action in Iraq in 2003, the German troops fighting in Afganisthan and against Somalian pirates or the most recent French invasion in Mali). This latter case proved that the EU is only a ‘soft world power’. France cooked and the EU washed the dishes: after France won the war, an EU team had been building capacity of the Malian army.
Although there are other considerable atteimpts to make the EU’s military actions more effective (ex. the idea of Visegrág countries to form joint military force) there is no real solution at EU level, yet.
The test-case of Syria after the 15 March 2013 EU Summit
On the previous meeting of the EU foreign ministers Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s envoy to Syria expressed its concerns that the situation in Syria may became “similar or worse in Somalia”. On the EU Summit, each European powers behaviored in their usual ways: France and UK (as ‘hawks’) pushed for the lift up of the Embargo. French President Francois Hollande went even further and he gave a deadline for shifting arms embargo by mid May 2013. Laurent Fabius French foreign minister argumented that EU should end its arms embargo very soon because imbalance in weaponry between the Syrian regime and rebels was leading “to the slaughter of the population”. However, Germany followed a more prudent way (as a ‘pigeon’) and it is against any kind of intervention as it did during the Lybia war.
Other factors preventing the EU from any actions: Iran, Turkey and Russia
Although the fall of the Assad regime is only a question of time, and every single day may costs valuable lives, there are other factors which prevent the EU from an affective action.
As during his recent visit in Europe, nuclear programme Israeli President Shimon Peres highlighted the risks resulting from the behaviour of Iran which he considered as the greatest danger to the international peace. Iran is in the middle of serious international conflicts and it is supporting the current Syrian regime.
Russia is another powerful ally of Bashar Al-Assad since it successfully blocked any kind of action in the UN Security Council so far. Moreover, Russia is closely involved in the ongoing negotiations about a Cyprus bail-out programme which makes the situation even more complicated.
Finally, the EU has to count with Turkey which is a neighbouring country to Syria. Turkey is involved in many ways in that conflict but particularly because of the Kurdish minorities Turkey has 2 millions. Turkey is also involved in the extension policy of the EU and as I recently underlined, it can play a key-role in the future of Europe (Amoeba integration).
Conclusion – in the middle of the crisis: the EU is not able to act and it sends the wrong message
And what is the main message the EU was able to provide the Syrian refugees with? They decided to make a proclamation that Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representatives leaves her office at the end of the expiry of her mandate. In a time when the Syrian crisis needs urgent and effective responses, Syrian people would need strong messages and support not such kind of defensive communication.
Thus, In the light of the above mentioned circumstances, I am really afraid that due to the existing weaknesses of the EU and the complexity of the situation, the civil war will still prevail for a while…
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I remain at your disposal.Zoltán Massay-Kosubek