Van Rompuy: EU should take credit for Libya action
With incredible (or perhaps entirely credible) audacity, not to say political conceit and jingoistic hubris, President Herman Van Rompuy has said the European Union ‘should take credit for international action which prevented a "bloodbath" in Libya’. Speaking to MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday (5 April), he said that British, French and UK (sic) strikes on Gaddafi targets on 19 March would ‘not have been possible’ without the ‘clear position’ taken on Libya at an EU summit one week earlier. He went on (and on):
"From the beginning of the crisis, the European Union was at the forefront: the first to impose tough sanctions; the first to impose a travel ban on leading figures in the regime; the first to freeze Libyan assets; the first to recognise the Interim Transitional National Council as a valid interlocutor. Without European leadership there would have been massacres ... We acted in time and without Europe nothing would have been done at the global level or at the UN level."So, the EU prevented the Benghazi bloodbath, did it?
His Grace must have missed something.
And the Prime Minister must have dreamed his bilateral negotiations with President Sarkozy; imagined his late-night phone conversations with the US Secretary of State; fantasised about the UN brinkmanship which resulted in resolution 1973. And so must William Hague.
In fact, the Libya crisis showed the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy in all its vacuous inadequacy: there is no commonality in a union of disparate nations with different histories and conflicting (and sometimes mutually exclusive) security and defence concerns. The Lisbon Treaty says:
"The common security and defence policy shall be an integral part of the common foreign and security policy. It shall provide the Union with an operational capacity drawing on civilian and military assets. The Union may use them on missions outside the Union for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security."But what can be the common foreign policy of a group of nations who each view the others as foreign? The ‘High Commissioner’ was not high enough to be able to persuade Germany to support the UK and France in imposing a no-fly zone over Benghazi, and without Germany there can be no such thing as ‘common’ EU policy on anything. The truth (which may come as a slight surprise to President Van Rompuy) is that while the UK, France and the US have provided the ‘operational capacity’ for this conflict, the EU has been shuffling aid packages and assisting refugee bureaucracy. While the grown-ups deal with military strategy, the EU cleans the kitchen sink.
Baroness ‘High Representative’ Ashton isn’t even playing second fiddle here: she’s actually not in the orchestra at all. She’s happily preparing the tea trolley for the interval, and she’ll enter the arena after the concert to do a bit of sweeping up. It’s not entirely her fault, though. She’s barely a year into her job, and has absolutely no foreign policy experience at all. Her incompetence and inefficiency are characteristics of the whole EU outfit, and it is clearly taking her some time to realise that the EU’s 27 member states are a diverse bunch with little in common other than the desire of their political establishments to keep the boat afloat. Everyone else can see the iceberg ahead, but the captains just won’t listen. She did manage to issue a statement, though:
The European Union is extremely concerned by the events unfolding in Libya and the reported deaths of a very high number of demonstrators. We condemn the repression against peaceful demonstrators and deplore the violence and the death of civilians. We express our sympathy to the families and friends of the victims.Strong, impressive stuff, eh? This must have had Gaddafi shaking in his boots.
The EU urges the authorities to exercise restraint and calm and to immediately refrain from further use of violence against peaceful demonstrators. Freedom of expression and the right to assemble, as provided for in particular by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, are human rights and fundamental freedoms of every human being which must be respected and protected.
The EU calls on the authorities to immediately cease the blocking of public access to the internet and mobile phone networks. The EU also calls upon the authorities to allow media to work freely throughout the country.
The legitimate aspirations and demands of the people for reform must be addressed through open and meaningful Libyan-led dialogue.
President Van Rompuy is trumpeting a fantasy if he believes this is the sort of initiative which prevented the bloodbath in Benghazi. The EU’s common foreign and security policy can never amount to anything more than lowest common denominator stuff. And not even Germany will protest against aid for civilians and refugees.
High Commissioner Ashton presides over a vast (and very expensive) monolith called the European External Action Service. It is supposed to herald the end of the Tower of Babel and bring member states ever closer to speaking with one voice on foreign policy. Then Europe will be a global player, shaping the new world order, heralding a thousand years of peace and security.
Until then, there is London, Paris and Berlin. And one gets the distinct impression that Tripoli takes them rather more seriously than it does Brussels.