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Cathy Ashton revisits Lisbon and abandons the CSDP in open country

Credit: European Commission / EBS

Coming before journalists today (Friday March 18), for a short press briefing, the High Representative, Cathy Ashton, wanted above all to justify her action and her good understanding with Nicolas Sarkozy... We were delighted to learn thus that she was leaving Brussels to go to Paris this evening (a candlelit dinner at La Lanterne perhaps! although that would surprise me…). More seriously, the High Representative has clearly stated what appears to be her line of conduct in the Libyan crisis, and beyond: the EU must act in an economic and humanitarian manner; and it is up to NATO to play the military role.

In the EU, humanitarian and economic

Commenting on the action of the European Union and her own role, she gave herself some self-satisfaction. “We can be satisfied” she explained. We have taken "very harsh penalties“against the Libyan regime, we provided a political response – “look at the conclusions of the Summit, the positions of the Member States, and what we arrive at at the level of the European Union” you will see the difference. We provided significant and rapid humanitarian action. And, for the future, it is around these notions that we must work. “What we can do is strengthen economic sanctions and step up humanitarian support for the Libyan people“. The COPS ambassadors – gathered in a restricted format (ambassadors + 1), are currently finishing a meeting dedicated to this subject.

In NATO, military action

Regarding military action, she was very clear. “There are different actors playing different roles. NATO's role is clear. Ours too. (Our action) is to provide humanitarian support, with military means. (And) it’s important to do it well.” The military participation of the European Union is “very very small” because the EU military organization is “tiny“, compared to a more general role of a military organization, she added. The role of the EU “is to coordinate the means of the Member States, focusing particularly on the humanitarian problems we have to face”. And to add the direction she wishes to take in the future. “we need to improve the crisis planning of the diplomatic service, to do better and even better”.

NB: we thus understand better why the High Representative did not give any political impetus to the various military options presented to her, did not really ask the Military Staff or the EU military committee to work or to explore certain questions in greater depth.

Comment: a breach of duty?

We are here in a rereading of the role of the EU which corresponds neither to the text nor to the spirit of the Lisbon Treaty. Even if it is still very fragmented, Defense Europe has certain tools which could have been used during the Libyan crisis and were thus left fallow. We now know that this is not by chance but deliberately. Distributing the roles in a fixed way between the two organizations – in the EU the economic and humanitarian ones and in NATO the military action – is also an erroneous vision, in legal, political and historical terms. And, by increasing the confusion between humanitarian and military, without specifying safeguards and modalities, we are venturing onto more than dangerous and slippery terrain. This, in my opinion, represents a serious failure in the role of the High Representative, especially since this decision does not generate a consensus among the Member States.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).