EU-Middle East: Europe flees from “Arab Winter”
19 September 2012
The anti-Western demonstrations in Arab countries and the turn the "Arab Spring" is taking in several countries are shouting out a challenge to Europe. But Europe, looking inward to its economic and institutional crisis, prefers to shirk its responsibilities in the Mediterranean and to rely on the – helpless – United States.
Europe is living through a strange and insidious era, according to the Greek writer Petros Markaris: the only ones who are speaking of the crises rocking the continent are the economists and central bankers.
The upshot is that it’s the single currency that is becoming the essence of the Union – not an instrument, but its raison d'être, its sole purpose. The unity of the EU, Markaris writes, has been supplanted by the unity of the eurozone. Today we live in a Europe where only politicians and economists have the floor. “This is why the debate is so superficial, like most of Europe’s leaders, and one-dimensional, like the traditional discourse of economists.” Lacking a worldview, Europe has interests but no passions, and can be divided only into noble creditors and plebeian debtors. “We are headed,” he says, “towards a European civil war mentality.”
Like a sudden shot in the silence, a new earthquake is rumbling across the Muslim countries in the form of a broad offensive by Islamic fundamentalism against the West and its execrable videos: the violence is intensifying in the Mediterranean, and Europe, wholly occupied by its domestic affairs, is suddenly grasping that outside its doorstep bombs are raining down.
Satisfied, after the Arab Spring she dozed off, and is now waking to winter. The liberations, she had imagined, meant freedom – only to discover that revolutions are always preceded by fundamentalist sparks before they produce stable institutions and constitutions. Like Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the protesters cried out at us: “You taught me language; and my profit on't is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you, for learning me your language!”
Europe could say and do something if it gave up leaving the United States to do its own work for it. Not just in Afghanistan, where many Europeans are caught up in a lost war, and not just in Iran, but in and around our Mediterranean. It is Europe that the fugitives from North Africa are fleeing to – those that don’t die at sea at such a rate that one cannot help suspecting wilful negligence on our part.
A community with neither ideas nor resources
If it had its own foreign policy, Europe, capable of doing what faraway America cannot, could act: it could dominate events, set new priorities, and identify opportunities based on organised cooperation and not just on hawkish words and deeds.
Discussing a European Federation is no longer taboo. In talking about it, though, we only talk about the currency or make vague claims that a federation will make us “masters of our destiny.” Yet what policy – beyond internal order – do we want Europe to pursue? What vision of the world, of the relationship between the West and Islam, of Iran, of Israel and Palestine, the conflict between religions and within religions, does Europe hew to?
The Arab winter has revealed us for what we are: a community with neither ideas nor resources, and lacking a common government to tackle the global crisis. This explains our silence, or the inane babble of European representatives. It’s difficult to say what Catherine Ashton, draped in the pompous title of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union, is there for.
Nobody knows what the twenty-seven foreign ministers are thinking, those hybrid creatures of a Union made up of states that are no longer sovereign but not yet federal. As for the peoples of Europe, they are in charge of practically nothing: neither the economy nor the Mediterranean and not the wars either, which are never called into question by the European Union.
Europe remains a secular reference point
Given its history, a history of democracies and states restored thanks to the union of their forces after centuries of religious and ideological wars, Europe has the proper intellectual and political tools to become an ally of the Arab Spring, which is hanging in the balance, and of those countries that are struggling to merge the indisputable authority of the state with democracy.
For all those in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia who are watching democracy be taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood and threatened by Salafist fundamentalists, Europe remains a secular reference point.
The path chosen by Jean Monnet following the Second World War consisted in reconciling the interests and the passions. That was why he chose to organise the pooling of resources (coal and steel) that had been bones of contention between Germany and France. Between Europe and the countries on the south shore of the Mediterranean, a similar path could be mapped out through a community based not on coal and steel, but on energy (or, in the future, on water).
In October 2011 a similar plan was proposed by two economists inspired by a federal vision of Europe, Alfonso Iozzo and Antonio Mosconi. The fear is that Washington will prove unable to guarantee stability and democracy in the Mediterranean and the Middle East – hence the urgency of a Euro-Mediterranean Energy Community based on energy, often potential energy, that is difficult to exploit without financial aid and technology from Europe.
Democracies have backed fundamentalists
Merely a community of interests, we might say. That was also said about the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). In reality, the political ambition is strong: to replace the hegemonic model with a joint model and request its associates to make clear democratic commitments, overseen by a joint parliamentary assembly.
To replace or beef up the power of the United States in the Mediterranean would mean admitting that the current model isn’t working: democracy, it was believed, could be exported through wars – instead, failed states were created and authoritarian states strengthened.
For years democracies, including Israel, have backed fundamentalists – the Taliban against the USSR and Hamas against the PLO – and deliberately overlooked a major source of the crisis today: Saudi Arabia, which is funding the Salafist parties that are threatening the fledgling Arab democracies.
It is up to Europe to give hope to the countries of the Mediterranean and defend their democracies. If the Union does get a government, it will have the euro and a foreign policy. It is only then that the shot we hear in Arab countries will stir, as in the poem by Eugenio Montale, a Europe whose heart “holds all movement to be vile, that rarely shakes and quivers.”