The European Union (EU) is in real trouble. Quite apart from the annoying success of the UK and Brexit (the UK is actually selling more goods to EU countries since it left the European Union and is enjoying bumper foreign investment), the EU’s influence within its own sphere is waning. It is tangible. You can see it in the polls from EU-supporting folk to the numbers rising for Eurosceptic parties across Europe—eastern Europe in particular, where many governments will soon start paying real hard cash to remain a member of the EU, rather than the “deficit” which they have enjoyed since 2004. Poland is especially ripe to leave the EU. Others like the Czech Republic and Hungary are also contenders, while Britain soldiering ahead with record post-Covid economic growth of almost 5 percent is just further encouragement.
But the real indicator of how the EU is failing as a project is with its practically non-existent, so-called “foreign policy,” which really should be a university faculty rather than a US$1 billion annual experiment in fake news and blue sky thinking by Brussels geopolitical twonks.
Just look at Afghanistan. Where is the EU? A statement lamenting the catastrophe, issued by the somnolent if not plain dull EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell himself, was all this “superpower” could muster. The truth is that the EU is divided once again about Afghanistan. Moreover, there is a great deal of anger from EU member states as French President Emmanuel Macron and others, rather than offer refuge to Afghans, do precisely the opposite and tell their voters the doors are shut, except to a token handful. There is real worry in France that Marin le Penn could have a fair stab at the French presidency and so Macron is having to shift to the right to mop up the floating voters.
The EU is not only keeping quiet but also not offering any practical assistance to the crisis at Kabul airport.
Yet the real problem is with eastern European countries, who have gone further than Macron and have indicated they will take no refugees whatsoever and won’t be “dictated” to by EU mandarins about their responsibilities. This is partly the reason why the EU is not only keeping quiet but also not offering any practical assistance to the crisis at Kabul airport. (That’s the same EU which proposed it would provide gunboats to bomb smugglers off the coast of Libya, in case you were wondering). The bloc doesn’t have the backing of member states to do anything, therefore the EU is not going to be the institution that decides where these poor people are dumped. This example shows anyone who is deluded enough to believe that the EU has a foreign policy, exactly what the EU’s ideas are when it talks about foreign affairs. Just talk.
There is perhaps another reason why the EU is keeping quiet about the Afghanistan horror story, though. It – like the US, the UK, and others – also failed there. In 2008, I went to Afghanistan for Euronews and reported on an EU project which collated police officers from several EU member states and sent them to Kabul to mentor their colleagues who were being shot dead at an alarming rate. Getting an interview with a British police officer in Kabul was quite a triumph I was told by several people, as it was quite clear that the project was doomed from the start. In fact, the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL) officers were afraid to leave their barracks due to the security situation. I gather a similar project exists in Somalia, where the country is teetering on imploding into yet another civil war.
The last thing the EU wants now is a bevy of Eurosceptic articles highlighting how much aid and resources were wasted in Afghanistan as top officials like Ursula Von Der Leyen and Josep Borrell hope that the spotlight is not shined too strongly on Brussels.
An EU “Pillar” Within NATO?
And so, the EU knows what failure feels like. Yet, ironically, talk in 2008 was centered around a French general’s idea that the EU should have its own pillar or division within NATO itself, so that it could be an equal partner with the US in Afghanistan.
With the Biden decision to pull out so spectacularly unilateral and go it alone, I would imagine many EU countries will be wondering whether the story would be different today if EU countries were united in Afghanistan and could choose to stay and do what they believed is right. Boris Johnson, for example, really was eager to do something militarily to hold off the Taliban from taking Kabul, but he found that Biden wasn’t taking his calls. Literally.
The EU has long been harping on about having its own army. But, member states cannot agree on how to structure such a force.
The EU has long been harping on about having its own army. But in reality, member states cannot agree on how to structure such a force and how much power Germany would have in it — also a conundrum. An alternative idea would be for EU countries to stick together the next time a NATO-led initiative like Afghanistan sprouts its head, and to present themselves as a union which requires certain powers.
With the heads of NATO meeting in late August, the growing level of discontent with the US must be paramount, as many of these chiefs lick their wounds and reflect how badly NATO itself came out of Afghanistan. Biden’s pusillanimous actions and his embarrassing media appearances will undoubtedly push old Europe into the zone of “be careful what you wish for” on the world’s security stage.
Sit tight and wait for the media to warm up the “EU army” story once again, to both counter US dithering on international crises and present what the EU thinks – erroneously – is a sticking plaster to its own political calamity.