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Monday, February 28, 2011

Why the EU hasn't been more forthcoming re: the crisis in North Africa...

is the subject of a fascinating and provoctive article by the staff of DER SPEIGEL.

Some excerpts :

The upheaval on the other side of the Mediterranean has caught the Europeans unprepared. For decades, they have fawned over the despots of North Africa because they promised both oil and protection against African refugees and Islamist terrorists. Diplomats from Helsinki to Rome gave little thought to the fact that these rulers were also denying their subjects basic human rights. The subject generally only came to mind once a year, when they filed away the latest annual report from Amnesty International.

But now that dictatorships across the entire region are tottering, the Europeans are unsure how to regard the freedom movement on their doorstep. On the one hand, they see the youth of North Africa invoking exacting the same values of rule of law and democracy that Europeans supposedly feel are so closely tied to their own identity. But, on the other hand, they worry about how unfolding events could give rise to new economic uncertainty. And it obviously doesn't help that the unrest is hitting European citizens right where they are most sensitive: at the gas pump.

Whether it's between Germany and Saudi Arabia, France and Morocco, or Italy and Libya, when it comes to European ties to countries in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, national interests are more important than European ones. In the case of Libya, that means that, instead of taking immediate, concerted action, EU member countries took a long time before they could even agree on minimal sanctions.

The speed with which the UN Security Council acted only highlighted the EU's failure. On Tuesday, despite not being particularly known for swift decisions, the Security Council demanded that those committing atrocities in Libya be brought to account for their actions. Then on Saturday, the Security Council voted unanimously to impose an asset freeze on Gadhafi and some of his children, as well as a travel ban on the whole family and a number of their associates. The council also agreed to refer Gadhafi to the International Criminal Court for an investigation into possible crimes against humanity.

The EU is not only deeply divided in foreign-policy matters. The wrangling is at least as fierce when it comes to the issue of how the refugees from North Africa should be dealt with. In their public statements, EU leaders praise the Libyans' and Tunisians' battle for freedom. But, so far, they have shown very little inclination to help the very people whose lives and economic livelihoods are threatened by this same struggle.

At a meeting of EU justice and interior ministers last week in Brussels, Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Greece demanded solidarity from their EU colleagues. "This is a catastrophic humanitarian emergency," Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told reporters. "We cannot be left alone."

Maroni also received some backing from Spain. But Germany, Austria and the other EU states don't want to hear about it.