Scared of instability and waves of immigration, European governments have wrongly privileged their own national interests over democracy in the Middle Eastby Stephen Castle / March 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
Since the very start, Europe has been on the wrong side of the Arab uprisings. Just last year, Franco Frattini, Italy’s foreign minister, dismissed critics of Colonel Gaddafi as “people who know nothing at all, either about foreign policy or Italy’s interests.” France’s foreign minister, Michèle Alliot Marie, has since been sacked over her winter vacation in the Tunisian sun, her links to the country’s deposed leadership and her offer to help it with French expertise in crowd control. Silvio Berlusconi praised Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak only days before he was ousted from power—and the crisis has reminded us, courtesy of the television archives, just how well Tony Blair managed to get on with Gaddafi. Why have Europeans, who love to tout their commitment to democracy and liberal values, spent decades kowtowing to dictators?
For the most part, national interests have taken precedent. France’s mindset owes much to its desire to retain a Francophone sphere of interest in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. It was French President Nicolas Sarkozy who launched the EU’s botched initiative, the Union for the Mediterranean, in 2008. Until Berlin put its foot down, Sarkozy’s idea was that only southern European countries should take part in the new union with their Mediterranean neighbours—with the political leadership coming from Paris, of course.
Money, as well as influence, has talked with Europeans. As another former colonial power, Italy, staked big money in Libya and vice versa. Through the Libyan Investment Authority and its Central Bank, Libya owned 7.6 per cent of the Italian bank Unicredit, while Libyan investors had stakes in Finmecchanica and Fiat and owned 7.5 per cent of Juventus football club.
Britain, too, has financial interests in energy-rich Libya—hence the questions about whether the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, was connected to BP’s deals Libya.?Geopolitical—as well as oil—considerations have also weighed on the minds of European leaders, and Egypt’s engagement with Israel guaranteed Mubarak a friendly reception in western European capitals. Gaddafi’s hostility to al Qaeda at least made him our enemy’s enemy if not our friend.
But most of all, Europeans have craved stability because of the thing that spooks politicians as much—if not more—than the threat of terrorism: immigration. The latest estimates from EU agencies suggest that around 900,000 illegal migrants enter the EU each year. According to Eurostat, Algerians account for some 16 percent of all non-European immigrants in…