A Continental Disgrace: The EU's Foreign Policy Neglect

Angus McNeill Peel

The European Union was created with the primary aim of maintaining peace in the continent and protecting its citizens from German revanchism and Soviet Communist expansion. While Europe’s economies continue to flounder and Greece heads for impending financial disaster, the EU also faces imminent and severe geopolitical threats that are not being dealt with.

The war in Ukraine continues with dysfunctional ceasefires doing little to prevent a region of 2 million people in the Donbas being steadily ruined by shelling and poverty. Meanwhile Putin is able to visit his new province Crimea to review the navy that was stolen from the Ukrainians. Further west, the Russian occupation of Transniestria in Moldova heightens the challenges faced by Europe’s least developed country in its bid to become an EU accession candidate. Across the Black Sea and beyond the Eastern Anatolian mountains, ethnic and religious cleansing continues as depraved ISIS militants ravage Mesopotamia. Meanwhile, stories of migrant drownings in the Mediterranean reach British shores everyday; The Economist has rightly called this a ‘moral and political disgrace.’

Europe’s security is threatened on all sides and the lack of political action is appalling. The sanctions against Russia were a first step, but there is still very little support for the embattled Ukrainian military that faces advanced tanks and weaponry such as the Buk Missile launcher that all but certainly shot down flight MH17. Many of the European countries have not even bothered to properly help in the fight against ISIS, leaving the fight instead to surrounding poorer and less well-equipped Middle Eastern neighbours. Scandalously, pitiful numbers of refugees have been accepted from Syria or Iraq, with millions living in dire and unsanitary conditions in the region. Small countries like Lebanon are being left to deal with perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis the Middle East has ever seen; indeed a full quarter of people living in Lebanon are now Syrian. At home, young people are being recruited by ISIS and only the British government has announced an effective broad strategy to prevent domestic terrorism.

The migrant boat crossings are the ultimate evidence of Europe’s disunity and negligence. Having done almost nothing to solve the refugee crisis in the Middle East, Europe cannot provide sufficient boat patrols or rescue missions in the Mediterranean. Italy’s small navy - arguably especially small because of shortsighted defence cuts - can barely deal with the scale of migration to Lampedusa. Did Europe not see this crisis coming? Cast your mind back to 2011 when Eurofighters soared over the Libyan skies before the triumphant announcement that Gaddafi was defeated by a liberal revolution with Europe’s help. Learning nothing from Iraq, a country was once again left without power structures and allowed to descend into sectarian chaos.

There are great economic problems that limit defence and security spending, and indeed it can be difficult to find a unifying foreign policy for 27 very different countries. However, Europe faces grave threats on large flanks and the EU is not performing its requirements as a protector of the integrity and safety of its member states. If there is no effective strategy to distribute military and humanitarian resources not only will the EU be faced with greater problems in the future, the entire organisation deserves to be castigated by the history books and by its citizens. While Britain questions its place in the European Union, let us also question whether this organisation is even performing its most basic functions. If we are to stay in the EU, Britain should fight for a united European foreign policy that protects its member states and actively seeks security from the Donbass to Lampedusa.

Some argue that the EU should focus on social and economic projects, many of which have been left unrealisable by trans-European financial strains. NATO is weak, unable even to make its members promise 2% of GDP to defence spending. Indeed, only one Conservative MP, Rory Stewart, has left the party line to criticise Cameron for reneging on promises made on defence spending at the NATO summit in Wales last year. The EU has the ability to outdo NATO in coordinating defence and foreign policy. It is unrealistic that a NATO-member will be attacked, initiating the mutual defence clause, but it is likely that members will face consistent security threats due to ISIS, separatist movements in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean migrant crisis in which NATO has no real role. EU member states should immediately begin organising their budgets around a mutually agreed foreign policy and defence strategy, redistributing resources to where they are needed most. For an arms exporter like Britain, with our greatest security threats on Europe’s vulnerable periphery, a united EU foreign and defence policy might even appease some of Eurosceptics.