Opinion

From Lisbon to Barcelona
– all the forgotten EU
instruments

There is a claim currently circulating the EU, both cynical and misleading: multiculturalism is dead in Europe. 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 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 transformative powers — stipulated in the Barcelona process of the European Neighborhood Policy as well as in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

By correlating hydrocarbons with the present political and socioeconomic landscape, scholar Larry Diamond revealed that currently 22 states in the world, which earn 60 percent or more of their respective gross domestic product (GDP) from oil (and gas) are non-democratic, authoritarian regimes.

All of them have huge disparities, steep socioeconomic cleavages, sharp political inequalities and lasting exclusion, not to mention poor 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, international armed conflicts, famines as well as for harboring and financing terrorists.

Hence, as many as nine of the 11 top crude exporters are usually labeled as dictatorships and/ or despotic monarchies.

Diamond calls it democratic recession. If so, there is not a single economic or political indicator in the Middle East — North Africa (MENA) region to imply any “Spring“ happening lately, but only a severe, lasting recession.

Indeed, modern history is full of examples where crude oil exporting countries’ development was hindered by the huge 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 used as — in CIA jargon — “useful idiots”.

 Conveniently though using revenues to buy and otherwise subsidize social peace, those regimes (or 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 the rest of us, will only come with a socio-economic decoupling and diversification, sociopolitical horizontalization, with a decisive de-psychologisation of and departure from oil-dependence. By no means, it will ever come by a purely 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 madrasahs all over the Middle East — 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-Qaeda: The Looming Tower. Wright states that while representing only 1.5 percent of the world’s Muslims, Saudis fund and essentially control around 90 percent of the Islamic institutions from the US to Kazakhstan’ and from Norway to Australia.

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.

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.

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?

Young generations of Europeans are taught in schools about the compact unity 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 resurface 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 of any transit-related bargaining premium, and will tacitly pose a joint Russo-German pressure on the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine); boldness (due to a petro-financial and strategic emancipation) of Iran; and finally the overthrow of the EU-friendly, Tunisian, Yemeni and Egyptian regimes — all combined — must have triggered alarm bells across Atlantic Europe.

Thus, in response to the MENA crisis, the EU has 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 in 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, Europe compromised its own perspectives and discredited its own transformative power’s principle.

It did so by undermining its own institutional framework: the Barcelona Process as the specialized segment of European Neighborhood Policy and the OSCE.

The only direct involvement of the continent ranged between a diplomatic delegitimization (by Goebbels-izing the media and punitive military engagement via the Atlantic Europe-led coalition of the willing (Libya, Syria). Confrontational nostalgia prevailed again over dialogue (instruments) and consensus (institutions).

Small wonder, that Islam in Turkey (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.

The writer is Geopolitics of Energy editorial member and chairperson for international law and global political studies. 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, Oct. 18-20 in Geneva.

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