Facing the EU Parliament is not an easy nor a very pleasant endeavor as Catherine Ashton was reminded today when Daniel Cohn-Bendit threatened her with a “big crisis between you [C. Ashton] and the European Parliament”. It’s, of course, not the first time the MEPs have raised their voice against the Baroness in charge of representing the EU and of formulating something like an EU foreign policy but today’s rhetorics were quite straightforward. At Friday’s EU special summit on Libya and North Africa, she’ll probably get some sugar and milk with her coffee.
As Spanish commentator José Ignacio Torreblanca has argued in a recent article published in El País, the EU has a “zero-doctrine”, and there’s no need for an explanation of this; the EU’s reaction to the events unfolding in Libya is at best astonishing if not appalling. It somehow always misses the opportunity to finally become the global player it wants to be. Think about the Winter 2008 Gaza war and the uncoordinated response the EU provided at that occasion as French president Nicholas Sarkozy (whose country held the EU presidency in the second quarter of 2008 and who travelled to the region as co-president of the Union for the Mediterranean), an EU mission led by Karel Schwarzenberg of the Czech Republic (the incoming EU presidency) as well as Britain’s Tony Blair were all in the region, making diverging statements and thus leading to a major confusion about who actually spoke for the EU. It’s difficult to say which episode has been more embarrassing for the Union.
Getting back to the present situation, it appears that EU member states’ ambassadors that are still in the country are favoring Gaddafi’s proposal to let an international mission assess the situation on the ground. It’s hard to believe that this finds approval in Brussels or among other member states, given that, for instance, David Cameron has agreed (with Barack Obama) on the objective of Gaddafi’s departure from power. However, while there have been rumours about a draft summit statement saying that Gaddafi must cease power and allow for transition to democracy yet this is by definition still open to debate. Add the position of those states with ambassadors on-the-ground in Libya and discussions in Brussels on Friday might get quite tough with an outcome that is not likely to question the “zero-doctrine”.
In 2008, there was no other major player around since the US was in the midst of the transition from the Bush to the Obama administration; in 2011, the EU faces civil war at its doorstep while it is already witnessing immigration flows as a result of the social upheavals in North Africa. Nobody’s asking the EU or Baroness Ashton to develop a “doctrine” – that was, as Torreblanca reminds us, the stuff guys like Monroe, Truman or Brezhnev used to play around with. A voice in international affairs would already be quite an accomplishment.
(EU foreign ministers already meet tomorrow, and so do NATO defense ministers. The EU special summit takes place on Friday. These are events to watch.)