Foreign Policy Blogs

Tunisia and Europe

As my fruit salesman on the market at Barbès (an Arabic neighbourhood in the North of Paris) proclaimed with a wide smile this morning pointing to the Tunisian flag his stand boasted ‘C’est la revolution! On voit la vie en rose maintenant.’ (It’s a revolution! We see life through rose-colored glasses now.) Evidently this Jasmine Revolution is a reason to rejoice for those of us in favor of the spread of peoples’ self-determination and democracy. It is also a hopeful sign in a region governed by dictatorial regimes and potentially could have an impact on the aborted Green Revolution or the evolving situation in Algeria. It’ll be interesting to see how things develop in Tunisia, in the Maghreb in general, maybe even in Iran.

Yet, maybe the most depressing observation of this populist coup d’état has been the glaring lack of European support for the Tunisian people (as opposed to the government) either now or in the past. Aside from the interesting and telling fact that most Western media outlets never even picked up on the protests that have been going on for a month until very recently, most European governments’ response can be described tepid at best almost cynic (or realpolitisch if you prefer) at worst.

Bruno le Maire, one of the younger and more promising French ministers, did not shy away from describing President Ben Ali as ‘someone who is often misjudged’, Tunisia were ‘not a country that has known any real difficulties’. Except of course demonstrators that burn themselves in the street or are killed by the police. Yet, not to worry. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs (Michèle Alliot-Marie) has a solution for Tunisian (and Algerian) security problems. She has proposed the ‘capacity of our security forces to solve situation of this type’ which is why France offers according to her ‘to intervene in both countries within the framework of bilateral cooperation to assure that demonstration can take place peacefully while security is being assured’.

The reason for the European states reticence to welcome democratic change in Tunisia of course is as pathetic as it was to be expected. Ben Ali – unlike Lukashenko whose repression was condemned far more harshly – may be a son of a bitch but he is our son of a bitch (as an unnamed US official was quoting in reference to Pinochet). Basically the Europeans prefer autocratic (Ben Ali, Qaddafi et al) dictators who cooperate with them on questions concerning immigration (aka assure that it remains as limited as possible), security (a euphemism for – amongst other things – outlawing or at least keeping down Islamic parties) and trade (liberalization of the circulation of goods especially raw materials, not of people).

The EU was once supposed to be the foremost example of normative (soft) power (Zivilmacht Europa) that might or might not still be true in some cases (see for example the Balkans) in regard to the Maghreb it is nothing but an empty promise covering up the Europeans’ hypocrisy.