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03/12/2016

Top foreign policy official defends EU response to Arab Spring

Global Europe

Top foreign policy official defends EU response to Arab Spring

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Despite lacking a power broker capability, Europe should be proud of its diplomatic achievements in response to the Arab Spring, European External Action Service Secretary General Pierre Vimont told EurActiv in an interview.

“Each situation has to be looked at on its own, and in each case, we have tried to do whatever we can,” Vimont said.

“It is frustrating from time to time when people argue that Europe is absent in Egypt,” the EEAS secretary general continued. “Egypt is the perfect example where Europe is in fact clearly involved. But we are involved elsewhere too. Take Tunisia, for example, where we have been discussing the present political deadlock with every stakeholder.”

The EU has been criticised in the past for its weak response to the revolutions sweeping the Arab world, as well as for its difficulties in asserting itself against international conflicts.

“We are trying to be as active as we can,” Vimont said.

Playing its part on Syria

Vimont added that Europe was doing all it could over the ongoing conflict in Syria. “The EU is playing its part […] and has responded to each of the UN’s calls for aid. I’m not saying that our actions are going to solve the crisis – that is certainly not the case.

“Syria is an example in which the whole international community failed – at first. The US put pressure on Syria [which] was a good thing. Europe wasn’t there for this initiative but we’ve been as helpful as possible ever since.”

>> Read the interview: EU shouldn’t be ashamed on foreign and security achievements

Vimont took part in a roundtable debate organised by Friends of Europe, discussing the state of the Union and its current global influence.

Does Europe still have the desired impact, as a soft or smart power, considering the continent is suffering from the continuing economic crisis, discussants wondered. “You are only as strong as you are rich,” said Krzysztof Szczerski, former foreign affairs deputy minister for Poland.

The Nobel prize winning economist Christopher Pissarides argued that emerging from the crisis with stronger European economic and monetary policy would boost Europe’s global influence. “We need a union that will restore trust. Without this, we won’t have an impact on the rest of the world,” he said.

But Vimont told EurActiv that Europe’s economic woes had not hampered the EEAS’s work. “Our bilateral partners as well as the international, multilateral bodies have all come knocking at Europe’s door to ask for help and support. I haven’t felt the impact of the crisis.”

Political pressure for more power

The debate on the Europe’s security framework and global power is likely to intensify in the run-up to the EU summit. On 19 and 20 December, EU heads of state and government, meeting in Brussels, will discuss security and defence policy.

Carnegie Europe Director Jan Techau wrote in an op-ed earlier this week that policy makers “have realized that coming out of this highly significant summit empty-handed would be a major embarrassment, if not an outright disaster”.

“Nobody expects much but everyone knows that something substantial must emerge,” he writes.

Many, including current secretary-general of Nato Anders Fogh Rasmussen, have argued the EU needs more cooperation on defence: to pool military resources, to strengthen the EU’s hard power and cooperate more on the international scene.

But forcing one single policy line may not be the solution, professor of international relations at Oxford university Kalypso Nicolaïdi told EurActiv. “The problem with Europe is that it always pretends or tries to speak with one voice… and then it fails. But in doing so, it also fails to orchestrate its different voices. We spend all our time working one our one voice, and forget to connect with others.

“Instead we might ask whether, in certain conditions when our interest diverge, there are ways of having a division of labour or having different roles in the UN. This subtle approach could work better for Europe,” she said.

December will also mark the third anniversary of the EU’s foreign policy apparatus, the external action service, which was officially launched on 1 December 2010. At the end of next year, high representative for foreign and security policy Catherine Ashton will also step down. 

Background

More than 10 years have passed since France and the UK launched the European Security and Defence Policy through the St Malo Declaration.

The European Commission attempted to relaunch cooperation in 2007 with a communication which aimed at fostering a more competitive European defence industry.

The EU executive set up a task force on defence industries and markets, outlining that more than 1,350 SMEs are present on the European defence sector. It re-launched its attempt in July 2013, with a follow up Communication on defence and industrial policy.

Timeline

  • 19-20 Dec.: European Council 'Defence Summit'