Saturday,24 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1239, (26 March - 1 April 2015)
Saturday,24 March, 2018
Issue 1239, (26 March - 1 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

EU disunity on foreign policy

The issues of Ukraine and Iran have exposed fissures in concerted European foreign policymaking that may also impact Washington, writes Al-Sayed Amin Shalaby

Al-Ahram Weekly

Scholars and analysts who follow the European Union (EU), particularly its foreign policy, will notice that the union lacks unity in dealing with the foreign policy issues, which leads to ineffectiveness on regional and international issues.

Recently, disagreement was clear on two major issues: the Iranian nuclear programme, and dealing with Russia on Ukraine. Disagreement on the Iranian nuclear programme comes at a very critical time in the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, which hope to reach an agreement by the end of March, with signs that an agreement is “at hand.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry has undertaken marathon efforts to reach such an agreement, while US President Barack Obama announced that what has been reached so far seems “reasonable.”

But the French position seems to be militant amongst the P5+1 group, reflected in the meeting between French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Kerry on 7 March, followed by a larger meeting that included the British and German foreign ministers and Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

Kerry must recall his difficult experience with Fabius, who undermined, on 12 November 2013, an interim agreement that was reached between the US and Iranian sides. In the French assessment, the interim agreement “[did] not provide all the guarantees for Iranian commitments to partially freeze its nuclear programme in exchange for a partial lifting of economic and financial sanctions on Iran.”

Commenting on the meeting between Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, in Montreux, Switzerland, on 4 March, Fabius declared that the situation was not satisfactory and, consequently, there must be additional actions taken.

In answer to those who insist on the necessity of reaching a political agreement by the end of this month, Fabius said Paris wants “a solid agreement, not only for us, but also for the whole region and its security, and the interests of the Iranians themselves.” Fabius appeared to suggest that if a satisfactory agreement was not reached, nothing prevents negotiations continuing after the end of March, saying this floating deadline couldn’t be used as a pretext to accept an unsatisfactory agreement.

The second issue of disagreement was the EU stance towards Russia on Ukraine, elements of which were clear in the statements of Donald Tusk, former prime minister of Poland, who recently assumed his post as president of the European Council.

“Europe is not yet ready to increase sanctions on Russia, regardless the latest provocations of Russian President Putin,” Tusk said, adding, “Strong lobbies already made it difficult for the EU to impose more sweeping sanctions.”

Tusk regards the meaning and repercussions of the conflict in Ukraine, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and how the situation developed in Eastern Ukraine, as just one of many crises that now threaten Europe’s security and require a concerted response.

In his assessment of the EU position, Tusk referred to “more than 1,000 violations” of the truce agreement reached last month between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian government. He said it is “currently impossible for the EU to reach unanimity needed to impose additional sanctions.” He added that a permanent effort should be made to guard against Russian attempts to divide European leaders against one another.

To understand Tusk’s attitude towards Russia we must recall that he was a leading figure in the Polish “Solidarity” organisation that played a major role against the Soviet Union and its relations with Poland.

As for the US response to this EU lack of unity, we can expect that Tusk’s call for the Europeans to adopt a unified stand towards Russia on Ukraine will receive the support of the US administration, particularly with the near expiry of certain sanctions on Russia. Doubtless, Obama will ask his European allies to keep the pressure on Moscow.

The writer is executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

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