Divided and irrelevant


Eleven in favour, 11 abstentions and five against, is the result of the diplomatic work done by the 27 EU governments to coordinate their positions on the admission of Palestine to Unesco.

The two EU members with permanent seats on the Security Council voted differently (the UK abstained, France was in favour), while Germany voted against. Italy followed the UK, while Spain went with France, so not even the so-called big five agreed. Nor were the countries of the Mediterranean coast. The German no was followed by Czechs, Dutch, Lithuanians and Swedes; the French yes by Austrians, Belgians, Cypriots, Finns, Greeks, Irish, Luxembourgeois, Maltese, Slovenes and Spaniards; the British abstention by Bulgarians, Danish, Estonians, Hungarians, Italians, Lithuanians, Poles, Portuguese, Romanians and Slovaks. All this ridicule for nothing, for the general vote went heavily in favour of Palestine. The Europeans were not only disunited, but irrelevant.

Summed up here are the 10 years of negotiation to write and ratify the Treaty of Lisbon, which was aimed at making the EU speak with a single voice on the international scene. And the two years spent in creating the European External Action Service, supposedly meant to coordinate the foreign policies of member states, the European Commission and the Council. And the established EU policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has advanced little since 1980 since the (then) European Community endorsed a solution based on two states (provided, of course, that the solution was merely theoretical, and showed no signs of taking any real form under conditions different from those blessed by Israel and the United States).

It will be said, as usual, that none of this is the fault of Lady Ashton, the EU’s invisible high representative for foreign policy; that she is only a symptom of the EU states’ general rejection of pooling their foreign policy; that her weakness is only a consequence, not a cause. But it is hard to imagine how the good lady looks in the mirror in the morning, and goes off to do her job in the name of Europe after a vote where the EU has mired itself in international ridicule. The fact that nobody has called for her resignation should not be any cause for satisfaction on the high representative’s part. She is either assuming responsibility for the result, or she is broadcasting the message that this form of ridicule and irrelevance is something that enters into the area of routine, of what is merely to be expected.

It has to be remembered that the 27 European member states keep open more than 3,200 embassies and consulates, employ more than 110,000 persons in their diplomatic services, are the greatest financial contributors to the United Nations, and meet at least 1,000 times a year to coordinate their positions in international organisations. Europe is also the first-ranking trading partner of Israel, and of the United States as well.

All this for nothing, because European foreign policy has become a free-for-all bar where everyone pours his own drinks and then goes home without paying the bill. Five here blocking recognition of Kosovo, five there blocking liberalisation toward Cuba, and five others blocking the recognition of Palestine. Thus, when the Israeli government decides to punish the Palestinians by restarting the construction of settlements and confiscating their customs rights, doing so purely as a reprisal for having exercised the right of applying for admission to an international organisation and having won it in a legitimate vote, the Europeans tend to look the other way, as if the whole thing had nothing to do with them. True, back at home the member states will feel satisfied for having exercised their national sovereignty without curbs or restraints of any type. Irrelevancy, it would appear, can be a source of great satisfaction.

This blog post first appeared in El Pais in Spanish and in English

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