Eric L. Napoli writes that in this summer’s war in Lebanon, the US responded by stalling cease fire negotiations in favour of Israeli interests while Europe‘s reaction was to do nothing, thus demonstrating that the EU still lacks the political will and infrastructure for impeding an acute humanitarian crisis in its own front yard. Napoli, thus, questions European passivity towards the human tragedy of its neighbours. He explains how on one side of the Mediterranean hundreds of civilians have lost their lives and thousands are homeless and turned into refugees, and on the other side, the Europeans are getting their feet wet, but not by defending their neighbours’ human rights or counterbalancing US foreign policy. The Europeans are on vacation.
Eric L. Napoli is an attorney specialized in International and U.S. environmental law, sustainable development and citizen participation. He managed the International MBA program at the Instituto de Empresa Business School. Napoli received his law degree from the Washington College of Law and also holds an MBA, and a BA in Philosophy and International Relations. He is presently an attorney with FON in Madrid, Spain.
IN JULY, I SPENT A FEW DAYS ON THE SPANISH MEDITERRANEAN BEACHES OF IBIZA. This summer, as in recent years, Ibiza has been invaded by an eclectic mix of hippies, fashionable young hetero and homosexual party-mongers, and multi-millionaires’ yachts.
From all across Europe, the hippies with their drums and hashish, the hedonistic youth with their designer drugs, and the European elite all relished in Ibiza’s picture perfect beaches, turquoise water, and mythical nightlife. As a matter of fact, I do not think I have ever seen such beautiful people gathered together as I did one Saturday night at Ibiza’s Pacha nightclub.
A NATION DESTROYED
Nevertheless, while admiring Europe’s pretty populace and crystal clear Mediterranean waters, I could not stop thinking that on the other shores of this same sea, a nation was being systematically destroyed.
Spain, in particular, prides itself on its Mediterranean cuisine, lifestyle, and culture. Spain was even enjoying its best summer in terms of number of tourists. Yet as Europeans basked in the Spanish Mediterranean in record numbers, Hezbollah was launching its bombs across the Israeli border, and Israel was responding against Lebanese towns and infrastructure. Now, four weeks after Lebanon’s own Mediterranean coastline was stained by an oil spill from the bombing of a power plant near Beirut, the UNEP (The United Nations Environmental Programme) and EU have appealed for international assistance to contain the environmental damage. An oil spill on the Galician coast of Spain a few years earlier instigated severe political accusations and popular outrage. The summer of 2006 has been a success for Spain; it has been a disaster for Lebanon.
This was all quite a contrast to my following week’s travels to the United States’ eastern shores where the population is obese and the Atlantic is opaque. Although US foreign policy may also be obscure, the US’ geopolitical aspirations, intentions, and allegiances in the region are translucent. A recent article in the New Yorker has done a fine job of exposing these interests.
True to their nature, both the US and Europe’s reactions to the conflict have been predictable.
A LACK OF ACTION
The US has stalled in negotiating a cease fire in favour of Israel and its own interests, and Europe has done nothing. The American people have supported Israel, and the Europeans have criticized Israel.
Reminiscent of Yugoslavia in the 90s, Europe has shown absolutely no political drive to thwart an acute humanitarian crisis within the close vicinity of its natural boundaries.
In the past 15 years, Europe has continued to expand, but it has systematically failed to consolidate. Europeans abhor US interventionism and military unilateralism. Europeans in masses unified to protest war in Iraq and to say “no to war” in general. To the US’s surprise, it encountered greater resistance from its European allies than from the Arab street.
But, if the Europeans have such an innate aversion to armed conflict and see themselves as a beacon of human rights and a necessary counter-balance to US might, where were the Europeans and the EU this summer? Where was the EU’s response? What was at the root of its silence? Are Europeans politically apathetic when it comes to taking a stance? Does the EU in reality have a vested interest in the region engrained in its silence?
Does the EU secretly side with the US and Israel for fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions endangering European security? Is it silent to hide its objectives from its anti-war electorate? Or is the EU’s desire for international supremacy still so sophomoric that its only viable strategy is to wait for the US to act so that the EU may respond with criticism?
A UNION WITHOUT A UNIFIED STANCE
If the obvious answer with reference to the EU’s position is that it still lacks political consolidation and tools for offering a unified stance, the easy answer to the European people’s lack of responsiveness is just as simple.
On one side of the Mediterranean, the coasts are blackened from oil, hundreds of civilians have lost their lives, and thousands have lost their homes and been turned into refugees. On the other end of the waters, Europeans have finally gotten their feet wet, but not by defending their neighbours’ human rights or counterbalancing US foreign policy.
The Europeans are on vacation.