On Thursday, Foreign Policy senior editor David Bosco drew my attention to an article by Jan Techau of the Carnegie Endowment, which argues that the euro crisis has improved Europe’s foreign policy. “Financial chaos notwithstanding, Europe has hung together on Iran and been surprisingly coherent on the Arab spring,” Bosco explains. The continent, he continues, “has been struggling for decades to fashion a more coherent foreign policy.” But has the European Union actually “hung together” on the Arab spring? And will it actively enforce European Parliament decisions that could harm a financially unstable country like, I don’t know, Greece? Lastly, can it be more proactive than the United Nations?
So far, the European Parliament and the European Council have called for increased sanctions, recognized the SNC as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people, committed to documenting the atrocities, emphasized humanitarian aid, and passed a resolution asking all member states to recall their ambassadors and cut diplomatic ties with Syria. Member states’ responses, however, have not been so closely coordinated. France and Britain have closed their embassies in Syria, but it’s been a few weeks since that recommendation was made for the whole European Union. It’s not surprising that others probably won’t follow suit. The EU has always operated as a two-tiered organization, with France and Britain leading the top tier.
As the Economist pointed out last week , the EU’s sanctions-oriented approach “may soon reach its limits in terms both of people and transactions to ban and of interests among European states.”
“Slovenia has vetoed placing a Belarusian oligarch on the sanctions list, apparently to protect a firm with a juicy contract to build a housing and office complex in Minsk, complete with a new Kempinski hotel.
To impose oil sanctions against Iran took a promise to help debt-crippled Greece find an alternative source of oil (and soft finance). The Greeks blocked moves to ban imports of phosphates from Syria.”
The fact that Slovenia is backing a Belarusian oligarch is significantly indicative of the divide between Eastern Europe and Western Europe. I don’t care what other people say; the EU is not a union. Latvia also made sure that prominent bussinessman Yury Chizh was blocked from that list. Oligarchs are still the key players in Eastern Europe, and that’s no secret.
And then we have Greece. Moody’s lowered its credit rating again on Friday from a “C” to a “Ca”, and says that “’the risk of a default even after the debt exchange has been completed remains high.’” Greece needs those Syrian phosphates for fertilizer purposes, and the country can’t risk additional economic degeneration.
The EU’s commitment to being an observer is a good metaphor for how ineffective its foreign policy is in general. When the European Council (all EU leaders) met Friday, they came up with no new means to pressure Assad “apart from a plan to gather evidence against those responsible for atrocities.” I’m against intervening, and I’m also against arming the FSA, but the EU’s focus on human rights (which is not just a Syria thing) and inability to actually enforce resolutions on all member states reminds me of the UN, which hasn’t been able to pull itself together this time around because of Russia and China. European policy towards Syria is well-intentioned in terms of imposing sanctions, but the makeup of the EU preculdes the necessary conditions for such unilaterial actions. As usual, it’s misrepresenting this reality by pushing a fantastical unified front. I can’t say, of course, that I’m surprised.