Blog AnalysisEU diplomacy

The world is burning, Europe is bickering

Azraq camp on the Syria-Jordan border (credit: ECHO/Caroline Gluck)
Azraq camp on the Syria-Jordan border (credit: ECHO/Caroline Gluck)

(BRUXELLES2) What happened on Saturday at the Eurogroup is quite dramatic. Today everyone throws the blame on each other: M'sieur, it was he who started. No, ma'am, it's him... Europe looks a bit like a playground, where the general interest is something that is not widely shared, with one notable exception that should be underlined: Jean- Claude Juncker days his role as the last defender of a value, which seems almost old-fashioned, the European interest.

Breaking the dishes is not enough

Yes, indeed, Alexis Tsipras played a dirty trick on the negotiators, by provoking a referendum, in extremis. But did he have another choice? Did the proposed program have any chance of passing the ramp at the level of his party. And didn't it surely lead to the break-up of Syriza and its majority? Lost for lost, might as well play the big 8 then and provoke a referendum. To have believed, on the European side, that we could crush the Greek will with a single blow of the hammer is a bit authoritarian and inconsistent. To have believed, on the Greek side, that we could change the course of the negotiations just with semantics and a coup de force was just as illusory. In short, the dishes are broken, the couple is separated.

A damaged European credibility

But, in the end, what Europe shows above all is its impotence. Varoufakis may not be right when he says that this damages the democratic credibility of the Euro Zone. We can say that this undermines the credibility, period, of Europe. What credit will Europe have tomorrow when it travels the world to give lessons in the economic solidity of democracy? Or that it will advocate the virtues of negotiation and dialogue? Honestly it's going to be difficult. And I wish a lot of courage to European diplomats in the coming months in post in difficult countries. Because Greece, for being a "small" country, is known throughout the world, if only for its history, its shipowners, its shipowners. It is not Ireland or Estonia, or even Spain or Finland, no offense to these countries that play an important role.

The challenge of Greek instability: dangerous

Europe is playing a very dangerous game today. To bet on the overthrow of the Tsipras government, democratically or not, on the arrival of a new government in power, is to play with matches on a powder keg. Destabilize Greece a little more and risk having an unstable state, within the European Union, facing Libya adrift, not far from the Middle East, plagued by several major conflicts (Syria, Iraq. ..) and border of a Turkey, in the grip of its own difficulties, it is of a mad inconsistency! Yes, we will no doubt have to bend certain principles, certain dogmas, on both sides, if only to avoid reinforcing this instability.

Can Europe afford another crisis?

Ask the question. It is to answer it. For nearly six years now, Europe has been living withdrawn into itself, centered on its own crises, its malaise, its serious financial and economic problems. Meanwhile, the world keeps spinning. Admittedly, Europe has continued to take an interest in the outside world. But probably not with the attention it deserved. The crisis in Syria, Ukraine, Libya and subsequently the migration crisis were neither planned at all, politically speaking, nor started to be contained before becoming almost impossible to manage. The Heads of State and Government paid only very limited attention to it, in any case too limited in relation to the scale of the problems.

Several areas on fire

The conflict in Libya in 2011 opened a vacuum that Europe did not really want to fill. Today she finds herself with a black hole in front of her door. The ensuing conflict in Syria was seen in its destructive and refugee-exporting dynamic not only from a humanitarian perspective.

No significant debate on the Syria was held, apart from a policy of the toughest possible sanctions (but without an ounce of effectiveness on the ground). As for the war in Iraq, it went almost unnoticed by Europeans.

The triggering of a policy of association with theUkraine in particular has not been well reflected in its perception by Russia; the pro-Maidan euphoria quickly evaporated and Europe's initially proud refusal to negotiate as a three-party (Russia-Ukraine-Europe) very quickly vanished before the weight of reality. Only then was the issue taken up accordingly, with several summit meetings. Ukraine is moreover the only subject to have required a high-level European debate.

The rise of Boko Haram has not been properly perceived. The conflict in Yemen has been almost ignored. As for Eritrea, let's be honest, we don't give a damn, etc.

The only crisis that has managed to be contained is the one in Sahel-Mali, thanks on the one hand to the (rapid, decisive) French intervention and the complementary action then taken at European level. To this should be added the crisis in Somalia where the role played by Europeans before the 2010s is quite decisive (we can never say it enough!).

Some urgent "containment" measures

In the end, none of the conflicts that are today in the neighborhood can be imputed, directly or indirectly, to Europe. And it is not certain that decisive and informed action would have solved them all. But what is certain is that the Europeans have not devoted all their energy or resources to trying to prevent them, then to curb them and finally to extinguish them. Another conflict or another crisis may arise today; and Europe runs the risk of remaining sluggish and voiceless.

Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia...

The 28 must now do everything in their power to keep the countries of the region stable: Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, even Turkey and Algeria which, if they were to change over, would cause trouble. They should not consider the conflicts or crises in Eritrea, Sudan, Burundi, Nigeria as too far away, because these feed or may feed the migrations of today or tomorrow and instabilities in the countries neighbors.

The Libyan black hole

As for the Libyan situation, which is more dramatic than one would like to believe, it requires emergency measures. If tomorrow, Daesh and others manage to conquer a little more territory, to organize themselves, to set up a terrorist action force, by trapping or sending boats loaded with bombs, Europe will cry...

Europeans wake up!

The hour is serious today not only for Greece but for a certain European peace of mind. It is time for Europeans to feel this and take decisive, extraordinary, extraordinary measures. Because the current period is extraordinary and out of the ordinary. It is also time for the meetings of Heads of State and Government not to be confined to pleasant palavers on the economic future of the continent, which are certainly important, but cannot be enough, and take into consideration at each meeting at least one of the "big conflicts" that threaten Europe...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

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).