Blog AnalysisCFSP strategy

Europeans must parry the pairs of slaps

(B2) European states took a collective slap in the face in 2019 internationally. In 2020, they will have to react and anticipate more if they want to continue to display an international ambition

(credit: MOD Austria)

In 2019, European countries successively and collectively took some serious slaps in three crisis areas on their southern periphery: Iran, Syria, Libya. Countries that are rather middle powers, but each harbor internal wealth and fundamental challenges in terms of stability, terrorism or migration for Europeans. Countries where Europe is struggling to make its mark where the USA, Russia and Turkey are taking the initiative.

A strategic erasure in Syria

On the ground in Syria, Turkey's coup, supported on one side by the United States and on the other by Russia, is leading to a reshuffling of the cards. It reinforces the Assad regime, makes the Astana trio (Russia-Turkey-Iran) essential on the international scene, which asserts itself as the essential 'godfather' of a peace solution in the Middle East. It represents everything the Europeans fought against: the security zone, the Assad regime, the weight of Russia, the Iranian influence in the region, etc. This is not a simple tactical defeat, we are falling into a strategic erasure. The cause is not only European, but they did not want and did not know how to play a role in the crisis.

A lack of effect on the Iranian file

In Tehran, the regime's hardening of the Iranian nuclear issue has torpedoed the last European hopes of keeping this agreement. Europeans caught between the rock (of US sanctions) and the anvil (of Tehran's gradual disengagement from the deal) are doing everything they can to preserve the deal. But they did not manage to move up a gear which would have required, to preserve the agreement in the long term, to oppose the Americans head-on. It was not possible economically and politically. The measures taken, such as the trading company Instex, are interesting but too slow and measured to be able to reverse the trend of Iran's divestment from the nuclear agreement painfully signed in 2015.

A stalemate in Libya

In Libya, the conflict around Tripoli not only persists, but it is taking an increasingly international turn. Efforts to bring about a political compromise are fading. Here again (as in Syria), the Europeans arrived divided on the issue. It is no secret that the French (and British) on the one hand, the Italians (and Germans) on the other did not have quite the same views on the future of the government in Libya. They have not been able to acquire sufficient leverage to weigh decisively in the conflict by deliberately siding with the government of Fayez al-Sarraj, while supporting the opposition in a partial and indirect way. 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 engage

This series of bad news should give cause for serious reflection.

A congenital weakness

It demonstrates a fact that several observers have already highlighted, but that politicians are struggling to incorporate into their thinking: none of the European countries really weighs on the world stage anymore, especially when they face a line of strength. This is an obvious fact which is materialized today on all the files. It is useless, here, to accuse European diplomacy of being impotent or to point the finger at this or that country accused of dragging its feet. Even with regard to middle powers like Turkey or Iran, Europe is no longer able to drive a new deal. At best, it can slow down or curb certain effects.

Clear European assets

Farewell to excessive pessimism. The Europeans have many advantages up their sleeve: being a soft power, having a certain economic strength, being a democratic alternative to the overpowering American or authoritarian Russian model and representing a diversity of points of view and a range of means of intervention. It is still necessary to want to play this role frankly, to take risks and not to be satisfied with a few declamatory remarks or to shelter behind a policy of sanctions which looks more like a screen for inaction than a real effect (read: EU Sanctions on Syria: Barely a Cautery on a Bloody Conflict).

Take back the initiative

If the new European Commission wants to be geopolitics as Ursula von der Leyen asserts, to be a more powerful voice in global affairs ” as the new President of the European Council, Charles Michel, serine, or to be “ influences as the Croatian EU presidency proclaims, it must tackle these neighborhood issues head-on and regain the initiative, make proposals, independently, and not hide behind a role of supporting the EU. 'UN or a role of virtuous leader of the 'green deal' class.

A high-level initiative

The situation is today 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 High Representative of the EU) to Libya on January 7 is an interesting first step. It is still necessary that the Europeans do not repeat past errors, such as taking sides on one side or only meeting officially with certain players in the conflict, or remaining in the middle of the ford, without taking any initiative. To use the words of the head of European diplomacy, the equation is simple: either Europe reacts collectively with an EU policy ", is " we resign ourselves to being the playground of others " (read : The eight concerns of Josep Borrell, the new head of European diplomacy).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also: Threats: a sword of Damocles over the heads of Europeans (November 2018)

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).