16.03. 2011 Moment of Decision for the European Union’s Foreign Policy

Tunne Kelam, Member of the European Parliament’s Foreign  Affairs Committee

By the 15th of March five days had passed from the adoption of the European Parliament’s resolution on Libya, four days from the extraordinary European Council,  and three days from the meeting of the Arabian states.  All three proclaimed an end to the rule of Libyan dictator Gaddafi, supported the people who are trying to get free from his rule and all three insisted on stopping the bloodshed. But the bloodshed continues even now as Gaddafi’s mercenaries are using modern military equipment, especially airplanes and tanks in their advance against the opposition.

On March 15 I listened to Maciej Popowski, deputy to Catherine Ashton, explain the steps the EU is taking to help evacuate refugees, provide humanitarian assistance and to monitor the Libyan crisis.  All this with a goal  with the goal of achieving a „soft landing“ along with the creation of „added value“. At this moment, one sees the yawning gap between reality and the professed goals of the EU’s new common foreign policy.


In truth, one cannot blame Mr. Popowski.  From the viewpoint of a high official he described the situation correctly when he stated that his superior, Baroness Ashton, cannot operate based upon her own understandings but has to take into consideration the wishes and differing opinions of the various EU Governments. „This is the reality which we have to face,“  he resumed to the members of the European Parliament.


However, one cannot ignore the other reality – the continuation of mass killings of people in Libya. Even the Arab League asked for  the enforcement of a „no fly zone"  in Libyan airspace.  In a situation in which the United States, for understandable reasons, does not wish to be in the forefront, the EU has a unique opportunity to establish itself in its long self-proclaimed role as a world-level actor,  supporting peace and democratic values. This is what the opposition in Libya is looking for,  Last week the European Parliament recommended to start immediate cooperation with the interim national council in Benghazi.


The time factor makes the problem even more dramatic.  Seeking a legally perfect justification for international intervention requires the agreement of all international parties which takes up hundreds of hours, each of which is dripping with blood.  Lithuanian MEP Vytautas Landsbergis did not hesitate to compare the Libyan uprising with the one in Warsaw in 1944 in which intervention was delayed on purpose.  The comparison might be inappropriate, but the EU has already taken half a step in the direction of intervention by declaring Gaddafi unfit to rule. The vacuum needs to be filled.  And this has to happen before the uprising is drowned in blood and bombed to bits.


The EU’s new foreign and security policy leaders are facing their greatest challenge.  The traditional  option is pointing  to differences of opinion and is keeping to the lowest common denominator of agreement.  This means making declarations and postponing actions. But what kind of impression would this kind of policy make on the hundreds of thousands of young arabs who have stood up for freedom and who are entotled to expect something more than good wishes from the European bulwark of democracy?


The other option is to exercise leadership, using this historic opprotunity to promote European values, economic reforms and good governance along with stability in North Africa.  After all, it is not necessary to export democracy – the demand for it has grown locally.


Finally we must realize that if the Libyan dictator, against all hopes, succeeds in crushing and liquidating the uprising, this will be a message to all authoritarian regimes in the world.  A clear message that in the future, too, naked brutal force will prevail against citizens demanding reforms.


The generation of young arabs has proven that they can deal with dictators on their own.  The EU, however,  hasyet  to prove that it takes its own core values seriously, just as the European Parliament’s resolution of March 10 mandates.  Says the resolution:  "the EU's positive impact and long-term credibility in the region will depend on its ability to conduct a cohesive common foreign policy that is value-based and clearly sides with the new democratic forces". 

Only in this way can the EU create the added value of trust in a dramatically changing world.