Exporting rights - with or without Bush

Article published on Feb. 28, 2005
community published
Article published on Feb. 28, 2005

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

The Constitution certainly improves the foreign policies of the EU, but the real problem is the political ambitions of the 25 member states to export wellbeing and rights

George W Bush must have felt a little confused when, last week, he was heralded as the first American President in recorded history to visit the EU institutions. After the introduction of Jean Claude Junker, the current president of the EU Council (“President of what?” the Texan must have been thinking) and the message from Bush, it was time for the mini-talks between the 10 selected national leaders. Chirac addressed the role of the EU in the world (“a role in the world? Which role?”), Blair talked about the peace process in the Middle East, the Slovakian Prime Minister Dzurinda discussed Iraq, and so on. Poor Bush, despite the parade of translators to help him, he could understand little or nothing, except the fact that due to its uncertain foreign policy, the EU remains terribly divided on the international scene. This is because it is anchored in an outdated and inefficient idea of sovereignty.

Micro foreign politics and the origins of the Constitution

Imagine if the President of the EU Commission, José Barroso, went to Washington to discuss with the Governor of Florida the theme of relations with Cuba; or went to California to talk about economic growth; or even to New York to suggest anti-terrorist policies. It would be deemed ridiculous! Perhaps the Constitutional Treaty, which has already been ratified by the Spanish referendum, will make the foreign policy of the EU more cohesive, but only time will tell. Certainly, the figure of a European Foreign Minister or an institution of external action (as a prelude to a communal diplomatic service) promises to change these things - at least on paper.

America is telling us to export democracy

The EU has always been weak at playing political games. Ethnic hatred and genocide in the Balkans were neglected for years, not because the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) did not exist but because the European ex-world powers could not choose between two options: supporting the ethnicities in their uprising against Yugoslavia because of their historic ties (France with Serbia, Germany with Croatia) or advising them to stop rebelling for the sake of peace. In the same vein, the first victim of the last Iraq war was EU foreign policy, not because there was no Foreign Minister, but because the EU was incapable of organising a common strategy to resolve the problem of Saddam Hussein. This problem remains because the “diplomatically correct” America of Rice, the newly nominated Secretary of State, remains more than ever determined to expand liberty and democracy in the world market. And how will Europe react? This is the real question.

Starting over from March 11th

In order to assert itself on the international scene, Europe must focus on finding common values and goals to achieve. It is in the common interest of the EU to fight against bloody and atrocious terrorist attacks such as the one on Atocha station in Madrid on March 11th 2004. It is also among its common values to promote human rights across the world. But above and beyond the rhetoric, how can Europe act concretely towards achieving future security? In reality, it is very difficult to. Strangely, March 11th entered European consciousness much less than September 11th and for many people the images on CNN of the Twin Towers are still more vivid than the 191 dead in Madrid. There are only a few who have realised that the attack could have hit Rome, Warsaw or London. On the theme of human rights, the diagnosis is sadder still for the EU, whose diplomacy continues to support the grimmest of dictators. The memory of the repression of the Tiananmen Square protest is, by now, too distant to renounce the lifting of the arms embargo on China. They trade with Iran while the so-called ‘reformers’ of President Khatami continue to repress civil rights.

Nevertheless, Europe does have one strategy to counteract to the militarism and arrogance of the neoconservatives in power in Washington. This new strategy is called economic integration. Certainly, those who like the “no to globalisation” mantra are scared of the free market, but it works. Indeed, it has already transformed the fragile democracies of Spain, Portugal, Greece and Central Eastern Europe where democracy and human rights are no longer mirages. The new challenge now is for democratic change in the countries at the periphery of the EU: Turkey, Ukraine and Belarus; not to mention the corrupt regimes on the Mediterranean arc. So what can be offered to a population clamouring for rights? Entry to the EU? A customs union? Or just TV programmes depicting the inhumane odysseys that have taken place in our seas?

These questions beg answers, which Europe can offer. The EU is no longer a club for the rich to which poor countries aspire to join, but a true and proper exporter of rights that knows how to support democratic movements for change. These movements fight in Iran, have fought in Ukraine and continue to fight in Belarus for liberty - with or without Bush.