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Friday, January 18, 2013

Will the EU follow France into the Malian desert?

"We are all with you"
Le Monde's cartoonist left a clear image - France's President Hollande rushing off into the Malian desert while the rest of the EU sits behind and pontificates.

France has a history of interventions in Francophone Africa and mostly they are primarily of regional importance. This time though it seems France is trying to fry a bigger fish: the biggest concentration of Islamic fundamentalists in West Africa. So should this be just a French responsibility or should they expect help from the EU? (NATO will always be a second choice for France) Well, evidently the French media feels others in the EU are not pulling their weight.

EU states have a history of under-investment in their own security and failing to help in multilateral actions. In Afghanistan the USA's allies invariably left it with the lion's share of the heavy lifting and in Libya, in the EU's neighbourhood, big states such as Poland and Germany decided to sit it out. 

But the French are clearly beginning to feel Mali should be different. The Economist quotes French conservative opposition leader, Jean-François Copé, saying “for now, our country is alone at the front.” And on Channel 4 News Former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said:
"The British people for such a mission are our closest friend. We need them. For the time being we are alone. I beg you don't leave the French alone. This is a common mission, this is a common threat, we are all fighting extremism."
reasonable enough plea - though he sort of spoiled his case by adding that in his view "part of the reason" Britain was dragging its heels was because of the Conservatives' sceptical attitude to EU membership, when in fact, Anglo-French defence and foreign policy cooperation is widely seen in Conservative circles as exactly the type of issue and network-based approach that European cooperation should be more geared towards. Also, that a former French foreign minister is begging for the UK's assistance only serves to highlight how important the UK's military and clout is in terms of lending the EU geopolitical credibility. It also says something about the perpetual fear in some circles of the UK being "isolated" in Europe...

How long France will take to complete its operations in Mali is unclear, but the longer it drags on, help in the form of training and logistics as promised by the UK, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Denmark may not be enough. So will this end up becoming a European operation? One thing remains clear: as ever, when it comes to defence and security capabilities, co-operation and political will are far more important than politicians grand designs for European "state" building.


Jesper said...

This highlights the problem with having a 'High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy'.

Diplomacy is about soft and hard power. Soft power is used through trade deals. Hard power is now on display - military.

EU has a trade commissioner so the high representative not in control of trade.

EU does not have a military (yet).

The Baroness is highly paid but I can't see that she's done anything or even will do anything.

The smaller nations in Europe used to have defense forces, now, it is more common to have expeditionary forces that are to be ready to be sent abroad to protect interests. I'm not quite sure whose interests are being protected here? 'War on Terror' has a bad name so now it is 'War on extremists'?

France mistake isn't that they supported their friend in Mali, their mistake is their choice of friend. Their choice now was between being shown to be a fair weather friend or a friend in thick or thin. They chose to be seen as a true friend & choosing to do so MIGHT well have been the best out of two bad options.

If the EU was about trade then it would be clear that the nations of the EU could stay clear of the mess. Now however: France will be defending the CAP-budget in the EU while simultaneously asking for military assistance from its member states. The two subjects should have NOTHING to do with each other and while I hope no elected leader would conflate the issues we now have an institutional set-up where we simply will not know if it is being done.

The current institutional set-up simply can not continue.

Rik said...

I cannot see how the EUs involvement really does a lot.
At the end of the day the main countries decide on what is best in their national interest and act on it like here.

If France ever thought that being in the EU would automatically mean support for their (and not mutual) decisions it would be very naive.
As preparing it with support probably would take a few years this is the best it could hope for. The UK and US giving some sort of support.

The danger, next to having no proper army in the whole of the EU except of the national armies of the UK and partly France, is that one step further we would get a Euro-style set up. What I mean is that you need something to act and members to contribute in (either financially or by not making a mess of it) but in practice (like with the EuroZone) it doesnot work that way.

Seen the experience with the EZ and the fact that it would likely take several decade till a proper working system would have developed, it looks to me that as far as foreign policy goes, integration looks to be at its max or pretty close to that. Hard to see countries like France and the UK giving up national powers (on national security) and getting something dysfunctional in return. Certainly not after the experience with the Euro.
And you need an army to back it up and a real one.

And having a completely incompetent person in charge of foreign policy is not very helpful either. But on the other hand might have avoided a lot of future damage. Would have been a disaster if the EU would have been further put on this map by now. And have Eurostyle problems. Not being able to go really forward and politically nearly impossible to reverse not working measures.

Bugsy said...

The UK already and unwisely "supports" the USA in its foreign adventures, to allow ourselves to be dragged into conflicts that have been initiated by other foreign, albeit Eu governments would be incredibly stupid.. We cannot allow British Forces to be committed to war by the French Government or indeed any other.

Rollo said...

For someone as timid as Hollande, this is a giant step for him to take. There is no doubt action needs to be taken: these islamic fundamentalists want to drag the whole world back to the dark ages. They have started where the modern world is at its weakest, and there, success is easy. They have routed the Mali army and taken over an arid desert the size of France, where they will impose Sharia law. Does this matter? Yes. It will become another failed-state-haven for other loonies which have gradually been driven out of Somalia and Afghanistan. It has nothing to do with the EU, which only looks inwards. But it has much to do with the French pride in the Francophone world. We should not let that distrcat from the importance of stopping the fundamentalists.

Jesper said...

It would appear we have an answer:

"Our recent decision to launch an EU mission to train and advice the Malian army; our
support to the African-led mission to Mali against terrorists; and the swift response of
France and other EU members to Mali's request for aid - all bear testimony to Europe's
global role and responsibilities."

Maybe this part is for the people in the EU institutions who refuse to compromise in returning powers to national parliaments:
"To agree on the budget, we all - and I stress the word "all" - need to compromise."