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Hard knocks of EU diplomacy

Hard knocks of EU diplomacy
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Eleven days after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the European Union’s foreign minister Catherine Ashton should have been the first high-ranking official from abroad to visit Egypt, but British Prime Minister David Cameron beat her to it. Frederic Bouchard of euronews asked Jean Quatremer, correspondent for the Libération newspaper in Brussels, about whether European diplomacy is having trouble materialising.

Jean Quatremer:
We have the proof, yet again. But it’s no surprise that the British have a go at sabotaging it. They never asked for a European foreign policy, and they’re showing that. You know, only the French believed that appointing a Briton to be European foreign affairs minister would convince the British of the utility of a common foreign policy. Here again we see nothing has come of it.

Frederic Bouchard, euronews:
Is Mrs Ashton a victim of divisions among the 27?

More generally, common foreign policy’s difficulty is that it has not replaced the diplomatic policies of the 27 EU member states. If the same thing had happened with the single currency, for example, instead of replacing the national currencies by the euro they had been set up in competition with it, you can imagine the monetary dissonance we would be living with today. This is exactly what we have with the foreign policies: rather than replacing national foreign policies with a European foreign policy, we have put them in competition with each other. It’s a bit a case of ‘may the best man win!’ And in foreign policy, Europe does not have the experience, the know-how, the intelligence-gathering services that national foreign policy adepts have, notably those of the biggest: the British, the French, the Italians and the Germans. Therefore, it starts off with a serious handicap, and since some countries have no intention of giving up their prerogatives, we are left with the current fiasco.

Europe’s leaders have to rethink their relationship with the Arab world. How should that take shape?

The European leaders today are like rabbits at night caught in a car’s headlights. They are absolutely incapable of reacting. They were caught by surprise. No one saw what’s happening in the Arab world coming. We don’t know where it will lead. Clearly, the fear of Islam, which has conditioned the whole of European policy towards these countries, will not take concrete form. That is to say that obviously the Islamists are relatively out of the game, so it’s going to be necessary to learn to work with countries which might become democratic, perhaps as democratic as we are, and that’s not going to be easy. There’s already a funny little anecdote concerning France’s new ambassador to Tunisia, who showed himself to be extremely belittling and condescending towards Tunisia’s journalists. This shows the nature of relations which we have maintained with these countries: a French ambassador in any other country in the world would not behave like that. Here he behaved as if he was talking to his employees, his servants, and he was shaken to find 500 people demonstrating in front of the embassy, and he had to apologise. Well, that is very symbolic of the relationships the European Union has with these countries, and the changes that are going to have to be made very quickly, if we are not to fall by the wayside of this revolution.