Europe & world Europe abroad

EU-Middle East: When Europe had a foreign policy

29 November 2012
El País Madrid

Members of the Palestinian delegation to the UN carry a chair similar to those used in the General Assembly at the organisation's New York headquarters

Members of the Palestinian delegation to the UN carry a chair similar to those used in the General Assembly at the organisation's New York headquarters

Incapable once again of taking a unified position on a matter of foreign policy, European countries are voting independently on UN non-member state observer status for the Palestinian Territories. Yet there was a time when Europeans claimed to have a key role to play in the peace process.

With a shrug of resignation, you accept these days that the EU has no foreign policy.

Sarcastic remarks about Lady Catherine Ashton have become banalities – Ashton being the Vice President of the Commission and High Representative for Foreign Policy entrusted with piloting a ship without a rudder, sails and perhaps even a hull. In other words, a contraption incapable of getting anywhere.

Since July 2010 she has commanded a formidable European External Action Service staffed by 3,000 professional diplomats of the highest level that, lacking the unity and the political will to shape an identity and a character on the international stage, in fact has no one to serve.

Crumbling Union

Today, there will be the chance to see, once again, the spectacle of the crumbling European Union when the United Nations General Assembly votes on the resolution to be presented by the President of the Palestinian Authority for Palestine's status to be upgraded to "non-member state" status. As expected, all attempts to forge a common position, which should have had the vote of each one of the 27 members of the EU, have failed, so the straddling of the middle ground has begun.

It all seems typical these days. The European fight over money is so common, mutual grievances and insults so usual, and dislike for the joint project so widespread, that it's easy to forget that things were not always like this.

The brutal truth that has to be rubbed in the faces of current policy-makers, is that we Europeans did have a foreign policy when there was no foreign policy office. To which we must add something even more cruel: the little headway that has been made along the road towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians is due to the decisions and resolutions that were taken when we Europeans, though we were barely aware of it, did have an international standing and a foreign policy worthy of the name.

Policy vaccum

The evidence against today's vacuum is the Venice Declaration from June 1980, which followed the Camp David Accords and the signing of the Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel. In it, the heads of state and governments of the nine member countries of the European Community, today the core of the EU, pledged to play a “special role” in securing peace in the region; recognised the right of Palestinians to self-determination; foresaw the two states, the current Israel and one for the Palestinians, living in peace and security and recognised by all; and encouraged both two parties to negotiate over the details. Already since then, the nine condemned the settlement policy, calling it a “serious obstacle to the peace process” and rejected the unilateral change of the status of Jerusalem. And all that was done unanimously. Without any veto.

On the morning of November 28, only four of the nine signatories to that declaration have promised a yes vote for the Palestinian Territories: France, Denmark, Luxembourg and Ireland. Belgium is almost certain to end up voting in favour of the resolution. The UK with its conditions, Germany with its doubts and ruminations and the Netherlands and Italy with their no vote will end up putting the finishing brushstrokes to the portrait of European disunity – a striking contrast to the time when Europe did have a foreign policy.

Today's vote will be a demonstration of the weakness and the absence of the EU as such on the international scene at the time when that scene is being reshaped by the emerging states, where the Palestinian cause finds its greatest support. The idea of a Palestinian state, as impossible and utopian as it may seem, appears loaded with inevitability when we look at two very simple things that have always shaped history itself: the demographics of the region and the geopolitical map of the world.

Translated from the Spanish by Anton Baer