The European Union: a silent onlooker of the ‘piecemeal’ world war

, by Allan Malheiro, Paolo De Gregori, Translated by Ella Powell

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The European Union: a silent onlooker of the ‘piecemeal' world war
Jakson Martins, pexel

Once again, it is necessary to address the role of the EU amid global conflicts

On August 18th, 2014, Pope Francis coined a powerful expression, the “piecemeal Third World War” (la “terza guerra mondiale a pezzi”). At the time, especially for Europeans, this may have seemed an exaggeration, an anachronism used to warn against possible future threats, but far enough into the future to not give us concern for our generation. Furthermore, war was something detached that impacted “those third world countries”. It was a thing that we heard mention of on the news from time to time, but we never completely grasped the impact nor gravity of it, both geographically and culturally.

The Pope was right. The world is full of conflicts and wars, and in the last few years we Europeans have also witnessed this. We have woken from a long geopolitical slumber which lasted over 20 years, and we have realised that the world has changed faster than we can adapt to this new world and its challenges.

In this context, what is the EU’s role? Firstly, the war in Ukraine has shown the world that the EU lacks a common foreign policy as it did not have the diplomatic power to prevent the Russian invasion. None of the various European leaders, each of whom have taken a seat at the long white table of the Kremlin, have been able to dissuade the warmongering whims of Putin. We could argue that since the outbreak of the war (after the worst had already happened), there was a display of unity in the collection of sanctions applied. However, it’s possible to say that these sanctions were too slow and mild, to the extent that we can say that they have had almost no effect. Take for example those applied by the EU, which have fed Russian nationalism and the anti-western sentiment of countries in the “Global South”, without having any negative impact on the Russian military operation or its economy.

Furthermore, the EU’s so-called unity displayed by the maintaining energy supplies after Russian sanctions were implemented was a step in the wrong direction. Most efforts went on making agreements which made us even more dependent on other autocratic countries that practice poor human rights, like Azerbaijan. It’s therefore no coincidence that the EU hasn’t even considered sanctioning Baku’s government following their “ethnic cleansing” campaign carried out in September in the Nagorno-Karabakh mountain region. But, inevitably, we should have expected this. On the other hand, the respect for the protection of human rights, consecrated by Article 2 of the EU’s treaty, and which, according to Article 3, should guide the EU’s foreign policy is, in effect, voluntary for ally countries or those that are strategically useful (any reference to Tunisia and Turkey and the issue of migration is purely coincidental).

This discussion leads, equally and unavoidably, to the conflict in Palestine. The EU itself has succeeded in showing its diplomatic incoherence, with Ursula von de Leyen’s statement, refuted by Charles Michel and re-worked by Josep Borrell. An institutional mess which clearly reflects the confusion of dividing foreign policy responsibilities between the Council and the Commission. Yet, above all, this disagreement has shown how, once again, division puts a stop to any possibility of peacebuilding.

Thus, while we stay in line alongside the United States (out of necessity), with whom Europe has a subordinate relationship rather than an alliance, we are witnessing emerging nation powers profiting from current international anarchy to develop their geopolitical influence. These new powers do so with a strategy that should, more than anyone else, be used by an organisation created out of war and negotiation like the EU: mediation. We have seen Turkey act as principal mediator with the grain deal between Russia and Ukraine and, similarly, Saudi Arabia has succeeded in the same way by negotiating an exchange of prisoners between the countries involved. This is the Saudi Arabia which, last August, met with the countries of the Global South, including the BRICs countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to finally open talks about establishing peace in Ukraine. Currently we are witnessing the powers (real or presumed) of negotiation of Qatar, which is trying to initiate talks between Hamas and Israel, at least about freeing hostages. All of these actions have the common aim to provide humanitarian aid in a time of war, which only truly neutral and autonomous countries can undertake. According to institutional treaties, this should include the European Union, which should be able to work towards such an objective: to seek to instigate talks (including with Russia) and to encourage respect for fundamental rights, especially with regards to its trading partners.

In summary, the absence of a common European foreign policy reduces our influence on any issue involving high international politics, we are perpetually undermined by the two superpowers: the USA and China (the G2), and we have a highly restricted autonomy when it comes to strategy. Given this context, how can we promote values of peace and solidarity? And, if we continue to instantly side with the United States, how can we be a stakeholder in these talks, a point of convergence between different cultures and geographical regions? Without a clear foreign policy, directed towards a model of human safety and aimed at respecting the rights of men, the Union has no future and will simply be a satellite to north America in an increasingly dangerous climate of cold war.

Therefore, a reform of EU treaties is needed more than ever, in order to avoid finding ourselves at the point of no return. A common external motive (we could even say that there are more than one) is ever present in this historic era; yet unfortunately we are lacking an internal alliance, a political personality which has the power and influence necessary to make change. The European Parliament does its best, but as history has shown, it is not enough. It is the responsibility of this latest Council of the EU, presided over by Belgium, to strive towards promoting this inevitable reform.

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