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16 May 2024

The EU’s fear-based foreign policy

Europe’s policymaking risks paralysis in a world that is fast changing around us.

By Wolfgang Münchau

In her excellent column for the Guardian, the journalist Nathalie Tocci describes Europe’s malaise as one of fear-driven policymaking that risks paralysis in a world that is fast changing. Fear is the underlying driver of European foreign policy decision-making to the east and the west, be it Russia’s war in Ukraine, or its anti-immigration pacts, its passive position over Israel’s war in Gaza, or terrified outlook if Donald Trump comes back to power.

How does fear play out with Ukraine? EU policymakers are more inclined to step up their support for Ukraine when the latter’s troops are about to lose, while getting uncomfortable when they win back territories, prompting fears of Russian nuclear retaliation. This eventually leads to too-little or too-late support for Ukraine. Fear plays a big role in explaining why the EU is stuck with its “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” predicament.

Fear also explains Europe’s attitude towards North Africa and the Middle East. Instead of having a rational debate about what sort of legal immigration can be beneficial for us as ageing societies, EU policymakers rush to conclude unethical deals, paying cash to keep migrants out. The recent pacts with Egypt, Tunisia, Mauritania and Lebanon are examples of this fear-driven policy making, which contradicts our interests in the long run. It worsens the image of Europe among African countries, presenting us as lecturing the world about human rights while concluding deals to keep migrants away, and lopsided economic agreements with beneficial terms for raw-material extraction from their land. It is absent a foreign policy with those countries, reducing policymaking to a purely transactional approach with a selfish motivation to keep migrants out.

On the Israel-Palestinian conflict, there are many reasons why Europe has not exerted its influence. It is not because of a lack of leverage. After all, Germany is the second-largest military exporter to Israel, and the EU as a whole is the biggest donor of Palestinian aid. Fear of being called anti-Semitic is behind the failure to question unconditional support for Israel, no matter what it does in Gaza. There is no hint that Europe is doing anything about the situation, despite the looming invasion in Rafah and violence in the West Bank.

Looking at the US, Europeans seem to accept that Trump may indeed return to the White House. But rather than preparing for this, they seemingly prefer to wish it away. This is not how we will emerge into a future with our bearings intact. Maybe we are doomed, as Emmanuel Macron warned. Or are we ready to address our shortcomings?

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This piece originally ran on Eurointelligence.

[See also: How the SNP lost itself in hyper-liberalism]

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