As Syria sinks even deeper into the mire, Europe struggles to respond

The European Union has been far too absent on key issues from the situation in Syria to refugees, writes Martin Jay

One big problem is that there is little actual policy coming out of Brussels to respond to the key issues of the day. Thibault Camus / EPA
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It is said that the more one pays for a counterfeit painting, the less inclined the owner is to believe that it is not the genuine article.

The same could be said for the suggestion that Brussels is a foreign-policy superpower in the style of Washington, Paris, London and Berlin. That notion is beginning to look more false by the day.

And it is one that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is capitalising on in his military campaign in Syria.

Recently, an EU-initiated proposal to allow European naval ships to confiscate smugglers’ boats in the Mediterranean was agreed – but by the United Nations in New York rather than in Brussels.

The vote was passed as EU leaders agreed that they needed to deport 300,000 mainly African illegal immigrants to make room for newly arrived Syrian refugees.

Earlier this month, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, jetted into Iran to hold talks with Mohammad Zarif, the deputy of Tehran’s foreign affairs minister.

She arrived in Iran on the same day that Britain’s Telegraph ran a story claiming that her officials had ordered $3 million (Dh11m) worth of dinner plates for dining with heads of state in the Belgian capital.

When it comes to policy decisions, the former Italian foreign minister is largely working on an empty stomach.

The EU has no concrete foreign-policy powers whatsoever. Time after time we see that she is not consulted on major events by Washington, which prefers to talk with the foreign ministers in London and Paris.

Since the early days of the failed “Barcelona Process” – an attempt to draw the Arab Mediterranean and European countries together – the EU has been unmoved by the geopolitical shifts in the Middle East. Not only could it not predict the Arab Spring, but it was also unable to do anything about it once it gathered momentum, other than harp on about basic values.

And yet, does it even believe in these values? If you examine the countries where the African immigrants in Europe come from, you will find most of them have leaders supported by the EU through millions of dollars of NGO money.

I am sure that Ms Mogherini may genuinely want to help the region develop, but she is unrealistic about what is achievable. She has previously admitted to journalists in Brussels that she has no influence over the member states of Europe.

And yet EU foreign ministers last week involved themselves in a debate over whether Bashar Al Assad should stay or go, when they will certainly not have any role in either scenario. The problem in all of this is that there is little actual policy coming out of Brussels.

And Mr Al Assad and Mr Putin know this.

The Russian leader once scoffed when a journalist used the words “EU foreign policy” and retorted “the EU doesn’t even have a single energy market, how could it organise a foreign policy?”

How true his words look now as Syria sinks deeper into the mire.

Martin Jay is a correspondent in Beirut and the founding editor of An Nahar English