Friday

24th Jan 2020

Analysis

Has Europe's foreign policy lost relevance?

  • The Doha Forum took place in Qatar on 14 and 15 December 2019. The European Union was hardly ever mentioned in the more than 20 hours of geopolitical discussions (Photo: Wikimedia)

Last weekend (14-15 December) the Doha Forum took place in, well, Doha, the capital of Qatar. The Gulf is in the middle of international politics for many reasons.

Since 2015 a devastating war has been going on in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are fighting the Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran.

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In the Strait of Hormuz, in the Persian Gulf, ships have been attacked, putting the international trade of oil in peril.

And on 14 September 2019 one of the main oil fields of Saudi Arabia was destroyed in a drone attack, allegedly coordinated by Iran.

On top of that a Saudi-led coalition with countries like the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain started a blockade of Qatar in order to force it to change its policy.

According to the Saudis, Qatar would support revolutions and Islamists through its news channel Al Jazeera and would have paid terrorist groups like ISIS. The Saudis also wanted to stop the good relations between Qatar and Iran.

Since then the border between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has been closed, as well as the airspace of almost all its neighbouring countries, except for Iraq and Iran.

However, for a few weeks the tensions in the Gulf are slightly decreasing. One sign is that the King of Saudi Arabia did send an invitation to the emir of Qatar to attend the annual meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Where was EU in Doha?

The yearly Doha Forum is, just like the Brussels Forum or the Munich Conference, a geopolitical conference on the highest level, where speakers usually are presidents, prime ministers or foreign ministers.

If you see the prime minister of Malaysia, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu, or Ivanka Trump, the US president's daughter/advisor, on the speakers' list, then you understand this conference is one of the places to give a message to the world.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the 'Ursula von der Leyen' of the African Union (AU) was speaking, as well as several other commissioners from the AU.

That is why it was surprising to see that there was not one speaker from the European Commission, nor from the European Council or the Parliament.

Even more embarrassing was the fact that there was even a panel with the title "A Stronger Role for Europe in the International Arena: What would it take?"

The 11 (!) speakers in the panel were the foreign ministers of Poland, Slovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a few household names like Carl Bildt, former prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden.

Symbolically, the Doha Forum put this panel in such a small sideroom that the panel almost took up more space than the public.

Where the conference counted a few thousand participants, the room for the discussion on the European Union could only hold 40 people.

Nobody talks about the EU anymore

One could argue that the timing of the conference was not ideal to send someone of the European Union.

Only at the start of this month was the new commission installed, as well as the new president of the European council, Charles Michel. The new high representative of the EU for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, too has only be in-situ for two weeks.

But even without a physical representation, one would expect the EU to pop up in discussions.

After all, it was the EU that sealed the nuclear agreement with Iran (JCPOA) - and that stuck to it despite the fact that the United States pulled out of it.

Even in a more structural way, many of the key countries of the Middle East and North Africa are part of Europe's neighbourhood policy.

Despite all that, the European Union was hardly ever mentioned in the more than 20 hours of geopolitical discussions.

One can only conclude that the EU is not only losing influence.

If the EU is not stepping up its foreign policy, it might fall into geopolitical irrelevance.

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