What You Need to Know about playing the European Union

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Current Events and EU Foreign Policy

The purpose of this section is to provide a brief overview of developing diplomatic challenges. Your background guide and CFSP should be considered your main resource, this is a supplement, and should not be considered a stand alone document or an executive summary.


Currently, with regards to Palestine, the EU is in a bit of a predicament. The Palestinian Authority (PA) plans to press the General Assembly (GA) to recognize Palestine as an independent nation. This move has garnered widespread worldwide support. However, there are several key nations which oppose this move, most notably the U.S. and Israel. In addition, several key European states also wish to see the Palestinians back away from their bid for statehood, and of these the most prominent is Germany. As you will know from the background guide, this split within the EU presents a major hurdle. Unless there is complete agreement by all EU nations to support a foreign policy plan, the EU cannot act. It is unlikely the EU members will agree on a position; therefore, the EU representatives are forbidden from acting on this policy point. It remains a point for individual member nations. While it appears most favor a pro-statehood vote, some do not. For the EU to act now would be to violate the sovereignty of these member nations.

So, how then does the EU proceed? While the world quarrels over a vote, the EU has concerned itself with keeping up communications between Israel and the PA. The EU has a vested interest in not allowing this vote to create a permanent rift between Israel and Palestine. Furthermore, the EU has sought to open up trade relations directly with Palestine. This trade deal will help soften the sting of the U.S's threat to withdraw support for the PA, as well as build up the struggling Palestinian economy.


Syria presents a much darker challenge. The Syrian President Assad has forcibly put down non-violent protests within his country. This stands against everything the EU believes. It also calls upon one of the key motivations behind EU foreign policy, the respect for human rights. A further pitfall for the EU was its deep trade ties with Syria. The EU was Syria's largest importer of oil. The violence within Syria required a direct response by the EU, lest it be seen as a supporter of a nation who slaughters its own civilians.

The EU response was not swift, as it required passage of an amendment to EU's CFSP. However, it was a strong amendment. The EU has banned the importing of Syrian oil, frozen the funds of institutions and individuals involved in the attacks on civilians, banned the travel of anyone who is involved in repression, and prohibited any European investment within Syria. The EU does not undertake such actions lightly, and such wide ranging sanctions required a new CFSP.

Another change occurred recently in regards to Assad's regime. With the support of the European Union nations, Catherine Ashton called upon Syrian president Assad to step down. This is a significant move for the EU. While the EU is unlikely to go to war with Syria, its statement demonstrates its belief that the Assad regime is headed the way of the dodo. Such a statement will not be forgotten by Assad should he remain in power. Therefore, these statements are made deliberately and with a good deal of thought. Ashton did not make this statement until well after it had been made by many other EU member nations, thus protecting her from being accused of acting outside the bounds of the CFSP. The EU is now committed to a future that does not include Assad as the president of Syria. The EU will most likely not consider military action, except under the most extreme of circumstances. This is because Syria still has its supporters. Countries such as Russia, Iran, and Lebanon would most likely dissuade the EU from taking military action.


Russia has many vested interests in Syria. It has commercial deals with Syria which help to dissuade support of rebels in Chechnya. By making Russian support and trade contingent upon a regime's ability to stop pro-Chechnya activities, Russia effectively uses its economy as a source of political leverage. Access to the vast markets of Russia is key to the survival of many ostracized regimes. Without this large market, export industries would fail, and regimes would have to bear a terrible economic burden. Russia was also leery about approving a NATO led mission into Libya during the summer of 2011. Russia believes that EU nations deceived it and went well beyond the resolution that Russia signed. It feels that it was used to green light a mission whose goals were regime change, not the safeguarding of civilians. Thus, Russia is very leery of its dealing with EU nations at the moment. Russia views the EU sanctions as unproductive unilateral actions. It is unlikely that Russia would ever green-light a military strike against Syria. Furthermore, it is also unlikely that Russia would ever okay U.N. sanctions. Russia is one of the keys to advancing EU goals towards Syria. Should Russia be turned against Assad, it is very likely that the EU could make real steps in bringing about democratic changes in Syria. However, the mistrust between Moscow and the EU are at high levels. Swaying the Russians is a high EU priority, but not one that the EU will pursue at all costs.


In response to Israel's unwillingness to apologize for the raid on a Turkish aid Flotilla to Gaza, Turkey has canceled its military alliance with Israel in September 2011, and it expelled Israel's ambassador. This is a sign that relations have cooled between the two to a point where Turkey is uninterested in negotiations until its demands for an apology and reparations are met. This is a blow for Israeli policy; it has lost its only Muslim ally.

The EU has taken a tact toward Turkey and Israel much like it has taken towards Palestine and Israel; it has been expending its efforts in trying to maintain fruitful communications between the two. The EU wishes to see stable relations throughout the region. However, it has less leverage over Israel than it does over Turkey, especially considering Israel's track record of maintaining untenable positions. When dealing with Turkey, the EU has a fairly free hand. There are many levers that they can pull. This is because both Turkey and the EU share a good deal more political exposure to each other's policies. Turkey is currently undergoing a process by which it brings its governmental policies into line with the EU's, so it can become a member. Furthermore, Turkey and the EU nations are members of NATO and various other regional alliances. This means that there are many more ways for the EU to influence Turkish policy. Many of these same connections do not exist between the EU and Israel. This means that the EU would be required to take overt political action if it wanted to influence Israel directly. Israel is renowned for being immune to international criticism. If the EU were serious about influencing Israeli policy, as it has been in the past, this would require alterations to trade agreements. Such a move is very serious and is hardly suited to a delicate political situation like this. Therefore, some EU nations have been urging Turkey to continue talks with Israel and to resolve their problems through diplomacy. While it is unlikely that Turkey and Israel would ever go to war, their arguments are disruptive and unproductive. By urging Turkey to talk to Israel, the EU is not seen as being passive, or domineering. The EU has yet to take a solid stance on this issue; however, it is clear that it does not wish to see Israeli-Turkish relations further degrade. Keeping these two nations on speaking terms is key to regional stability.


The EU is cautiously approaching the current Israeli predicament. While the initial goals, outlined in the CFSP, stand, many EU members have spoken out against Turkey's breaking of ties with Israel.This does not constitute an EU position; though, many news agencies erroneously report these statements as coming from the EU, instead of from EU members. Still, the EU has expressed a desire to see communications between the two powers continue. With regards to Israel, the EU is very interested in seeing negotiations resume. The schism places the EU in a very uncomfortable position. It has huge trade interests in both countries. If their continued animosity develops further, EU trade interests could be jeopardized. This should be framed in terms of reality. When we say escalate, this does not mean to war. No one, who is reputable, thinks Turkey and Israel would go to war. This would be a real war for both countries, against an enemy who either outnumbers themyou, or against a foe who outguns them. This is a war which neither would ever want to fight. However, what happens to EU trade with Turkey if Israel puts a tax on technological goods being shipped there? Then any goods that go from Turkey to the EU, which include these pieces, would appreciate in value. Here, we see the nut of the problem; the idea that this quarrel could develop into a trade dispute and would affect EU purse. Remember, the EU is truly a trading bloc more than anything. It's key goal is to maintain the power of European trade, this means stable relationships between nations. Stable relationships mean stable prices.

Israel and the U.S. have both been calling for Palestine to stop its bid for statehood. Some European nations have called for Palestine to be recognized, others have said this will be unproductive. The EU has no opinion on the statehood issue, because its member states can't agree. Therefore, it aids the EU if both parties are able to return to the table. The resumption of peace talks is something that all members of the EU can agree is the right course of action. Remember, the EU has a trade deal with Palestine and with Israel. The EU wants a stable relationship between these two countries. In the days leading up to the EU vote, the U.S. and EU joined together to try and restart talks. However, Israel has remained firm that, while it is willing to resume talks, it is not willing to freeze settlements. Without a settlement freeze, the Palestinians will not go to the table. Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has promised drastic action, should the Palestinians declare statehood. The EU team must watch carefully and try to dissuade any drastic actions. The EU cannot support the overt violation of human rights. Thus, getting these two back to the table is the number one EU goal.

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