Sunday, February 27, 2011

The EU's Libyan failure

Through all the storm and stress that has marked the recent history of the European Union--voters in France and the Netherlands opposed to its voluminous constitution, then outright rejection by the Irish, now the endless controversies over how to manage a common currency--the Union has remained for many an article of faith. There must be an EU, they intone, because the world cannot dispense with the universal values embodied in the war-weary, post-colonial, globally aware, democratically committed, in short, the enlightened vision of Old Europe.

If such indeed is the ideological ballast required to keep the EU and its EMU afloat through the perilous seas of ongoing financial crisis and economic contraction, it would make all the more serious, as Le Monde's editors suggest in yesterday's edition, Europe's failure to flourish its values in the face of Libya's humanitarian disaster. But alas, the divisive, sauve qui peut side of the European mentality is what heaves into view at moments like this. Will the EU call for Gadhafi's resignation and removal? No, because two member-states, Italy and Malta, are afraid of precipitating a refugee crisis. And in a sense they are right: apparently, as I learn, the Treaty of Dublin is the vehicle by which other EU countries decline to share the refugee burden with fellow member-states unlucky enough to be the point of landfall. If those Libyans make it to Lampedusa, they're yours forever, Signor Berlusconi, and every article of the Declaration of Human Rights is yours to share with them. Don't bother to call Brussels--where Lady Ashton is busy anyhow making idle pronouncements in the absence of any clear diplomatic agenda.

Part of what is so tawdry in this scenario is the clear fact that Libya, for all the difficulties posed by its 42 years of tribal rule, is Europe's neighbor and Europe's problem. It was only yesterday that all the heads of government, from Tony Blair to Sarko to Merkel, were lining up for photo ops--and oil contracts-- with the Guide of the Revolution. And wasn't Libya supposed to be a mainstay of the Mediterranean Union?

Other voices, sometimes dismissed as demagogic or anachronistic, have questioned whether the EU idea is anything more than window dressing for an international business cartel whose mission is continued exploitation of less developed economies. I personally would like to believe in a better EU, whose espoused values are close to my own. But honestly, if the sight of a dictator shooting down his own people in the streets of the capital isn't enough to excite the EU's humane reflexes, one has to wonder what the use is of all that high-minded rhetoric.


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