The European Union’s response to the crisis in Belarus is a study in dysfunction that highlights the direct danger of European foreign policy in its current form.
Last Friday, the EU Foreign Affairs Council met following five days of protests against the rigged presidential election in Belarus. Given the bravery of Belarusians, it would stand to assume that there would be enough ministers to reconsider their stance of doing nothing to help Belarus, but in the end, that stance never changed.
Although the High Representative for Foreign Affairs has spoken, he does not have decisive competence in foreign policy since it belongs to the Council. Any stance of the Council of Foreign Ministers would be a necessary start for any future help to Belarus, but it was missing as it was blocked by Greece.
A common foreign policy is supposed to be a sign of common European integration. On the one hand, the constant pressure for the Union to do something in foreign policy has led to the emergence of a bureaucracy that has swelled its rank but has an unclear role.
There is no doubt that foreign policy and defense are two aspects of state sovereignty that member states refuse to allow to be touched upon, and this is generally respected. Even the most enthusiastic Europhiles understand that the right of member state veto in these areas will only be among the last areas abolished within the EU.
Veto without shyness
One country certainly not ashamed to use its veto is Greece. We all remember the years of the great debt crisis when Greece became a de facto EU protectorate. At that time, the EU forced the Greek prime minister to resign in Greece and installed technocrats in his place. When the Greeks refused to cooperate and chose radical Syriza in the election, the political party could do nothing anyway.
And even in the midst of this near-occupation, Greece still continued to block EU accession talks with Macedonia. Its insistence on how a neighboring state may or may not be named has become absurd to all others members of Europe, but no one dared to take advantage of the fact that while Greece was on its knees, the EU could have easily put a knife to its neck and demanded that if it does not stop with its Balkan whims, it can forget about European solidarity.
It was taboo.
Greece has a history of wielding its veto
Greece is a leader in using its veto, instrumentally, and ruthlessly. It is not the best way to make friends and influence people. Greece simply relies on the other states not being so ruthless. This often has long-term consequences that others will not forget.
One such case was connected with the Czech Republic.
Cyprus is known to be divided into the Greek and Turkish parts after the Turkish invasion in response to the coup organized by Greek officers in 1974. Efforts to reunite it have come the furthest from the so-called Annan Plan in 2004. Like any such plan, even this one did not suit everyone completely, so both communities needed some extra motivation to approve it in referendums. This was done to allow Cyprus accession to the EU.
But the Greek Cypriots were sure that they would be accepted anyway. Greece demanded it under the threat that otherwise it would veto the entry of a whole batch of the remaining nine countries, including the Czech Republic.
So the referendum turned out the way it had to — in the Turkish part, two-thirds voted in favor of Annan’s plan while in the Greek part, two-thirds against.
It was an elementary diplomatic mistake from the textbooks. The Union thanked the Turkish Cypriots for their efforts and accepted (Greek) Cyprus as a member. The result of Greek stubbornness was to permanently divide Cyprus and legitimately anger Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan, who stood up for Annan’s plan.
Today, Europe is dealing with a different kind of Erdoğan, who has left the European perspective since then and pursues its own superpower ambitions. These include the revisionist conception of exclusive economic zones in seas adjacent to Turkey.
Turkey is now reaching for places which, in the opinion accepted by the rest of the world, belong to Greece and Cyprus. In recent days, he sent a research ship accompanied by frigates to the Greek island of Rhodes. One of them collided with a Greek frigate.
But that’s not the whole picture. Erdoğan has ambitions in Libya, among other places. Currently, the Libyan government is being pushed from the east by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
And do you know who else supports Haftar, besides Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates? Emmanuel Macron. Not directly. But enough for a French frigate to collide with a Turkish military ship in the Mediterranean in June. And last week, Macron sent a French frigate and planes to Crete. He even announced it on Twitter in Greek.
France is the most militarily strong EU country and Macron is the politician who talks the most about European foreign policy. The situation of warships between Greece, Turkey, and France seems to illustrate his claim that NATO is “brain dead”.
While Macron can speak well about his ideas, he is unable to win allies for them. Above all, he has failed to recruit the strongest European country, Germany, which responded to his call for solidarity with Greece by coldly stating that it had “taken note” of the Franco-Greek maneuvers and called on all parties to avoid escalations.
If Macron has a vision of a Europe acting in the interests of its civilization, then Germany, as the center of the EU, has the burden of balancing and taking all interests into account. Behind “General Macron”, allied regiments are failing to form, but in the German anteroom, supplicants are pushing.
Germany’s cold reaction had a reason. It had already sought to mediate Greece’s discreet negotiations with Turkey, but the Greeks complicated the situation by concluding a naval agreement with Egypt, Erdoğan’s enemy, without warning.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend”
By examining Greece and France, we can understand why European foreign ministers do not have an opinion on Belarus. If there is an area of Europe that Greece cares the least about, it is most definitely in the east. The country has a long history of not caring for new members from this area, as they were viewed as competitors in the fight for subsidies.
And if Northern Europe does not want to get involved in something, then it is the Mediterranean area.
Alliances change constantly under the motto “The enemy of my enemy is my friend“, where almost every state supports some gunman against any other state. Everyone is rushing to seize their exclusive marine zones — where they intend to mine natural gas — instead of building solar power plants.
What is this primeval world?
For now, the emergence of a common European foreign policy appears to indefinitely delayed, and there is little doubt that situation with Belarus will repeat itself going into the future.
Title image: European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell pauses as he speaks to the media after talks with Turkish leaders, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, March 4, 2020. Borell said that the EU delegation asked Turkey “not to encourage the futher movement of refugees and migrants toward the EU borders.” (AP Photo)