Rhein on Energy and Climate

The hopes for Europe speaking and acting with one voice in the world that had been nourished with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and the installation of the European External Action Service have taken a serious battering over the UNSEC vote on a no-fly zone over Libya March 17th. The four EU members – France, Germany, Portugal and UK – of the Security Council have failed to show unity in endorsing the resolution which had been introduced by France and UK.

While France and the UK have been the driving forces behind the UN initiative, Germany has done nothing to support their efforts. The EU, far from appearing united on a crucial political and security issue, has demonstrated disarray. This is a serious shock to its efforts for a bigger role in world affairs. It has strained the relations between key EU member states and shown to the world that the EU is no more than a paper tiger in central issues of external policy. For things that matter London and Paris are still be more important than either Brussels or Berlin, sometimes for the better as in the present case, sometimes for the worse, at the beginning of the Arab revolution.

The EU High Representative has been “hors jeu”, unable to play any mediation role between the two opposing fractions within the EU. But nobody had really expected her to undertake such a constructive role. It would have gone far beyond her means.

Berlin has shown fatal errors of judgement and a shocking lack of flexibility. It has hidden far too long behind the cautious US position. The German foreign minister has been unable to understand that the no-fly vote would not imply any deployment of ground troops, which the UNSEC resolution expressly forbids. The biggest EU country sees itself all of a sudden praised by Gaddafi for its wise “political stand”, not the type of compliments a foreign minister might wish to cater for. It is difficult to understand why the German foreign minister has failed to adapt his instructions to the German UN Ambassador, though there had been plenty of time to do so during the long hours of drafting the resolution. So Germany found itself abstaining along with China, Russia, India and Brazil instead of supporting a resolution prepared by two EU member states and formally introduced by Lebanon, as Portugal has done.

The incident is sufficiently serious for the Heads of government to instruct their foreign ministers and the High Representative to prevent such disarray in the future. The EU cannot afford this sort of cacophony if it wants to be taken seriously by the international community.

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