(B2) European States have taken, collectively, some beautiful slaps in 2019 on the international level. In 2020, they will have to react and anticipate more if they want to continue to display an international ambition
In 2019, European countries successively and collectively took some serious slaps in three crisis zones around their southern periphery: Iran, Syria, Libya. Countries which are rather medium powers, but each conceal internal wealth and fundamental challenges in terms of stability, terrorism or migration for Europeans. Countries where Europe is struggling to print its mark where the USA, Russia and Turkey take the initiative.
A strategic retreat in Syria
On the ground in Syria, the Turkish coup supported on the one hand by the United States, on the other by Russia, results in reshuffling the cards. It consolidates the Assad regime, makes the Astana trio (Russia-Turkey-Iran) essential on the international scene, which asserts itself as the indispensable ‘sponsor’ of a peace solution in the Middle East. It represents everything that the Europeans fought: the security zone, the Assad regime, the weight of Russia, Iranian influence in the region, etc. This is not a simple tactical defeat, we are pouring into a strategic effacement. The cause is not only European, but they did not want and could not play a role in the crisis.
Lack of effect on Iranian record
Bogged down in libya
In Libya, the conflict around Tripoli not only continues, but it is taking an increasingly international turn. The efforts to bring about a political compromise are fading away. Again (as in Syria), the Europeans arrived divided on the matter. It is no secret that French (and British) on the one hand, Italians (and Germans) on the other did not have quite the same views on the future of government in Libya. They have not been able to acquire sufficient levers to weigh a decisive weight in the conflict by lining up on one side deliberately alongside the government of Fayez al-Sarraj, while supporting in a partial and diverted opposition General Haftar’s army. Russia and Turkey have rushed into the breach to continue their struggle for influence alongside other regional (Egypt) and Arab (Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Qatar) players.
A reflection to initiate
This series of bad news should prompt to think seriously.
It shows a fact that several observers have already highlighted, but which politicians are struggling to insert into their thinking: none of the European countries really weighs on the world stage, especially when they face a line of force. It is obvious that is taking shape today on all issues. It is useless here to accuse European diplomacy of being powerless or of pointing the finger at this or that country accused of dragging its feet. Even with regard to medium powers like Turkey or Iran, Europe can no longer drive a new deal. At best, it can slow down or slow down certain effects.
Clear European assets
Too much pessimism. Europeans keep many assets up their sleeve: being a gentle power, having a certain economic strength, being a democratic alternative to the overpowered American or authoritarian Russian model and representing a diversity of points of view and a range of means of intervention. You still have to want to play this role frankly, take risks and not be content with a few declamatory remarks or take shelter behind a policy of sanctions that looks more like a screen for inaction than a real effect (read : Les sanctions de l’UE contre la Syrie : à peine un cautère sur un conflit sanglant).
Take back the initiative
A high-level initiative
The situation is now so critical in these three areas, particularly in Libya, that it would justify a special meeting of the European Council. The visit of a European quintet (the German, French, Italian and British ministers with the EU High Representative) to Libya on January 7 is an interesting first step. However, Europeans must not repeat past mistakes, such as taking sides or officially meeting only certain players in the conflict, or staying in the ford without taking any initiative. In the words of the head of European diplomacy, the equation is simple: either Europe “reacts collectively with an EU policy”, or “we resign ourselves to being the playground of others” (read : Les huit préoccupations de Josep Borrell, le nouveau chef de la diplomatie européenne).
Read as well : Menaces : une épée de Damoclès au-dessus de la tête des Européens (november 2018)