“Yesterday Tunisia, today Egypt, tomorrow Algeria, Jordan, Yemen? No one can predict where the wave of protests that has risen up in the Arab world after the fall of President Ben Ali on January 14 will head next,” writes Jacques Hubert-Rodier in Les Echos. According to the editorialist, “This movement bearing echos from the democratic revolution that spread through Europe in the nineteenth century has caught both the European Union and America by surprise.” And while “Barack Obama has been forced over the last several days to make an agonising reappraisal of US strategy vis-à-vis its Egyptian ally”, “Europe really must pick up the phone”.

Even though its weight – political and economic – in the region has been diminished, and even if “the Union for the Mediterranean, dear to Nicolas Sarkozy, has been a failure,” it must not give up. Today in Brussels, reports Rodier, “the 27 Member States are meeting with the head of European diplomacy, Catherine Ashton, to confirm their willingness to send a positive signal to Tunisia. This is still not enough to meet the aspirations of the peoples on the other shore of the Mediterranean.”

Now, he adds, “Europe cannot fail to keep this rendezvous. Europe managed to mobilise after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Why not today?” The call this weekend from David Cameron, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy for a change of regime in Cairo in light of the legitimate demands of the Egyptians is a first step in the right direction. But there remains much more to do, together with America – and not as rivals – to help people in the post-Ben Ali, and perhaps the post-Mubarak, eras”.

Will this initiative be enough to efface what El Paíshas described as the “European disgrace? “The EU has remained mute in the face of prolonged abuse in the autocratic states of North Africa” instead of enforcing the provisions of Article 21 of the Lisbon Treaty [universality of human rights] and the European Security Strategy of 2003 [good governance of countries bordering the EU].” “The conduct of the European Union in recent months in response to systematic violations of human rights [in these countries] indicates that it has lost all attachment to the values which it claims to embody” and “any clear idea of its interests” as well.

Mediterranean policy calculated purely in balance-book terms

Having criticised the “disgraceful” attitude of France towards the “Jasmine revolution” and the “insolent” attitude in Italy and Spain, whose only concern was for maintaining cooperation on migration, El País compares the EU's position to that adopted by the United States, which “invited the armed forces of the countries in crisis to respect the civilian population and pressured authorities to initiate significant reforms.” If by doing so the United States has regained its stature as a “liberal power,” concludes El Pais, “the EU is on its way to losing it.”

As a front-line state, Italy, just like Spain, is concerned that the EU remains at the brink of a situation that concerns it more than it may believe. Thus, writes Guido Rampoldi in La Repubblica, “suddenly we are again at the forefront in Europe looking across to an Arab region shaken by radical changes and a Middle East where peace talks might fail.” In the same newspaper, Lucio Caracciolo suggests that the uprising “could change our southern border for the better, bringing it closer to our ideals of freedom and democracy and realising opportunities for development that had been undermined by the greed of the post-colonial elites.”

To avoid regressing back to a Mediterranean policy calculated purely in balance-book terms, Joschka Fischer has called on the EU to create the political conditions for the Mediterranean to become a true partner and not just a pond for the PIGS states. “The Member States (of the EU) on the Mediterranean are stumbling, while at the same time great changes are looming over the southern shore. It is high time that Brussels and the major European capitals grasp the Mediterranean not just in fiscal terms but in geopolitical ones,” writes the former German foreign minister in an op-ed piece published by Der Standardof Vienna. “If Europeans continue to look primarily inwards and to carry on about book-keeping, they will miss opportunities,” said Fischer, “because it is in the Mediterranean area where decisions that directly affect security in Europe are playing out. If Europeans let themselves be guided by cupidity and strategic blinkers, the reckoning will be very costly and considerably more dangerous.”