Europe punching vastly below its weight in the Middle East, says report

Europe punching vastly below its weight in the Middle East, says report
Europe punching vastly below its weight in the Middle East, says report

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Europe, despite the direct effect of Middle East crises on the continent, is radically failing to effectively exert influence in the region, a London-based think-tank has warned.

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) said in a report on Thursday that despite “considerable economic and political partnerships with regional players Europe has been unable to influence the major shifts that have taken place”.

This failure in the Middle East and North Africa, the ECFR said, had “often come at a high cost for Europeans”.

Key crises in the Middle East, like the displacement of millions of people seeking protection from violent conflict and the rise of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), have shaken Europe’s political systems at their foundations, according to the report.

However, even with retreat of US presence in the region, Europeans are largely seen as “bystanders”, particularly on Syria, focused on “short term, transaction policies”.

The ECFR identifies overcoming disunity among EU members as critical for the continent if it is to properly address regional challenges.

Respondents identified the intransigence of the Visegrád group, the political alliance of four Central European states – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, as the biggest impediment to a common European position but splits between France and Italy over how to address the war in Libya was also seen as an obstacle.

On the issue of Europe’s use of assets, the ECFR said Europe, rather than having a weak hand, “plays a strong hand very weakly”.

Taken as a whole, the EU is the Middle East and North Africa’s most important trading partner. The value of trade between them averaged $636 billion per year between 2014 and 2017. This represents around 21 per cent of the region’s global trade – far more than that with other international partners, such as China ($206 billion) and the US ($136 billion).

In theory, the ECFR said, these economic links could provide the EU with a significant degree of leverage. But it explained, in practice, “this is difficult to achieve, given that these ties also benefit European economies”.

In Brussels, there has been recognition on the level of foreign policy, not just in the Middle East, that Europe is failing to make sufficient impact.

The EU’s new top diplomat, Josep Borrell, has called for action among EU foreign ministers. He warned in a letter that against a backdrop of renewed geostrategic competition between Russia, the US and China, Europe risked becoming the “playground” if it did not become a “true geostrategic actor”.

Following his first foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday, Mr Borell announced the EU would set up a sanctions regime similar to the Magnistky Act to impose economic sanctions on human rights offenders.

The Magnistky Act , passed in several countries around the world, targets Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009.

A possible target of the new European sanctions mechanism, some diplomats have said, could be Iranian officials.

Updated: December 12, 2019 02:12 AM

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