From Lisbon to Barcelona: Forgotten EU Instruments


From Lisbon to Barcelona: Forgotten EU Instruments

Rock CohenRock Cohen

The cynical and misleading claim currently circulating European Union (EU) policymaker circles is: ‘multiculturalism is dead in Europe.’ Truth be told, the EU has silently handed over one of its most important debates – that of European identity – to the wing-parties for years. In turn, it is no wonder that recent selective foreign policy actions serve to challenge EU-member cohesion. Europe’s economic unity, its fundamental future realignment as well as the maintenance of its overall public standing are embodied in the credibility of its strategic neighborhood and its enduring partnership. The reinvigoration of the EU’s “everything but institutions” transformative powers including the European Neighborhood Policy, primarily that of the Barcelona Process, and the Euro-Med partnership (OSCE) remains a forgotten lever of consequential progress available.

By correlating the hydrocarbons with the present political and socio-economic landscape, scholar Larry Diamond’s research suggests that 22 states in the world, which earn 60 percent or more of their respective GDP from oil (and gas), are non-democratic/authoritarian regimes. All of these nations maintain huge disparities, steep socio-economic cleavages, sharp political inequalities and lasting exclusions, not to mention extremely dismal human rights records.

Nearly half of these countries are considered by the Freedom House’s annual reports as being “not free.” These nations, which remain free from accountability by Western media outlets somehow avoid the scrutiny for direct involvement in regional insurgences, international armed conflicts, and gross violations of human security to include the perpetuation of famines, water shortages, starvation and for harboring as well as financing freedom fighters deemed of a terrorist cloth.

In turn, it is not surprising that 9 out of 11 top producing crude exporting countries are generally labeled as dictatorships or deemed lead by despotic monarchies by leading Western analysts as well as by members of academia. Prof. Diamond calls the operating reality of such blind ambivalence and tunnel analysis as democratic recession. If such a reality exists and there is not a single economic or political indicator for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to imply a successful ‘Spring’ of anything lately, the veil and continuance of a lasting and endemic recession appears on the verge of perpetual permeation.

Indeed, modern history is full of examples where the crude exporting countries’ development was hindered by huge windfall revenues. Far too often, the petro-cash flow has failed to and in actuality served to delay and/or derail much needed economic diversification as well as political reform. Such scenarios have paved the way for the elites; though domestically felt as predatory puppets, and external instruments –to use CIA jargon– ‘useful idiots.’ Conveniently though using revenues to buy and otherwise subsidize social peace, those regimes (of 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 rest of us,) will only come with a socio-economic decoupling and diversification, political horizontalization, with a de-psychologisation of and departure from oil-dependence.

Fearing the leftist republican pan-Arabism and Nasserism, the US encouraged Saudi Arabia to sponsor the existing and establish a new large network of madrasah all over the Middle East – Prof. 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 Qaida, 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 Kyrgyzstan/Xinjiang 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 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. To end this, there is a claim currently circulating in the EU, both cynical and misleading: ‘multiculturalism is dead in Europe.’ The sort of Islam Europe supported (and the means deployed to do so) in the Middle East in past (few decades), is the sort of Islam (and the means it uses) that Europe gets currently/presently/nowadays.

Why and How

Young generations of Europeans are taught in schools about a compact unity (singularity) 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 are resurfacing again. Formerly in Algeria, Egypt and Lebanon, then in Iraq (with the exception of France) and presently 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 from any transit-related bargaining premium, and will tacitly pose a joint Russo-German effective pressure on the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine); boldness (due to a petro-financial and strategic emancipation) of Iran; and finally the overthrows 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 failed to keep up a broad agenda and all-participatory basis with its strategic neighborhood, although having institutions, interest and credibility to do so – as it did before at 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: Barcelona Process as the specialized segment of European Neighborhood Policy and Policy and the Euro-Med partnership (OSCE).

The only direct involvement of the continent was a military engagement via the Atlantic Europe-led coalition of the willing (Libya, Syria). Confrontational nostalgia prevailed again over dialog (instruments) and consensus (institutions). The consequences are striking: The sort of Islam that the EU supported (and the means deployed to do so) in the Middle East in past (few decades), is the sort of Islam (and the means it uses) that Europe gets currently/presently/nowadays. Small wonder that Islam in Turkey (or in Kyrgyzstan and in Indonesia) is broad, liberal and tolerant while the one in Northern Europe is a brutally dismissive, narrow and destructively assertive.

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