Open Europe Blog

The EU’s fledgling External Action Service has regularly been mocked for its naivety and ‘Kum-bay-ah’ approach; all too often it seems to base its polices on projecting a positive image of the EU, occasionally backed by some suitably bland statements, supposedly helping autocrats and dictators around the world to see the error of their ways and embrace reform.

It seems however, that the recent unrest in North Africa and the Middle East has brought a hitherto hidden Machiavellian tendency in the EU’s foreign policy to the fore. Firstly, we had the Maltese EU Commissioner for health going off-message on Libya a couple of weeks ago by saying he “didn’t think [he] had the right, or anyone else, to make a statement on whether he [Gaddafi] should step down”.

Now Robert Cooper, senior advisor to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, has claimed Bahrain is normally “a rather pleasant, peaceful place”, and defended its security forces after they opened fire on protesters with live ammunition last week:

“I’m not sure if the police have had to deal with these public order questions before. It’s not easy dealing with large demonstrations in which there may be violence. It’s a difficult task for policemen. It’s not something that we always get right in the best Western countries and accidents happen”.

His statement ought to be seen in the context of an earlier work in which he claimed:

“The challenge of the postmodern world is to get used to the idea of double standards…When dealing with more old fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era – force, pre-emptive attack deception, whatever is necessary… Among ourselves we keep the law but when operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle”

This also follows the reports that another Ashton aide was briefing against a no-fly over Libya, which briefly put her at odds with both Cameron and Sarkozy, until it was explained away as a ‘rogue briefing’.

These kinds of ill-advised comments emanating from the EU apparatus, and the fact that we’ll never know who authorised them, demonstrate inconsistency, and further undermine the EEAS’s objective of getting Europe to “speak with one voice”. They also underline the potential danger of a power struggle over the EU’s foreign policy at a time when Europe is facing an uncertain future.

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