Foreign Policy Blogs

Is the Mediterranean the World’s Messiest Neighborhood? And the Mid-Life Crisis of the EU?

Parthenon EU flag

Photo Credit: EPA

What to watch this weekend: the US golf open in San Francisco, the Euro 2012, the third game of the NBA Finals–Go Heat–or the latest Ridley Scott’s Prometheus? In fact the place to look and observe should be the Mediterranean. This weekend the world will be watching, especially in the US and Europe, the outcomes of critical junctures in three countries: Greece, Egypt, and Syria. Methodologically, these three countries should not be compared or contrasted considering considerable divergences such as: political system, economic stability, and national security. But in fact they should be analyzed all three together as they clearly illustrate the challenges of the EU as an economic and regional power.

Sunday’s Greek elections will seal its membership or not to the Eurozone. The outcomes of the elections will affect the future of the Eurozone, the EU, the recovery of the US, and possibly the world’s economic recovery. The Greeks will choose between the conservative New Democracy party and the leftist party, Syriza. The expectations are that New Democracy party should win but would fall short of an absolute parliamentary majority. The elections will not only affect the recovery of Greece, but also its commitment to its belonging to the Euro-Atlantic community–NATO and the EU. As claimed by Kevin Featherstone in the Financial Times, “Eurozone leaders will face a government in Athens that will look perilously close to the ‘walking dead’–the old guard that they themselves humiliates and undermined over the last year and more.” As expressed in EUobserver, “although politicians outside Greece are avoiding overt statements on Sunday’s election, plans are being made for the worst case scenario. Member states have been discussing the extent to which they can impose capital controls and border checks should Greece leave the Eurozone.”

Is the Mediterranean the World's Messiest Neighborhood? And the Mid-Life Crisis of the EU?

Protestors in Tahrir Square in Cairo on 1 June 2012. Photo credit: Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Across the sea, Egyptians are ready to head to the polls this weekend. The situation is extremely complex and volatile for several reasons. First, the Egyptians have the choice between two candidates, Mohamed Morsi–leader of the Muslim Brotherhood–and Ahmed Shafiq–former military man and former prime minister of Mubarak. Both do not represent the future, but instead the past. The elections have split the nation into three groups: the nostalgic of Mubarak, the radical Muslims, and the pro-democracy of Tahrir Square. Second, the Constitutional Court seems unwilling to give the power back. Its latest rulings have been perceived as anti-democratic. Some have even been talking of a ‘soft’ military coup over the week. US Secretary of State, Ms. Clinton, announced last week “There can be no going back on the democratic transition called for by the Egyptian people,” Mrs Clinton said. “In keeping with the commitments that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces made to the Egyptian people, we expect to see a full transfer of power to a democratically elected government.” Second, it could very much be that Egypt did not have a revolution. At the end of the day, the Mubarak network is still very much in place and extremely powerful.

Is the Mediterranean the World's Messiest Neighborhood? And the Mid-Life Crisis of the EU?

Photo Credit: Anonymous/SANA

In Syria, the situation is going from bad to worst. The UN announced on Saturday that they are suspending their operations in Syria due to an increase of violence. The violence makes UN monitors’ jobs too dangerous and risky. The case of Syria has become a very contentious foreign policy issue. On one side, Russia is maintaining its alliance with Syria; on the other, the Europeans are unwilling to do anything outside the UN and sanctions, and the US is divided between either using the UN (Democrats) or launching a military operations (Republicans). In any case, it appears that the international community has adopted a wait and see approach.

Where is the EU in all that? In the case of Greece, the troika–Commission, ECB, and IMF–are leading the way and have been active in monitoring the implementation of the austerity measures linked to the terms of the bailout money. However, the EU has been unable to transform itself due to core political and ideological divergences between Member States. The academic world has been calling for a political union for years now, and the economists have warned since the Treaty of Maastricht that without a Political Union the experiment could be doomed to fail. The EU is at a crossroad and its Member States are unwilling, not unable, to pool further sovereignty for the sake of the Union. Some have even been comparing the Greek elections with a referendum on the Eurozone.

In the case of Syria, it appears that the EEAS has simply been too weak. One cause has been Russia as a neighbor. The EU is trying to maintain good relations with its hydrocarbons’ partner. A second one has been Russia and China as members of the UNSC blocking any types of mandate. Third, the Europeans are too busy dealing with the Eurozone crisis, Greece, and stopping any contagions to Spain and Italy. However, the EU did condemn the violence and the violations of human rights. Since the beginning of the violence, the EU has introduced 15 sets of restrictive measures such as economic sanctions, bans, and so on. On June 15, the EU increased its sanctions with a ban on luxury and dual good. These sanctions and bans are simply not enough. HR Ashton needs to increase the EEAS influence in the negotiations process and try to reach out to the 27 Member States. This will be difficult considering the split among Europeans: France and Britain, who could be pro-intervention, and Germany, opposing any type of military intervention.

Is the Mediterranean the World's Messiest Neighborhood? And the Mid-Life Crisis of the EU?

Source: Google Images

Last but not least, with Egypt, following the fall of Mubarak, HR Ashton sought to strengthen the ties with Egyptian civil societies and strengthen economic ties. HR Ashton published an op-ed in the New York Times in February wherein she expressed her optimism on the Arab awakening. The European diplomatic machine has been relatively quiet on its cooperation and assistance with Egypt.

The bottom line is that the EU is unable to act and perform as an economic and foreign policy actor. It may very much be that the EU is going through its mid-life crisis. The EU needs to foster a new identity in order to perform. The Eurozone and financial crises have been disastrous, but the EU has flinched at the first bump in the road. If the EU is unable to show sign of solidity internally and regionally, what does it mean of its role as a global power?



Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.