Saturday

18th Nov 2017

Magazine

Over the blue horizon

  • The Mediterranean Sea around Italy. Syria, Iraq, and Gaza aside, 2014 also witnessed: sectarian violence in Lebanon; Egypt ordering mass-scale hangings of opposition prisoners; violent anarchy in Libya (Photo: mediterranean)

On 24 May 2014, a lone man opened fire at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, a short bus ride from the EU institutions, killing four people.

On 14 September, a nameless two-year old girl was rescued by the Greek coastguard near Crete after floating in the sea for three days.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Both are fragments of conflicts on the other side of the Mediterranean which got worse in 2014 and which will cause new problems for European counter-terrorist officers, defence chiefs, humanitarian workers, and diplomats in the year to come.

The Brussels gunman was a "foreign fighter".

Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year old French national, was arrested carrying a gun wrapped in the flag of Isis, one of the Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria. He had spent 2013 training in Syria before using his French passport to get back into the EU's borderless Schengen Zone.

Foreign fighters

The Syrian civil war has been going on for three years. It entered a new phase in 2014 when Isis seized control of large parts of Iraq, including revenue-generating oil facilities, and threatened to take the Kurdish capital Erbil and Baghdad. By the end of the year, Isis flags were spotted in Libya.

It also saw greater numbers of European Muslims - foreign fighters - attracted by Isis' brutal vision of an Islamic Caliphate.

The US estimates there were between 2,000 and 3,000 of them in the region in November, many from Belgium, France, and the UK.

Meanwhile, the two-year old girl is thought to have come from Syria or Gaza.

She was one of about 500 people trying to cross the Mediterranean to claim asylum in Europe, most of whom had come from Gaza. Their boat sank when human traffickers rammed it, drowning almost everybody.

Sea-crossings

African, Asian, and Arabic refugees have been attempting the sea crossing for a long time.

The number of people who died trying this year passed 3,000, compared to 700 in 2013, despite EU and Italian search and rescue operations.

The number of Syrians keeps growing because almost 4 million people have now fled the country.

But the exodous of Palestinians from Gaza is a new element. It follows an Israeli land incursion in summer, which killed more than 2,000 people, and comes amid ever-harder living conditions due to Israel's blockade.

If Isis became a strategic threat in Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict also became more complicated with Israeli plans for new settlements which, if constructed, will mean there can be no two-state solution.

Palestinian statehood

The Isis surge prompted Barack Obama to order air-strikes in Iraq and Syria. Unlike the 2003 Iraq war, the US did it as part of a coalition of 60 states, including the main EU and Arab powers.

But the US leader warned at a Nato summit that the nature of Isis, which is an ideology as well as a movement, means it will take "years" to stop.

The hardening Israeli position also prompted an EU reaction: threats of mini-sanctions, such as labeling of settler goods in European shops, and a wave of non-binding motions in European parliaments calling for recognition of Palestinian statehood.

But diplomats say European frustration will amount to nothing unless the US, Israel's security sponsor, tries to restart Arab-Israeli peace talks.

Commenting on this year's developments in Europe's southern neighbourhood, one senior EU contact said: "There's only one thing you can count on in the Middle East: It always gets worse".

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2014 Europe in Review Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of Europe in Review magazines.

Magazine

Ceci n'est pas une EU army

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini got tired of repeating the phrase "this is not … an EU army", but 2016 saw France and Germany leap forward on military integration.

Magazine

EU legitimacy in question

From lost referendums to growing contention of the EU's role in policies, people's commitment to the European project has diminished further this year.

Magazine

The rise and shine of Visegrad

The V4 countries - Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - has turned the EU's migration policy around. They now set their sights on reshaping the union.

Magazine

Refugee crisis, the vain search for solidarity

The EU's migration policy in 2016 was marked by a record number of deaths at the Mediterranean and deep rifts among member states on how to handle asylum.

Magazine

Europe in Review 2016

EUobserver wishes you a new Europe! This year's Europe in Review edition looks back at all the events of 2016 that will define the coming year.

News in Brief

  1. Bonn climate talks extend into Friday evening
  2. UK needs to move on Brexit by early December, Tusk says
  3. Puigdemont extradition decision postponed to December
  4. Ireland wants written UK guarantees to avoid hard border
  5. US did not obstruct climate talks, says German minister
  6. EU signs social declaration
  7. Puigdemont to be heard by Belgian judges
  8. Steep fall in migrants reaching EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  2. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  4. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  5. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  6. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  9. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  10. World Vision20 November: Exchange of Views at the EP on Children Affected by the Syria Crisis
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  12. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy

Latest News

  1. EU keeps former Soviet states at arm's length
  2. EU leaders make pledge on social issues after populist backlash
  3. EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK
  4. Germany slams Dutch call for more ambitious EU climate goal
  5. Mind the gap: inequality in our cities
  6. Climate activists 'disappointed' with EU at climate talks
  7. Davis outlines UK vision on Brexit in Berlin
  8. German coalition talks in near collapse