Friday, 28 January 2011

Our Mission, should we choose to accept it...

Italian Foreign minister, Franco Frattini, has called for an EU mission to be sent to North African countries affected by protect movements, including Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria:

"...the EU should send a high-level "political support team" to calm tensions in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the region hit by deadly civil unrest in recent days.

"The European mission ... [should] take contact with the highest levels, beginning with the authorities in Tunisia, with civil society, mayors, opposition parties, to collect information, not to give orders," he said, Italian newswires report.

"I do not think this can be dealt with by sporadic initiatives of this or that country in Europe, but only by a European initiative.""

To calm tensions, but to not give orders? The EU would have to be very clear about what it wanted to see in the region after the protests ran their course. Does it want to see a return to the status quo, or does it want to ensure a stable transition to more democracy or an accommodation of the protesters' demands? Sending in a clearly political mission without figuring out what kind of role it is to play could backfire pretty easily - what would be the reaction to the mission if the protesters failed or succeeded? Would the EU mission get some of the blame for the outcome, even if it didn't really do anything?

The EU can afford a sort of distant pro-democratic attitude from outside the region, but once it sets foot there - even if it's just dipping in its small toe - it better have a clearly thought out strategy and be able to position itself (very publically, if need be) when things change quickly. North Africa is our neighbouring region, so we should have a common position and policy regarding it, but it should be thought out at home, not created ad hoc through missions.


  1. I can well understand why the Italian government would not want to take upon itself responsibility for going to corrupt Mediterranean countries to tell them how to govern themselves.

    I recall that President Sarkozy of France made moves early in his presidency to forge an alliance of the Med. countries from Europe and North Africa. I would suggest that France take a lead, but the matter is certainly an intergovernmental one. Mr Frattini's commitment to a purely EU solution may be a reflection on Italy's abilities in such matters, but some countries are much better placed for multi-lateral co-operation.

    It may be necessary, of course, for the UK and France (as well as Germany and Portugal) to deal with this matter through the UN Security Council before very long.

  2. I think I heard that the Secretary General of the Union of the Mediterranean resigned. As the biggest trading partner in the region, the EU should be able to act coherently in its diplomacy, and I've no problem with the High Representative proposing action or taking up a Member State proposal.

    However, action should only be undertaken with an underlying aim and strategy, rather than just blundering in.

  3. First of all, the EU has invited the new prime minister of Tunisia to Brussels. This quick response must be formed with regard to Egypt.

    Second, it is really unclear about the logistics of this "political team." Normally, a foreign "team" - civil or military - needs to be granted permission to enter a sovereign nation like Egypt.

    Europe should act through diplomacy and this should include for the positive of the right of the people to choose their own government - consistent with European values.

    However, there is the history of the US, especially in Latin America, of placing strategic interests over human rights. What mattered was that the leaders were loyal to Washington, not Moscow. This appears to have been carried over into the "war on terrorism," where autocratic leaders are preferred over democracy and the possibly of a "bearded boogieman" coming to power in a mainly Muslim country, especially close to Israel.

    Right now, Mubarak's appointments have been rejected, and if the Army sides with the people - Mubarak may need an escape hatch. Europe may have to encourage Mubarak to leave, which would leave a power vacuum that could be filled by Mohamed ElBaradei until elections can be held. Let's hope that unfounded myths about Muslim and democracy is not what is driving Europe's indifferent and lame response. The demands of these protesters are elections, a better economic future and an end to repressive governance. We need to respond in the favor of democracy, free elections, human rights, and leave out the myths about "Muslims and democracy" and the fear of the "bearded boogieman."

    Acting on the basis of Islamophobia would be the worst response in the face of these demands for democracy, human rights and good governance.