With the debt crisis taking centre-stage in Europe right now, it may be tempting for EU leaders to forget the rest of the world is still trundling along out there. The Arab Spring, for example, has been described as the “most important event of the 21st century“, and the UN recently estimated that the ongoing violence in Syria has claimed over 5000 lives. These are, as the apocryphal Chinese proverb warns, “interesting times”.
We recently asked you whether “there were limits to EU enlargement“, and asked Slovenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Samuel Žbogar, to respond. Today, we’re asking more generally “What should European foreign policy look like?” and our interview is with János Martonyi, the Foreign Minister of Hungary.
First, let’s start with a comment from Victor, one of our readers, concerning Ukranian membership of the EU:
Ukrainians are Europeans; therefore we have a right to be part of the European family, in fact I would go so far as to say that Europe as a Union cannot be complete without Ukraine as a member… [but] if the EU does not hold out an olive branch in the not too distant future then the influence of both Russia and China could well make a future union less likely.
This is a controversial question at the moment – especially with EU-Ukraine relations having taken such a chilly turn following the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. What does the Minister think?
I would advise Victor not to accept this kind of “either / or” choice between Asia, China or whatever, and Europe. The Ukraine is a European country, the Ukraine is a member of the European family and the Ukraine does have a European perspective.
At the same time, of course, it’s a decision of the Ukraine how fast and how close they want to come to the European Union, in terms of their economy, political system, human rights, and so on. But they are a member of the family, whether they like it or not.
Next up, we had the following comment from Nikolai:
Turkey seems to be playing the Arab Spring with a deft touch at the moment and will become a significant power broker in North Africa and also the Black Sea region. Depending upon how Turkey fairs with North Africa it may be wise to welcome it into the EU fold to use its newly found influence there… [but will Turkey] want to join the EU as and when [the current] structural changes have taken place and the EU morphs into whatever it will be?
What does the Minister think?
Well, I share Nikolai’s view to the effect that Turkey will have to become a member of the European Union. Turkey is a candidate. We are negotiating with Turkey – of course, very slowly. As we know, there are risks involved in the process – one of the risks is precisely the one which he refers to.
I don’t think there is a direct relationship here with what has been going on in North Africa or the Arab Spring, though. It’s true that Turkey is a kind of emerging power in every sense of the word, but my position and our position has always been that Europe would be much better off with Turkey inside than outside.
But is now the right time to even be having this discussion? In the middle of the Eurozone crisis? Should the EU rather focus on “deepening” and not “enlarging”?
It’s a very old dilemma. People raised the same issue at the time of various enlargements – including ours for instance. So I can only repeat what we said 15 years ago: that there is no conflict between enlarging and deepening. In fact, if you look back at the history of European architecture, let’s say, over 60 years now – there have been parallel processes of enlarging 4 or 5 times at the same time as deepening has occurred. And the same story is going on now. In our case, we called it the “reunification of Europe” and it also brought about new treaties, new policies – some of which will have to be developed further in the upcoming years. And we go on – the Croatian example is the best demonstration that the process has not stopped despite the crisis… Whatever the concrete decisions, the main political message will be quite clear – and this is that the enlargement process goes on.
Moving away from the debate around enlargement, then, what about the EU’s response to the ongoing violence in Syria? You personally welcomed military strikes against Libya and the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime, but the military option is apparently “off the table” when it comes to Syria. What makes the situation in Syria different to the one in Libya prior to NATO intervention?
This question is very much justified, but it’s based upon a moral approach. From a moral perspective, there’s no difference. So, if we could always give moral answers to dilemmas or situations, that would be very easy. But, realistically, situations are different. Possibilities are different. The military context is different. The regional context is different. Political consequences can be enormously different. And all of that has to be taken into account; that’s history. So, we have to be realistic. And you know very well that the military option in Syria is excluded, so we have to try to search for other solutions…
What do YOU think? What should Europe’s foreign policy look like? Should the EU really aspire to a common foreign policy, or is it more realistic to assume there will always be 27 different sets of interests? Which are the most important foreign policy objectives for Europe as a whole? And how large can the EU grow before it starts suffering from “overstretch”? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy makers and experts for their reactions.