Soft or Hard (Power): That is the Question for Europe
It would be an understatement to call the conclusions from the latest meeting of EU’s foreign ministers inconclusive, no pun intended. At their meeting in Luxemburg on October 17, they were scheduled to discuss a series of questions ranging from Iraq to Bosnia and even Mali. The whole range of topics would provide for some interesting material even to those who are not into fundamental analysis for their binary options and other financial instruments.
Deep concerns, strong condemnations
The conclusions that were reached are overwhelmingly negative and full of “deep concerns” and “strong condemnations”. However, no decisive action is to be taken, at least not in the near future. The conclusions on Syria, for example, are more disillusioned than anything else. The focus of their attention in Syria is no longer on Isis but on the Aleppo offensive which is still ongoing. There, the pro-Western opposition is losing some serious ground to the forces loyal to Damask, Hezbollah and Russia. Of course, the ministers have condemned the destruction of hospitals, schools and infrastructure as well as the use of cluster bombs, chemical weapons and other forbidden devices.
However, what hurts the EU the most in this matter is its powerlessness to intervene in any meaningful way. Sure, they may condemn to their hearts’ content, but when it comes to efforts to actually ease some of the suffering of Syrians on the ground, this would require some hard power and the EU has none. Nor does it wield the soft power that is needed in Lebanon or Jordan.
The same lack of power is even more apparent in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the deadlock between Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats is nowhere near its resolution, despite all the money and efforts which have been invested into the country over the last two and a half decades. Still, this approach might be even less effective in post-war Syria, especially if the current regime regains control over the country. To think that EU institutions and NGOs would be welcome is preposterous to say the least. It is almost as preposterous as the assumption that the refugees that are now in Europe will be eager to return to Syria and rebuild the country, when social welfare they receive is larger than their monthly salary back home.
The EU has lost a lot of its former glory in the past couple of years, as between financial crisis in the Euro zone, Brexit, Russia and now even the Balkans, more and more troubles seem to be brewing. Meanwhile, Poland and Hungary keep causing trouble for the rest of the union, with their stances on human rights, free media and the rule of law. A lot of things that made EU as a whole attractive and an example to follow have since disappeared or lost a lot of their former lustre.
Anyone who believes that Brexit is not about conflicting views on migrants and political issues is deeply wrong. The only real miscalculation was that the joint market and economical benefits of the EU could outweigh these concerns in terms of importance. If the former Eastern Bloc countries could not be persuaded to accept their share of migrants, what could have possessed the bureaucrats in Brussels to think that the UK would be any easier to manipulate with?
Conclusion: the hard truth
The fact is that the EU was always over-reliant on soft power and way too confident in its charm and appeal. Now that push is slowly coming to shove, they may be forced to back up their attitude with more than just pretty words and money. The biggest conclusion of this meeting was that something in the use of power needs to change, at the EU level, if the union is to survive. If they want to make a difference, EU foreign ministers are going to have to do a lot better than issuing joint statements and taking pretty pictures during their meetings – they may actually have to do something specific, and apply some hard force to prove they mean business. Without that, fewer and fewer people will take the EU seriously and the union will eventually fall apart, even before it officially admits it.