Tuesday 19. October 2021
#138 - May 2011


The EU in the face of turmoil in North Africa


The wave of change in North Africa is exhilarating in its expression of the desire for authentic political freedom and democracy: it is frightening in provoking fierce military conflict, of which the full consequences can never be fully foreseen. It is a massive challenge to the EU to track and respond to the rapid course of events. How could it be otherwise, unless someone supposed that the EU could predict or even control the course of world events?


Every country’s situation is different - but the different crises also intersect constantly and unpredictably. Libya would not have erupted except for the seemingly successful examples of Egypt and Tunisia. However Colonel Gaddafi has so far proved much more resilient (and brutal) than other leaders: as this editorial is written there is a military stalemate. No one knows when or  how the military intervention, led by France and now assumed by NATO, will end.


Within the EU the partnership between France and Germany, so often the motor of EU developments, is strained, as is the Common Foreign and Security Policy, given the contrasting roles of France and Germany, which abstained at the UN Security Council.


Mr Van Rompuy argued passionately at the European Parliament in Strasbourg about the merits of the EU’s contribution: ‘A massive bloodbath has been avoided’: the EU was ‘the first to impose tough sanctions; the first to impose a travel ban on leading figures in the regime; the first to freeze Libyan assets’. It stands ready ‘to help a new Libya, both economically, and in building its new institutions’.


Inevitably tough problems arise. When does protecting civilians (mandated by UNSC 1973) escalate into supporting one side during what could at worst be a protracted civil war? Christians circles debate how far the ‘Just War’ criteria are or are not met, their qualms deepened by the grave doubts expressed by the Pope. Yet Mr Van Rompuy is right to imply that decisions could not await the outcome of prolonged ethical debate.


Europe and the EU ought not, however, to proclaim their virtue too loudly. The regimes now under attack, or forced out relatively bloodlessly, were supported for decades by European states. Secondly, in urgent circumstances, the EU’s asylum and migration policies have been found seriously inadequate.


Europe responds competently when the challenge is external: when refugees and migrants pass in huge numbers from Libya to Egypt or Tunisia (or from Darfur to Chad, or from Afghanistan to Iran), presuming the almost unlimited openness of countries that we may otherwise little respect. But in the face of one inevitable consequence of their own intervention, our governments and the EU bicker, as far smaller (though still formidable) numbers threaten to migrate to Europe.


The EU proclaims its ‘values’, its capacity and duty to influence the world for the better. However one central Christian insight, which secular Europe may overlook, is that authentic goodness is rooted not least in clarity about one’s own failings. It is admirable to relieve hardship elsewhere, for example through humanitarian action: but European leaders sometimes give the impression that they aspire to protect victims while sealing off Europe itself from the world’s suffering.


Frank Turner SJ


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Editors-in-Chief: Martin Maier SJ

Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.