A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Sunday, 22 May 2011

Ashton Speaks For Europe: Arabs Actually Listen

Libyan rebels. Rewarded for their efforts by a visit from Baroness Ashcloud.

Funny how you have to go outside the EU to get the best news these days. Al-Jazeera has just reported that the European Union has opened a diplomatic mission in Benghazi, the headquarters of the Libyan opposition. High Representative for Foreign Affairs Baroness Catherine Ashton visited in person, and toured the square where the uprising began back in February. She declared that the European Union would be there 'for the long term,' i.e. until the rebellion was crushed or Gaddafi overthrown, and said that she was 'really interested' in some of the people and groups she met - notably women's groups.

This is presumably part of the EU's plans to put down 'deep democracy' in the free state, 'the ability to be able to build the institutions that don't exist, having a political process that's going to last by having [a] political parties system, whatever they decide.' The EU will play an active role in building the institutions of a democratic and free Libya from scratch, as well as assist with security and border management. Ashton and the chairman of the rebel government also discussed health and education, but there is little detail, as yet, on what the EU's role in these two fields will be. It will probably involve financing the rebel's projects and providing experts to do the ground work.

The European Union, of course, is an incredibly pragmatic organisation, unlike our national governments. If something does not benefit the European Union in some way, then it will not do it. However, due to the secrecy of the Commission and the Council, it is not always easy to determine what these benefits are. I can see three, as far as Libyan intervention is concerned:

1) It helps the EU to make its grand appearance on the world stage. As it recently applied for speaking rights at the United Nations and now wants to be able to vote, being one of the first major powers to back up their words over Libya with solid action will work greatly in their favour. Especially if this support is non-military and is actually constructive. It will be a clear arrival in world politics, but it does not succumb to aggrandisement or interventionist policies.

2) It helps stem the tide of sub-Saharan refugees who use Libya as a staging post to get to Europe. This was presumably what the 'security and border controls' thing was about. The EU has already had to temporarily disband the Schengen Zone because of the influx of economic migration and a genuine refugee crisis; it knows the pressure that such large numbers can place on its authority over national governments, and wants to do whatever it can to limit their numbers.

3) It places the EU diplomats above the national diplomats of EU nations in the heirarchy. There is a revealing statement at the end of this article that would never be made in a British paper: 'Before Ashton, the highest-ranking foreign diplomat to visit Benghazi was Radoslaw Sikorski, Polish foreign minister.' Europeans still see their national diplomats as the representatives of their country. Arabs know otherwise.

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