European solidarity is though but necessary ? especially in today?s economic, political and security climate.
This piece was first published as part of the author's EUObserver blog.
Complaints about an imbalance in the levels of EU engagement in the Southern neighbourhood compared to the Eastern neighbourhood are wide-spread. The new EU member states like to point to the fact that EU funding for the Mediterranean neighbours is much bigger than for the Eastern neighbours; and EU diplomatic engagement in the Middle Eastern conflicts (be it the Israeli-Palestine conflict or Lebanon) has been much less shy than in the post-Soviet space.
But Southern EU member states also have their grudges. The Portuguese prime-minister implied once that the EU has spent almost twenty years cajoling and baby-sitting the Eastern neighbours of the day (beginning with Central Europe which is already in the EU, and then the Balkans), and now it is time to turn to the South where a "new" generation of threats such as terrorism, migration and conflicts are threatening Europe.
Two recent EU summits with their neighbours provide a good snapshot of the balance of priorities and the foreign policy solidarity gap: the July 2008 summit of the Union of Mediterranean in Paris and the May 2009 summit of the Eastern Partnership in Prague. Stanislav Secrieru, a blogger, contrasts the attendance of the two summits by EU leaders. The full lists of attendees are here: for the Eastern Partnership summit and for the Euro-Mediterranean summit.
Take summit attendance as a proxy that can reveal a certain solidarity gap in the way EU member states support each other's foreign policy priorities. The question is which of the new EU member states attended to the Euro-med summit in 2008, and which of the Southern EU states paid back in kind by attending the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague in 2009?
Here is the crude data. The Euro-med summit in Paris in July 2008 was attended by 25 heads of state - presidents or prime ministers. Finland sent both its president and prime-minister. Only the Czech Republic was represented by a deputy-prime-minister and Belgium by the foreign minister. The important thing is that virtually all of the new EU member states showed solidarity on this occasion with the Mediterranean priorities of the rest of the Union.
The Eastern Partnership summit provides a strikingly different picture. Ten EU member states were not represented at "heads of state level": Sarkozy, Zapatero, Berlusconi, and Gordon Brown ignored the summit. The leaders of Austria, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal as well. Stranger, though, was the fact that Lithuania sent its foreign-minister, and that Romania's president Traian Basescu also stayed away. Strangely enough the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, one of the "parents" of the Eastern partnership, also stayed away (though Sweden was present at PM level). But the fact that Italy was represented by its minister of welfare, while Austria by its ambassador (perm.rep) to the EU - was outright offensive. I also hear German diplomats were furious at the lack of diplomatic solidarity of so many EU member states (Merkel was in Prague).
The bottom line: on the issue of pressing the reset button of EU policy towards its neighbours - South and East - the new EU member states showed more solidarity with their fellow (older) EU member states than vice-versa. The attendance lists of the two summits are proof of that.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.