How Europe could be a force for good in the Middle East

Europe's World
How Europe could be a force for good in the Middle East
HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal
1 Oct 2007


"Payers not players" said Israel's Ariel Sharon of the EU, and Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan agrees that Europe's aid and investment spending is not what will bring peace to the region. He proposes an EU-backed Stability Charter that would give Europe a new and positive Middle East role

The forging of the "new order" since the closing post-Soviet decade of the 20th century has left many nations questioning their own roles in the inexorable process of political and economic globalisation, and perhaps Europe, with its long history of political and cultural dominance, is the most at sea in all this realpolitik. Yet surely the continent that forged so many ties, both productive and painful, with the Middle East has a vital role as the facilitator of dialogue and development? Chris Patten, the EU's former external affairs commissioner has pointed out how, just as the "reconciliation of France and Germany was the necessary and admirable European accomplishment of the 20th century, …(so)… reconciling the West and the Islamic world, with Europe acting as a hinge between the two, is a major task for the 21st". 

European policy in the Middle East became the litmus test of a new common foreign and security policy after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now, almost 30 years after the groundbreaking 1980 Venice Declaration in which the EU's then nine member states expressed their support for Palestinian self-determination, surely the time has come to take stock of Europe's involvement in the region, and to ask how Europeans can help to move it forward to peace and prosperity. 

Many Europeans seem to share this belief, but as Brussels considers yet again how to enter the fray of talks it must respond to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's scornful comment that in the region "you are payers, not players". Some parties in Europe may have aligned themselves too closely with the United States to command general respect, but the contribution that might still be made by a united European voice should not be underestimated. Similarly, the need for this voice to express a vision that crosses the boundaries of race and politics cannot be overstated. 
Europe's financial contribution to the Middle East has, of course, been consistent and impressive. Between 1995 and 1999, some €3.435bn was spent by it in the region, to which the European Investment Bank added a further €4.8bn in loans. From 2000-2006, Europe spent €5.35bn and the EIB approved €6.4bn in loans. This year, the European Commission has since January already committed €320m in Palestine alone. 

But has Europe's financial aid brought peace any closer? The Palestinian Authority has received more per capita aid than did post-war Europe under the Marshall Plan, but the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have scuppered any hopes of a broader regional Euro-Mediterranean framework offering a policy of dialogue and investment capable of making a real impact on the lives of millions. Project-based investment has had little effect on the peace process. From the Barcelona process, the Five Plus Five Dialogue, the European Neighbourhood Policy, to the Mediterranean focus of the OSCE, Europe's well-meaning participation in peace and prosperity-building in the Middle East has lacked durability and vision. 

It has become starkly obvious, therefore, that peace in the Middle East will not be born out of projects. Rather, it will emerge from a concept that respects identity and addresses existential needs. A stability charter to address the concerns of people in terms of land ownership, economy, demography and supra-national cooperation must form the core of future dialogue and investment. For peace to take root, long-term regional interests must overcome national agendas. It is this vital multilateral ethos that Europe must champion, so that division and disillusionment can be consigned to the history books just as they were in Europe after World War II. 

It should in any case seem strange to us that the Middle East lacks a regional declaration of principles focused on human stability. Politics, economics and security dominate discussions, while culture, human dignity and human solidarity get scant attention. The Regional Economic Development Working Group (REDWG) of the Middle East Peace Process which emerged from the 1991 Madrid Summit and, which was shepherded by the European Union, is a prime example of a hopeful initiative that failed because it was not rooted in a vision of the future. Among its main activities were the Copenhagen ‘shopping list' of projects and the MENA Economic Summits. The entire multilateral process, including REDWG, foundered in the quagmire of the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off after the election of Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Government in 1996.

Surely Europeans, above all, should appreciate that to weather political and economic storms, any attempt to build regional common policies must be based on more than investment opportunities. 

A decade ago, the Jordanian government proposed to the American co-sponsors of the Multilateral Process two additional working groups. The five areas which they had defined – Refugees, Environment, Water, Regional Economic Development and Arms Control and Regional Security – seemed inadequate as an agenda for regional cohesion. The Jordanian government believed that Human Rights and Energy could not be ignored if true and lasting peace was to be achieved. Their response was that these were very sensitive issues, yet in the wake of 9/11 democratisation and human rights became priorities for a very different agenda. 

As the Middle East lurches from crisis to crisis, it has become ever clearer that we need nothing less than a new regional order in which human security is underpinned by hard security mechanisms. This is the vision that will facilitate peace for future generations. The recent Arab League Peace Initiative marks an important step forward in regional thinking, but as Tony Blair has said, "principles without power is futile". I believe a stability pact for the region could help to match what was achieved a decade ago in the Balkans. An enforced template of international law is essential, and it must be one with which all state and non-state actors have to comply. Violators of international law must be made aware that the Middle East is subject to the same norms as other regions, and that the principles of democracy belong as much to her people as to those of more politically developed nations. 

Time is running out for the Middle East as the fault-lines deepen and grow. Nowhere is the gap between rich and poor more apparent, while divisions between and within states seem to increase by the week. Meanwhile, civil society struggles to find a role in community and state decision-making. Regrettably, EU policy towards West Asia North Africa (WANA) often reinforces these divides by applying very different terms of reference to the haves and have-nots – European Neighbourhood Policy for the poor contrasts with the EU's Gulf Cooperation Council dialogue for the rich. 
The Middle East urgently needs support in creating a regional stability charter to encompass codes of conduct, goals for regional cooperation and the mechanisms of a regional cohesion fund to tackle under-development and fund the building of infrastructure. This international commitment to stability will require some brave steps from regional and non-regional players. The complementarities between countries rich in human resources and oil-producing states should be harnessed, while energy-derived investment must be diverted from the old markets of the West to the Gulf's troubled hinterland. The ultimate result would be an intra-independent Middle East that fosters stability and nurtures growth. 

The crisis-ridden Middle East region needs more than troops to end friction and suffering, and Europeans might well look close to home to find the sort of model we need. The Helsinki Process which emerged from the tensions of the cold war addressed basic security, economic and social concerns. Admirably, Helsinki held that a human dignity divide between Europe's peoples could not be allowed to endure. Recognition of cultural rights and humanitarian norms underpinned the activities of those brave and creative individuals who knew that a better future was not only possible but also essential. In all conflicts, human rights are among the first casualties, and in the Middle East the degradation of human dignity has now undone the conventions on civilians' rights agreed over several generations. So we should look to the Helsinki Process to show us how to retrieve what has been lost. 

A Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East (CSCME) was called for in the Peace Treaty between Jordan and Israel, yet now over a decade later that idea has disappeared from the agendas of governments both in the Middle East and Europe. The establishment of a CSCME based on the experience Europe accumulated and which led to the creation of the OSCE now needs the backing of powerful and committed allies. 

With today's emphasis on military action in the so-called war on terror, the need for a CSCME combined with a stability charter has become more urgent than ever. The CSCME must articulate mechanisms for enforcing regional peace. A regional matrix can be drawn up to help identify priorities through a three-pronged strategy based on energy and water policy, arms control and debt reduction. This process must inevitably involve us in the interlinked issues of our age, including the strategic dimensions of energy and global resource allocation. 

In its 2003 European Security Strategy, the EU stated that "effective multilateralism" must form the core of Europe's foreign relation's mindset. Javier Solana added at the United Nations Security Council in September 2004 that without the framework provided by the UN, "international relations would amount to nothing more than destructive competition". 

The continuing crisis in the Middle East offers Europe an opportunity to act on these past declarations. Portugal's EU presidency aims to renew EU foreign policy in the Mediterranean and Africa following the eastward focus of the German presidency. In the words of the Portuguese: "We seek to develop a fresh approach towards the entire Mediterranean region. Its strategic relevance to the EU is clear. The instruments already at our disposal need to be properly applied, but there is a need to think beyond them" (emphasis in the original text). Foreign Minister Luis Amado has stressed the need for Europe to build closer ties with Arab nations and the wider Muslim world so as "to avoid an escalation of mistrust and resentment". 

Current EU initiatives at home as well as abroad will probably culminate during France's presidency in the later half of next year. President Nicolas Sarkozy has already spoken of a "Mediterranean Union" modelled on Europe's post-World War II peace and integration project, and although much clarification is needed of this Euro-Med "Union" and how it might fit with the Barcelona Process and the European Neighbourhood Policy, it looks the sort of initiative that could breathe new life and high politics into a now ineffective Barcelona Process. 

Tony Blair's new role as Special Envoy of the Quartet creates another "new" European protagonist on the Middle Eastern stage. His task is, to say the least, daunting and his mandate has yet to be defined. The end of mission report of the former UN Envoy, Alvaro de Soto on the intricacies of Quartet proceedings shows how difficult the peace process has become, and it seems obvious that Blair will have to include Hamas and Syria in any new discussion as a "West Bank First" policy is surely destined to the same fate as former peace plans. 

Europe's contributions to our region have been great. Funding from Brussels and from member states has helped to alleviate the suffering of many people while compassionate community-building efforts by European individuals and organisations have emphasised the true closeness of those who share a common Mediterranean history. It is vital that experience and commitment be framed in a vision for our region and that Europe's heritage of hope becomes a model for the peoples of the Middle East.