Historian to the stars, Niall Ferguson, recently admitted he was wrong to oppose Brexit and now supports it. Ferguson reasoned that the European Union (EU) “deserved the result” because of its failures regarding the Euro, foreign policy, open border migration and failure to combat Islamic extremism. While the Euro, one currency for multiple countries as well as open borders never made any sense, and Europe’s failure to combat Islamic extremism are clear, your correspondent was less clear about the EU’s foreign policy failures. While he was unsurprised that whatever failures the EU would pursue would turn out to be failures, he had a morbid curiosity about what exactly those failures were.
The first failure, which was highlighted in entertainingly acerbic and astringent prose by Janet Daly, concerned the EU’s congenital inability to stand up to and effectively deal with Russia’s belligerent Vladimir Putin. After taking over the Crimea and eastern Ukraine and shooting down the civilian airliner MH370, Europe’s response was, to put it mildly, passive. Daly argues that the Europe is so economically weak that the cut-price energy that Germany receives from Russia and the shipbuilding orders France receives together make it difficult to confront Putin. Economic ties indeed serve to make conflict more difficult—that’s why the EU exists!—but it’s difficult to imagine that economic self-interest is all that holds back the paper tiger of Europe. For example, one reason David Cameron counseled remaining in the EU was that it allowed Britain to, “Punch above its weight.” While your correspondent’s first impulse it to reply, “Really?” credit must be given that Britain will muster the courage to respond to Putin in some form in explicit contradistinction to the EU.
Second, Europe has pursued a policy to assist the development of its neighbors to the south and east. The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was launched in 2003 to strengthen relations with 16 of their neighbors, and the results achieved are commensurate with other comparable economic development efforts, which is to say, dismal. The Crimea was annexed by Russia. The Ukraine experienced a revolution and civil war with Russia heavily involved. Belarus is ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’, with President Alexander Lukashenko starting his fifth term in office. The Israel-Palestine conflict remains unchanged, and Libya continues to be a horror. Egypt experienced a military coup. Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to fighting in a low-level kind of way.
Third, there is Syria civil war, which combines the theme of uncontested interference by Putin with the passive foreign policy of the ENP. The war has generated many casualties and refugees, many of whom have gone to Europe, but Europe has remained mostly silent allowing the Obama, as much as he is capable of or interested in doing so, to deal with Putin, which is not much. The silence of the EU regarding Syria however is reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes’ curious incident of the dog that didn’t bark. Were the EU able to conduct foreign policy, as its designers intended and its proponents maintain it can, then they would have already done so. That they passively said nothing reveals the EU to be less a supra-national organization and more just another multilateral forum.