From Lisbon to Barcelona – all the forgotten EU instruments

No wonder, as the conglomerate of nation-states/EU has silently handed over one of its most important debates – that of European identity – to the wing-parties, recently followed by the several selective and contra-productive foreign policy actions.

Europe’s domestic cohesion, its fundamental realignment as well as the overall public standing and credibility within its strategic neighborhood lies in the reinvigoration of its everything but institutions transformative powers – stipulated in the Barcelona process of the European Neighborhood Policy as well as in the Euro-Med partnership (OSCE).

* * * * *

By correlating the hydrocarbons with the present political and socio-economic landscape, scholar Larry Diamond reveled that currently 22 states in the world, which earn 60% or more of their respective GDP from oil (and gas) are a non-democratic, authoritarian regimes. All of them with huge disparities, steep socio-economic cleavages, sharp political inequalities and lasting exclusions, not to mention dismal human rights records. These represent nearly half of the countries considered by the Freedom House’s annual reports as ‘not free’– the very same that are predominantly held accountable by the western media for domestic and regional insurgences, intl. armed conflicts, famines as well as for terrorists harboring and financing. Hence, as many as 9 of the 11 top crude exporters are usually labeled as the dictatorships and/ or despotic monarchies by the leading academia. Prof. Diamond calls it democratic recession. If so, there is not a single economic or political indicator for the MENA (Middle East – North Africa) region to imply a successful ‘Spring’ of anything lately, but only a (permeated perpetuation of a) severe and lasting recession.

Indeed, modern history is full of examples where the crude exporting countries’ development was hindered by the huge windfall revenues. Far too often, the petro-cash flow did not assist but delayed or derailed necessary economic diversification and political reform. It also frequently paved the way up for the elites, domestically felt as predatory, and externally instrumented as –to use CIA jargon– ‘useful idiots’. Conveniently though using revenues to buy and otherwise subsidize social peace, those regimes (of rentier states) were/are actually creating self-entrapment – ever stronger psychological and political dependence on hydrocarbons. Therefore, a real ‘Arab Spring’, for the Middle East and rest of us, will only come with a socio-economic decoupling and diversification, socio-political horizontalization, with a decisive de-psychologisation of and departure from oil-dependence. By no means, it would ever come by a pure cosmetic change of the resident in the presidential palace.   

Fearing the leftist republican pan-Arabism and Nasserism, the US encouraged Saudi Arabia to sponsor the existing and establish a new large network of madrasah all over the Middle East – Prof. Cleveland reminds us in his capital work: A History of the Modern Middle East. In the last three decades, this tiger became ‘too big to ride’, as Lawrence Wright points out in his luminary book on Al Qaida: The Looming Tower. Wright states that while representing only 1,5% of the world’s Muslims, Saudis fund and essentially control around 90% of the Islamic institutions from the US to Kazakhstan/Xinjiang and from Norway to Australia.1

By insisting on oversimplified and rigid, sectarian Wahhabi-Salafist interpretations of religious texts, most of these institutions along with their indoctrinated clerics are in fact both corrupting and preventing an important inner debate about Islam and modernity.2 Self-detained in a limbo of denial, they largely (and purposely) keep the Arab and non-Arab Muslim world in a dangerous confrontational course with both itself and the rest of the world.3

To end this, there is a claim currently circulating the EU, both cynical and misleading: ‘multiculturalism is dead in Europe’. The sort of Islam Europe supported (and the means deployed to do so) in the Middle East yesterday, is the sort of Islam (and the means it uses) that Europe gets today.

Why and How?! (On the wrong side of history?)

Young generations of Europeans are taught in schools about a compact unity (singularity) of an entity called the EU. However, as soon as serious external or inner security challenges emerge, the compounding parts of the true, historic Europe are resurfacing again. Formerly in Algeria, Egypt and Lebanon, then in Iraq (with the exception of France) and now with Libya and Syria; Central Europe is hesitant to act, Atlantic Europe is eager, Scandinavian Europe is absent, Eastern Europe is bandwagoning, and Russophone Europe is opposing.

The 1986 Reagan-led Anglo-American bombing of Libya was a one-time, head-hunting punitive action. This time, Libya (and currently Syria) has been given a different attachment: The considerable presence of China in Africa; successful circumventing pipeline deals between Russia and Germany (which will deprive Eastern Europe from any transit-related bargaining premium, and will tacitly pose a joint Russo-German effective pressure on the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine); boldness (due to a petro-financial and strategic emancipation) of Iran;4 and finally the overthrows of the EU friendly, Tunisian, Yemeni and Egyptian regimes –all combined– must have triggered alarm bells across Atlantic Europe.5

Thus, in response to the MENA crisis, the EU failed to keep up a broad, consolidated agenda and all-participatory basis with its strategic neighborhood, although having institutions, interest and credibility to do so – as it did before at its home; by silently handing over one of its most important questions, that of European identity, to escapist anti-politics (politics in retreat) dressed up in the Western European wing-parties. Eventually, the ‘last world’s cosmopolitan’ compromised its own perspectives and discredited its own transformative power’s principle. It did so by undermining its own institutional framework: Barcelona Process as the specialized segment of European Neighborhood Policy (EU) and the Euro-Med partnership (OSCE).6

The only direct involvement of the continent was ranging between a diplomatic de-legitimi- zation (by Goebbels-izing the media to instrument it for) and punitive military engagement via the Atlantic Europe-led coalition of the willing (Libya, Syria).7 Confrontational nostalgia prevailed again over dialog (instruments) and consensus (institutions).8

The consequences are striking: The sort of Islam that the EU supported (and the means deployed to do so) in the Middle East yesterday, is the sort of Islam (and the means it uses) that Europe gets today.

Small wonder, that Islam in Turkey9 (or in Kirgizstan and in Indonesia) is broad, liberal and tolerant while the one in Northern Europe is a brutally dismissive, narrow and vindictively assertive.

Anis H. Bajrektarevic, Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member

Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies

Vienna, 12 DEC 2012

contact: [email protected]

This article is an excerpt from the key-note address: ‘From Lisbon to Barcelona – all the forgotten EU instruments’ presented at the Crans Montana Forum, 18-20 October 2012, Geneva, Switzerland

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