Europe’s Trump Card

Article published on June 28, 2004
community published
Article published on June 28, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Europe must not leave all the playing cards in America’s hands regarding their “Greater Middle East” project. Especially since Europe itself has some trump cards, like the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.

The European Union has been developing a close relationship with Arabic and Mediterranean countries for a long time, especially through the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. But since the war in Iraq, America has shown that it intends to deal with the Middle East, and has introduced measures to redraw what is known as the “Greater Middle East”. Is the EU capable of responding to the American initiative? It could find itself in a strategic partnership between European policies in the Mediterranean and those in the Middle East.

The “Greater Middle East Project” versus the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership

George Bush presented his Greater Middle East project in the ocean fortress of Sea Island, which aims to drastically change the economic and geopolitical order of the region. During the G8 summit, the world’s powerful elite therefore adopted a comprehensive strategy in order to initiate a virtuous circle of democratisation and free-trade in a region stretching from Morocco to Afghanistan. Recognising that he must tackle underdevelopment, poverty, and slow economic growth in order to end terrorism, George W Bush has opted for a consensus solution that is going to solve the problems at the centre of terrorism. However, numerous commentators were sceptical regarding America’s real aims and they advocated a strategic agreement between the European Union and the Middle East.

In reality, lots of measures proposed by the American administration are similar to those included in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (PEM), signed in 1995 by the European Union and 12 Mediterranean basin countries (1). The objective was to make the Mediterranean basin into a zone of dialogue, trade and co-operation with the guarantee of peace, stability and prosperity in mind. The Barcelona Declaration consists of three parts that aim to implement the main elements of a political and security partnership, an economic and financial partnership and a partnership between the social, cultural and human areas. However, the main objective on the Euro-Mediterranean’s agenda is the creation of a free-trade zone from now until 2010. One of the advantages of the Barcelona process is the forming of one of the first forums where Israelis and Palestinians can come together around the same table. The “Greater Middle East” project also passes through the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition, the Europeans remind them that they have already donated billions of euros since 1995. Moreover, for the period 2000-2006, MEDA, the financial instrument of the partnership, has been given 5.35 billion euros. On top of this there are the loans from the European Investment Bank which rise to 17 billion euros for the period 2003-2006. Yet, according to the French newspaper Le Monde, America has, for the moment, allocated loans totalling more than 150 million dollars to their project (2).

From the Mediterranean to Iraq

The question arises, thus, of knowing perhaps what Europe’s contribution in this project is: How can democracy be exported to Iraq? Europe is duty bound to play a role in the Middle East and the PEM, becoming all the more relevant faced with current issues. It is therefore necessary to strengthen and bring about some change in the partnership, the European leaders in front showing political will, avoiding letting an asymmetry be established in their relationship with their south Mediterranean neighbours.

The PEM has a number of trump cards at its disposal, in particular a sound and important network of programmes that gives structure to an area of cooperation as regards the economy, the environment, energy infrastructures and even telecommunications. The war in Iraq having led to a complete destabilization of the Middle East, it is important, according to Jean-François Daguzan, to not “leave the Arab-Persian Gulf countries alone with America, even if the capture of Iraq had lived by public opinion like an aggression and an occupation” (3). Consequently the question also arises of knowing if a common policy is possible between the 25 countries with regard to Iraq, a country that sinks a little more into chaos each day.

The Mediterranean / Middle East Cooperation and strategic partnership

Joschka Fisher suggests implementing a “transatlantic initiative for the Near and Middle East” within the context of a Mediterranean process common to NATO and the EU. It is a matter of increasing the complementary nature of the two American and European initiatives and of thinking about questions of security, non-proliferation, economic cooperation, but also the introduction of democracy, as well as human rights, in these countries. In March 2004, the European Commission also submitted an intermediary report on a strategic partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East, which the European Council will adopt from 17th and 18th June. The EU is currently consulting the region’s countries (something the Americans did not do), and the key principles of this strategy will be presented during the European Council in June 2004. It is a first step towards a separate EU strategy. It is a matter of innovation, establishing a climate of trust and avoiding the Middle East falling under American protectorate. But it is also a matter of not laying down models from other nations on these countries, of taking the different national identities into account, and of not condemning Islam. It is therefore crucial that the Europeans quickly define their strategy and that they do not allow America to play on alone.

(1)Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Palestine, Syria, Turkey.

(2)Le Monde newspaper, a “Démocratie, développement économique: ce que dit le plan américain” (Democracy, economic development: what the American plan says), 27th February 2004.

(3)Jean-François Daguzan, visiting Professor at the Université de Paris II, Panthéon-Assass, editor of the Maghreb-Machrek journal, in “La Méditerranée au prisme du nouveau panorama stratégique” (The Mediterranean at the prism of the new strategic panorama”, Revue Défense Nationale, May 2004.