Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The EU’s ‘ethical’ foreign policy

Helen Szamuely

The main principle of the European Union’s common foreign and security policy, due to be strengthened and institutionalized if the constitution is adopted, is supposedly the protection of democracy and human rights, wherever that is needed in the world. This image is getting somewhat tarnished, as the EU, led by France and its present close cohort, Germany, shows itself to be all bluster and little action. When it does act, it supports the terrorists of Palestine and does deals with brutal and oppressive regimes like Russia and China.

We are in for another bout of self-congratulation: the EU is about to make various agreements with Russia in the wake of eastward enlargement. There will be some tut-tutting about Russia’s appalling human rights record in Chechnya and Putin’s growing authoritarianism in the rest of the country. There may even be some mention of the remarkably high incidence of sudden deaths among politicians and investigative journalists. But, by and large, all will be sunshine and happiness. Or will it?

Russia is not happy with the idea that the EU should lift the arms embargo imposed on China after the massacre on Tiananment Square. France and Germany, anxious to expand into new markets, have been explaining to all and sundry that the embargo is out of date. Just to make sure, both Chirac and Schröder have warned Taiwan (a strongly developing democracy) should not challenge the People’s Republic of China too much.

Russia is becoming somewhat annoyed that, while its own human rights record is always being examined and held up to criticism, the EU is ready to do a deal with China, arguably a far worse dictatorship. Only someone as hypersensitive as the Russians could see themselves as being pilloried by the very mild criticism occasionally expressed by European (including British) leaders.

There is another side to the story. Russia is, at present, the largest exporter of arms to China and she is reluctant to see any competition there. She is fairly safe with the United States, whose incomprehensible moral stance precludes arms sales to China but with the EU, who is always trying to occupy the high moral ground, one cannot be so sure.

France is already routinely breaking the arms sanctions. A few weeks ago France and China staged joint naval exercises in Quingdao. It has been obvious for some time that the modernization of the Chinese navy is being carried out with a great deal of French help. Many of the weapons and tools of communication on the ships are French made. A recent Pentagon report to Congress on Chinese military modernization concluded that France is assisting the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army-Navy) build its advanced submarines. What the French would like is to be able to do all this much more openly with EU support.

It seems unlikely that any agreement will be reached with China in the very near future but that extends no further than the next couple of months. Before many more days are out we shall hear France and Germany demanding that we should leave our cold war mentality behind and start selling arms to the last powerful Communist tyranny. After all, it will annoy the Americans.

The trouble is, it will also annoy the EU’s latest best friend – President Putin. The CFSP will then consist of trying to reconcile the two separate interests of two powers, who are inimical to western liberal democracy and human rights. As well as not being particularly reliable trading partners.

Unfortunately, if the constitution is adopted, the common foreign and security policy will have to be adopted by all member states.

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