Posted on July 07, 2019 by filiu
Borrell, a chance for Europe in the Mediterranean
Josep Borrell, President of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2007
“In the Middle East, the United States decides and Europe pays.” This formula of a scathing irony, very popular among diplomats in charge of Mediterranean issues, has never been more cruel than with the Trump administration: while Washington ceased in 2018 to pay its contribution to the agency. For the Palestinian refugees, the European Union decided to partially compensate for this withdrawal, so as not to jeopardize crucial education and health programs for millions of Palestinians. This European generosity is only one aspect in the Middle East of the colossal budget effort of the European Commission and its member states, especially in favor of the Palestinian Authority (PA), more than ever on the verge of bankruptcy.
A NEW “BARCELONA PROCESS”?
By keeping the largely discredited administration of President Mahmoud Abbas afloat, the EU is doing a tremendous service to Israel and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, in the event of a collapse of the PA, should assume direct responsibility of the considerable costs and risks of regaining control of the entire West Bank. As the largest donor to the PA, the EU is by far Israel’s largest trading partner, with research cooperation being particularly dynamic. This very positive EU engagement with Israel did not, however, deter Netanyahu and his government from carrying out unparalleled violence on alleged EU support for “terrorism”. In fact, such calumny is in fact the constancy of the EU’s commitment to the “two-state solution”, ie the establishment of an independent state of Palestine, living in peace alongside Israel. Netanyahu has mobilized its populist allies in Budapest, Rome and Warsaw to undermine this common position of the EU, to date in vain.
The EU has thus obtained no political benefit from a massive financial commitment, merely recalling at regular intervals positions of principle, admittedly based on international law, but rendered inaudible by Trump’s battering. The presentation by his son-in-law of the economic aspect of his so-called “agreement of the century” has however revealed the inconsistency of the American proposals, which an editorial of the “World” considered “distressing”. This disqualification from the United States should open a space for an ambitious European initiative to effectively revive the peace process in the region. Already, in 1995, the so-called “Barcelona” process, with a Euro-Mediterranean vocation, had been launched to overcome the shock of the assassination of Ytzhak Rabin, who signed, two years earlier, Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements. Spain, led as today by a socialist government, found in the capital of Catalonia the anchor of an imaginative European diplomacy, distinguished by Miguel Angel Moratinos, the EU’s special envoy to the Middle East. 1996 to 2003, and Javier Solana, Head of European Diplomacy from 1999 to 2009.
THE PERSONAL EQUATION OF BORRELL
Josep Borrell, who will leave the direction of the Spanish diplomacy to join Brussels, belongs to the generation of Moratinos and Solana. It can not however be reduced to them, he who chaired the European Parliament from 2004 to 2007, then the European University Institute of Florence from 2010 to 2012. This passage at the head of a research center, at the forefront of science human and social, it is precious for him to get rid of the Brussels Newspeak and its trompe l’oeil concepts. This is the time when the EU, after drowning the “Barcelona Process” in a “neighborhood policy” with a much more limited ambition, is unable to take stock of the upheaval in progress south of the Mediterranean, opposing in 2011, in English in the text, the “three M: Money, Mobility, Markets” (Money, Mobility, Market). Such technocratic short-sightedness inevitably leads the EU to measure its support for the Tunisian transition, to tolerate the fierce repression of the Sissi dictatorship in Egypt, and to adjust its cooperation everywhere to fight against illegal immigration.
One can only hope that Borrell will give a new impetus to a European policy without vision or perspective in the Mediterranean. He distinguished himself recently by celebrating the tremendous resources that the youth of the southern Mediterranean, far more important to him for national development and regional stability, than all hydrocarbon deposits. This emphasis on the human and the intangible is all the more remarkable as Borrell has a background in engineering and economics. He also knows Mediterranean societies better than many Eurocrats, especially Israel, where, in a kibbutz volunteer, he met the mother of his two children in 1969. Considering in 2018 that the “events in Gaza affect the ability of the EU to play its role as a global player”, it will have to move from words to action, for example by opening under the auspices of the EU a maritime link between Gaza and Cyprus, if only to ease the pressure on this overpopulated and besieged territory. Nor will it be able to leave the EU silent in the face of the unfolding wave that crosses Algeria, an expression of the radical protest of a moribund status quo south of the Mediterranean.
Of course, Josep Borrell can not face such daunting challenges alone. But he has all the assets to finally give the EU a breath and a project in the Mediterranean. Let’s bet he will be judged quickly by his facts.