lighting, Diplomacy

[Brussels E-briefings] What diplomatic challenges lie in store for the EU in 2011?

07 February 2011 -

online live webinar

Event summary

Digest – What diplomatic challenges lie in store for the EU in 2010?

How will Europe deal with the democratic wave spreading across the Arab world? Will Europe support democratic forces in Egypt and Tunisia?

So far, the reality is that the EU has not managed to make itself heard in the region. The EU’s focus on stability, before any support has been given to democratic forces, has undermined its appeals for change in Tunisia and Egypt. There are also doubts as to whether the new European External Action Service (EEAS) can cope and adapt to upheavals in the Middle East. Recently launched and created, the EEAS still lacks the ‘punching power’ in that region, beyond the EU’s traditional tool, which is development funding.

Can Europe have a voice in the Arab world today, despite its past compromises with dictators and authoritarian regimes?

We can foresee a growing request for EU transparency in its development/aid policy towards the countries in turmoil. The European Parliament has already put forth several questions to the Commission on the use of its funds allocated to Tunisia and Egypt in recent years. Meanwhile, many questions are being directed to the Union for the Mediterranean (Union pour la Mediterannée), which is, supposedly, the EU arm in that part of the world. At the moment, the UPM is lacking a secretary-general, as the Jordanian who headed the institution resigned at the end of January.

Is Europe united enough to face the ongoing democratic schism in the Middle East? Do we risk a split within the European Union?

The unity of the EU is always at stake in time of crisis and upheavals. It is also very clear that not all EU countries share the same interest in what is going on in its southern flank. That is probably the reason why, so far, most of the statements have come from the EU capitals. It has to be noted, nevertheless, that EU High Representative Catherine Ashton is being dispatched to the region. The outcome of this mission will be closely followed.

How can European aid be channeled in such a way that progressive forces get stronger and are able to face extremist challenges?

Several ideas can be put forward. One would be to convene a European board of auditors to review past aid/development programmes in the region. Another would be to nominate an EU special envoy for aid in the Middle East. Clearly, there is a need for more transparency and information on the channeling of money.

First assessment of the European External Action Service after one year of existence

The EEAS remains a construction with a promising potential. At the moment, the difficulties lie mainly with the controversial leadership of Catherine Ashton, who has clearly not been able to convince national diplomacies and EU partners of her leverage capacity.

Portrait and critical analysis of the work of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton: hopes, disillusions and expectations for this new European diplomacy

Disillusions are already happening. There are many negative comments in the European press about EEAS. There is a necessity to improve its mission and strengthen its capacities. But time is needed: do not expect anything on that front before 2012.

How do we address China’s growing presence in Africa, but also its growing influence in Europe as Beijing buys debt bonds from several countries?

The challenge posed by China is too often seen as confrontational. In reality, the EU will address China more. Partnerships are necessary. The question of whether China is invading Europe with its money, especially during a time of crisis for the eurozone, may not be proper. The fact is that both continents need each other. China’s partnership will be one of the EEAS’ priorities.

Event description

Brussels E-briefings 

On 7 February, Brussels e-briefings host and DiploFoundation fellow Richard Werly led an online talk on the diplomatic challenges that the EU will face in 2011.
The Brussels-based correspondent for Le Temps discussed the EU’s policy in the light of recent turmoil in Tunisia and Egypt. The EU faces the challenge of making itself heard in the Middle East, at a time where not every European country shares the same concerns about this troubled region. At the same time, the European External Action Service, criticised across European media, needs time to strengthen its capabilities.
For a digest of the discussion, visit