Ever since it aspired to become more than a mere common market, the European Union has been embarrassed by its inability to exert influence in the sphere of world affairs — a syndrome that the miracle cure of the Lisbon Treaty was designed to remedy once and for all. However, now that the treaty has finally been implemented, recent diplomatic disputes, with Libya on the one hand and Israel on the other, show that we have yet to enter a new era of European solidarity in relations with non-EU countries, nor can we expect to see collective diplomatic action on behalf of the Union.
The regime in Tripoli has closed its borders to Schengen area passport holders in reprisal for Switzerland’s decision to blacklist Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his entourage — the latest episode in a conflict that began in 2008, with the arrest in Geneva of the volatile colonel’s son for mistreatment of his servants. In Europe, no questions are being asked about the Libyan leader’s extreme response to the Swiss arrests — which included slapping jail sentences on two Swiss businessmen and urging the UN to abolish Switzerland. On the contrary, EU heads of state continue to fall over each other in their attempts to call on or host visits from Gaddafi. Now that the conflict has resulted in a ban on visas for Europeans, instead of taking the opportunity to put an end to Libyan coercion, they are more than prepared to let Berne sort out its troubles alone.
This is all the more regrettable in view of Europe’s aspiration to act as a standard bearer for human rights, equality, and the rule of law. For the moment at least, it seems the EU is unlikely to make a fuss when such universal values are threatened. In another incident, the Israeli secret service has been accused of stealing the identities of 11 EU passport holders to allow its agents to assassinate a Hamas leader in Dubai. Demands by the states concerned — the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Germany — for an explanation from Israeli authorities have simply been ignored. Israel’s discourteous attitude is all the more surprising when you consider that, unlike Libya, it is supposed to be an ally — and for some, a future member – of the European Union. But do not expect Catherine Ashton, Europe’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, to pick up the phone and call Tripoli or Tel Aviv, if only to express the European Union’s "astonishment" at such hostile behaviour. She is still too busy searching for Haiti in her largely unused copy of the world atlas. Gian Paolo Accardo