EU deserves much greater credit for its role in the peace process
by Miguel Angel Moratinos
At a time when the Lebanese population deserves both compassion and respect for serving, once again, as the target for Israeli bombing, pleading for Europe in the press might seem off course. Still, this article rests on the belief that the changes in European institutions can only help the Middle East, and Lebanon in particular. I travel extensively in the Middle East. On each stop, I meet dozens of political personalities, journalists, scholars and professors. We always mention Europe, and the recurring question is about what Europe can do. I am always reminded of Iraq, of Kosovo, of the peace process. For the unsettled questioner, the answer is in the question: Europe is unable to influence events. Why? Because it does not muster enough military resources for its ambitions, and because it does not express itself through established, permanent and well-honed institutions. In the Middle East and elsewhere, the military argument is not vain, and we all know the importance of armed forces and deterrence. General de Gaulle used to say that France had been formed “with the sword.” As for our alleged political failings, I will try to correct a view which no longer relates to our present actions.
Why is it not possible to realize that Europe is expressing itself, that it is acting, that it is capable of adapting, that it knows how to be generous and supportive? To ignore Europe’s action and metamorphosis, which can only help its relationship to the Middle East, one should want to be oblivious to the most recent past, or unable to perceive the image that is being drawn. Let us take the example of Arab-Israeli peace, which lies at the heart of Lebanese concerns. At Madrid in 1991, the least one could say is that the EU was apportioned a minimal role. It was invited as a “participant” on the sidelines. It did not belong to the inner circle of guardian angels protecting the newborn. In truth, only the multilateral forums were open to Europe. This was not insignificant, however, as the multilaterals touched on issues like weapons, refugees, water, the environment, and regional economic development.
There are those, however, who complain about Europe’s absence from the bilateral negotiations. Upon the signing of the Oslo Accords two years later in Washington, the European Union was present, but in the second tier. In such an inauspicious set-up, what could Europe do? Forget the friends of yesterday and today? Keep quiet? Rein in its ambitions? Abandon the Middle East which is its closer neighbor geographically, historically, humanely, culturally? To imagine such abandon means not to know Europe, for Europe is much more than the sum of its 15 ambitions French, Spanish, English, Swedish, German etc. It is an ensemble of a higher nature which is slowly finding its coherence, acquiring its own momentum, aspiring to propose to the world, and to its neighbors especially, a democratic, non-violent, cooperative and mutual vision. For that, it is animated by an ambition of a political nature.
This is why the EU is developing a political role which grows together with the frame of its foreign policy and security as decided in the Maastricht Treaty. One should not therefore be surprised to see a partner which is neither silent nor inactive. But one must listen. Europe speaks. Contrary to what is being said, it only has one voice. On this point, as with others, it does live up to that “one reality” expressed by Julien Benda, even if the definition in Brussels of its policy decisions does not always come easy. It expresses itself, here and elsewhere, on all the issues that concern its interests. It reaffirms the importance and relevance of the United Nations. Its word is not an empty one, nor is it wishful thinking. Europe echoes a lively obligation which consists in reasserting, time and again, the importance of UN Security Council resolutions, including 425 and others. On Middle East issues, Europe stands as sentry and guardian of international law, imperfect but irreplaceable. Europe is not on its own. But its reinforced voice counts. And if one were to judge of the usefulness of its declarations as measured against the resentment of some, one would see how far that voice reaches. This voice, which echoes from Venice to Berlin, must be preserved. It is useful. It is the voice of the law, of good law.
Europe acts. When the Arab-Israeli negotiations risked sinking under the barrage of hostile forces, Europe considered it indispensable to salvage the ties between Israeli and Arab protagonists. In October 1996, it decided to appoint a special envoy. It did so the more easily upon its belief in the need to keep alive the peace process which is the mainstay of its interests in the Middle East, and in view of the importance of its regional financial contributions. Europe knows, more than others, what it owes to peace.
Europe asks its envoy to be constantly at the disposal of all parties. It is not a self-serving matter to say that Europe has contributed through him to the Israelo-Palestinian negotiations by establishing a Code of Conduct in 1997; by putting in train, at the same time, the Euro-Israeli dialogue over the difficulties of the Palestinian economy; or by bringing guarantees onto the Israelo-Palestinian agreements over Hebron and at Sharm el-Sheikh. Let us say, in brief, that thanks to the flexibility which he was granted, the European envoy has constantly maintained dynamic contacts between all the parties, and made proposals which were often taken up.
Two examples among these proposals are the cooperation over security between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the many shuttle missions between Syria and Israel. By so doing, the EU envoy has probably contributed to saving the peace process and allowed Europe to go beyond the multilateral framework to which it was constrained originally, reaching into the heart of bilateral negotiations. Another example of the distinct EU contribution is its support, over many years, for the right of Palestinians to self-determination. With some of its member states, Europe was for a long time the only power defending the idea that this right was “the” solution, and not the problem. It was this same logic which drove it thereafter to express its support for a Palestinian state, and the Berlin Declaration of 1999 literally mentions the formula “including the option of a State.” This is the same solution defended by many nowadays in Israel and in the United States. When President Clinton indicated in Gaza last year that he supported the Palestinian people’s aspiration to determine their own future on their own territory, he was putting forward an idea which had taken root in Europe.
It is not an exaggeration to say that European declarations on the subject have facilitated international awakening to this reality, including perhaps paving the way to its espousal by the American president. Similarly, the Berlin Declaration has allowed President Arafat to delay the declaration of a Palestinian state by offering him the international political guarantee which he needed for that postponement. The European Union knows how to put its budgets at the disposal of parties engaged in the peace process. This is in all likelihood its best-known role, and to mention only the Palestinians, Europe has been the most generous donor in the international community. Europe changes. I have already said how the creation of the position of special envoy represented an important step forward in the politicization of European action and perception. One had to go further, and to institutionalize a structure defining foreign policy. The Amsterdam Treaty has marked a new stage by expressing the affirmation of a European identity as a European objective, including by the implementation of a common foreign and security policy (PESC, in its French acronym) which would lead to common defense.
Since the treaty, a “Mr. PESC” has been appointed in the person of Javier Solana, who was entrusted with this immensely challenging task. This should put to rest those among my interlocutors who were worried that Europe would remain an economic colossus unable to conceive of a foreign policy and to think in terms of common security. Against that new context, the political potentiality of a changing Europe must be examined. We hope that 2000 will be the year of peace. We expect substantial progress in the negotiations between, on the one hand, Israel and Lebanon, and, on the other hand, between Israel and Syria. The EU has already demonstrated its readiness to facilitate those negotiations and guarantee their application. Security arrangements will be indispensible. Europe is ready to bring its contribution in this field, as well as to water issues and economic development.
To ask the question of the political role of Europe in the Mediterranean is to ask, on the one hand, about its policy toward the United States, and, on the other hand, of Europe’s vision of the future of the Mediterranean. Let us underline a straightforward point: the Americans exercise presently an indisputable position of dominance in the Near and Middle East. To challenge them over it would be a vain exercise which is not part, in any case, of Europe’s intentions. My conviction is that we must help Washington in its Middle East enterprise. The question therefore is not to oppose the efforts of the United States, but to help them grow in the right direction.
This is a strategy of complementarity. For reasons of history and geography, the Mediterranean is our Orient. We feel clearly that if we abandon it, we will find ourselves “disoriented.” This is why a global approach is necessary. For a few years, the EU has been developing an ambitious policy of cooperation with its South. One of its objectives is to reduce the inequality, be it economic, social, or demographic, which divides Mediterranean countries. At the European Council meeting in Cannes in June 1995, a consensus on how to deal with South finally came about among the member states. That was the birthdate of the Barcelona process. The declaration which followed established the creation of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, which is structured around security policy, economy and finance, and social and cultural affairs. The partnership should result by 2010 in a free-trade zone. This is Europe’s vision of its South. It is an ambitious one.
It would not be far-fetched to compare the Barcelona process, to which Lebanon is part, and the multilaterals, in which Lebanon does not take part. In both processes, Europe acts according to its “vision.” It tries to encourage the regional parties to think about their future, and their economic cooperation,  together. It is convinced that security problems cannot be merely thought in terms of preventing conflicts and military action, but also in terms of migration, economic development, protection of the environment, respect for human rights. Should these aspects of social life not be taken into account, armed conflicts would more readily ensue.
The original idea behind the multilaterals was that one can discuss anything before the main political questions get resolved. In Oslo and in Washington, one thought that progress achieved within the framework of this international cooperation would facilitate the task of political negotiators, both Israeli and Arab. This was based on the principle that two chemists or two peasants from different nationalities speak more easily the same language than two political figures, and that they would consequently be readier to forcefully express their request for peace. Some observers argued that this way of facilitating the final negotiations was creative, others that it was naive and that it put the cart before the horse. The latter position was that of Lebanon and Syria who, within this logic, did not go to Moscow for the meeting of the pilot committee of the multilaterals on Jan. 31, 2000. One can respect this attitude. I do not personally reject or endorse this way of approaching negotiations. But I note that the impermeability between the process in Barcelona and that of the multilaterals did not resist the development of facts.
The ups and downs of the Arab-Israeli peace process have affected the mechanisms devised at Barcelona. This difficulty needs to be overcome, especially considering that the control of the two dynamics is expensive in time, energy, imagination, people and budgets. Brussels understands well that only peace will allow its partners, including Lebanon when the time comes, full enjoyment of the international and inter-state network which is being constituted in Europe. Europe is learning to manage regional ensembles anew. Its own evolution, inside those frontiers, requires it to succeed. The experience of Barcelona proves in the best way that Europe is committed on this track to its non-European neighbors, and, emphatically, to the Middle Eastern ensemble. It is fortunate that Lebanon, which has so much to say about Europe, about the Mediterranean and about the Arab world, has joined that venture. It must rest convinced that at the time of the great rendezvous, Europe will be present.
Miguel Angel Moratinos, the European Union’s envoy on the Middle East peace process, contributed this commentary to The Daily Star (19/2/2000)