EU Foreign Policy and Human Rights through an EaP lens

Without going into too many specifics deliberately it maybe time to look a the EU foreign policy, specifically with regards to my part of the world, namely the EaP nations and how effective the EEAS has been in the first year since its creation.

You may ask why I am deliberately avoiding specifics and the reason is public perception and what identity if any it gives to the EU over such issues.

I will deliberately steer clear of the NGOs/civil society and academia as they all too often desperately fail to engage society in any meaningful way. The problem with NGOs becoming professional is that they now float aloof from the public concerns they claim to represent. Indeed they are as detached from the general public as their sponsors and the governments they interact with.

If there are tiers of non-engagement and detachment with the public then most NGOs are right up there with some national governments. In some cases you even wonder what parts of society the NGOs are actually claiming to represent and what support if any they have from those sections of the community.

It is very easy to criticise the EEAS and rightly so. It has failed to send a consistent and forceful message when it comes to EU ideology and EU identity. The appearance of feckless leadership and duplicitous positions are widely reported in the media and internal EU correspondence alike.

There is an inherent problem with projecting an EU identity when such a thing struggles to exist within the ” internal self” and relies heavily of the “external other” upholding the EU an identity, but that would be a post in and of itself.

If the EU has any identity at all, discounting being the worlds biggest single market, then that identity would be the principles of democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech and the upholding of basic fundamental human rights within the block. A stance no different to the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many others. Hardly a unique identity.

Where the EU does differ is that the only options it has to support these principles come from soft power by way of diplomacy, negotiation, economic carrot and economic stick. Hard power it does not have. The problem with economic carrots and sticks it that more circles of hell than those ever witnessed by Dante must be aligned for all 27 members, the parliament, commission and council to agree on a specific action. If they are not all aligned then individual members may take action on a unilateral or multilateral basis but the EU label cannot be put on such actions with any legitimacy.

So what is the EU foreign policy going to be based upon and how is that policy going to reflect the nuanced differences between nations it is aimed at? A one size fits all policy simply would not reflect the other issues that incorporate a relationship with an external sovereign actor.

Well, the answer it seems, is on its way. The answer is an EEAS foreign policy for each nation with silver threads running through them all. Those silver threads are rule of law, freedom of speech, democracy and human rights.

Whilst well intentioned as some of it may be, it seems unlikely that the EU will change the Iranian or US position over the death penalty any time soon despite it being a specifically mentioned EEAS policy.

However, let us look at this broadly through an EaP lens. The EU and EEAS have failed where Ms Tymoshenko is concerned in Ukraine. They rightly condemned the judicial process and rightly stopped short of saying she was innocent. The Council of Europe rightly proclaimed that the investigations were indeed legal when they were on-going prior to the court process. After all, you simply cannot have a situation that a politician cannot be investigated just because they are a politician.

That said, threatening to withhold the DCFTA and AA Ukraine has never had is simply hitting it with a stick that causes no pain. It is not removing something Ukraine once had and causing effects will be noticed by society. To tie the DCFTA and AA to the fate of Ms Tymoshenko was not necessarily the best way to look at matters as more than half the country voted against her only the year before. The focus has now moved to where it should be and that is of democratic free and fair parliamentary elections in October in which her party will take part.

A look at Belarus and quite simply the EU and EEAS foreign policy doesn’t work. Sanctions or not it doesn’t work. There will always be governments and individuals who will not respond to external pressure and Belarus is one of them. Move along, nothing to see here in the foreseeable future.

Moldova is still no closer to a President although thanks to German relations with Russia there is movement over the frozen conflict within. Nothing that can be directly attributed to the EU or EEAS however.

Georgia will be the next problem child. If we overlook Saakashvili’s control over the media, often brutal and consistently oppressive actions towards opposition parties there is a big test in 2013. Should he either change the law to allow himself a further term or do a Putin-esque swap from President to Prime Minister to remain in power, then democracy will take further significant damage there also and be a de facto failure for the EU amongst others.

We can go on and on of course, but let us look at the Hungarian situation and how that is viewed from outside.

The changes that have come into effect with the new Hungarian Constitution, the actions within the realms of the media, judicial system, and central bank on a legal footing now make Ukraine seem like a beacon of democracy. That is before we consider the 3 pending investigations into past political figures creating a Tymoshenko styled perception of political persecution.

You have to consider quite seriously whether Hungary still meets the Maastricht and Copenhagen agreements required to join the EU. It will be very difficult to be taken seriously by the EaP nations when preaching democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech and human rights when an existing EU member is more regressed than any other EaP nation excepting Belarus.

How the EU will deal with Hungary remains to be seen but it will certainly be in the background for EaP States when they are being lectured by the EU which cannot keep its own house in order. If it cannot deal with Hungary effectively then it adds to the perception generated by the Eurozone crisis that the EU is leaderless, ineffective and only capable of muddling through. If surrendering fiscal self-determination and removing your own central bank and substituting it for one where there is no flexibility to deal with national issues are the ultimate costs for EU membership, how long does the EU remain attractive for nations that only 20 years ago gained independence from a very similar structural set-up?

There are then specific issues relating to human rights within the block such as this one over disability in Belgium, not to mention a host of issues with the Roma population. Add to that some EU nations tend to see ECfHR decisions as “advisory” rather than mandatory.

If it is not attractive enough to join then what attraction is there to adhere to EU foreign policy at all? The EU will threaten to delay the ease of business a nation has never benefited from before as in the case of Ukraine? The worst case scenario is things will remain the same? After years of negotiation and legislative work, why is it only 58% of Croatians favour EU entry next year? Should that not be a significantly higher percentage if the EU is seen as the way forward for the nation and by the nation?

In the meantime all EaP nations economies would benefit in some regard from the CIS FTA even if based only on WTO rules which are in no way deep or comprehensive requiring legislative changes for entry to the EU single market, but nonetheless will improve their trade balances.

What of the regions rising star Turkey? Ukraine and others will undoubtedly sign FTA’s with Turkey in the near future as well. That you have to expect would become a solid foundation into expanded trade throughout North Africa.

What if the BSEC steps up a gear and becomes a FTA body? There are numerous alternatives to the EU for those on the periphery when it comes to expanding trade and that makes the economic carrots and sticks the EU offers less and less influential as time goes by.

With its credibility and leadership being questioned globally over the Eurozone crisis and now a serious political internal own goal with respect to Hungary undermining the silver threads the EEAS is hoping to employ in all foreign policy, at many levels, those who the EU would preach to will start to find it rather comical.