In his usual undiplomatic fashion, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his French and Spanish counterparts yesterday that they should solve Europe’s own problems — like Kosovo and Cyprus — before trying to tell Israel how to solve its problems. That predictably infuriated his guests. Yet in this instance, Lieberman was largely echoing the advice of one of the European Union’s own members — and not one known for pro-Israel sentiment.
Last month, Finnish Foreign Minister Alex Stubb presented the results of research he conducted into what EU foreign ministers do and don’t discuss during their monthly meetings. The results were astounding.
For instance, he found that over the past four years, the ministers had held exactly one discussion on the role of China as a foreign policy power. Yet given China’s growing assertiveness on the world stage, that would surely rank at the top of just about anyone’s list of major foreign policy issues.
So what were EU foreign ministers devoting their time to instead? To quote the New York Times’ summary,
Mr. Stubb’s research shows how foreign ministers tend to devote their discussions to crises, and to issues where Europe has limited influence.
For example, in 2009 and 2010, European foreign ministers discussed the Middle East peace process 12 times.
In other words, the ministers devoted more than half of their monthly meetings during this period (since 2010 isn’t a full year) to the Middle East peace process — an issue on which, by their own admission, they have little influence. Indeed, the main purpose of this week’s Israel visit was “to raise European involvement in the current diplomatic process, at a time when the EU’s role has proven very minimal.”
As a result, they have been neglecting issues of far more importance, like how to deal with a rising China. And the result is that Europe is rapidly losing its global power and influence. As Stubb said earlier last month, “Arguably, today Turkey is more influential in the world than any of our member states together or separately” — an embarrassing admission from a bloc that has repeatedly spurned this unwanted applicant for membership from Europe’s eastern flank.
Stubb’s conclusion from his research was that “for too long we have been preaching, paternalizing the rest of the world,” and now “we need to pick our fights better.”
That’s good general advice, but his own findings indicate that the problem is a good deal more specific: it’s the EU’s obsession with Israel in particular that has served as the main distraction. This obsession has prevented it from devoting time and attention to more important issues, like China, and to issues on which the EU could have a greater impact. And consequently, it has contributed significantly to the EU’s waning global status.
I’ve written repeatedly about the price the global obsession with Israel exacts worldwide, from victims of human rights abuses whose plights are ignored owing to this obsession, to Western democracy itself. But it seems that the Israel obsession can now chalk up one more victim: European power.