Europe is a wealthy continent that is good at a lot of things. It has, for example, managed so far to find its way through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic better than many other parts of the world. But the Continent is currently faced with external threats for which it is unprepared, with Europe's neighborhood having become increasingly unstable.
That is a state of affairs that is frequently ignored - in Europe at large, but especially in Germany. Navel-gazing seems to have become a favorite pastime, with the result that nobody seems to know what to do about the unpleasantness all around. In Belarus, a country squarely in Europe, dictator Alexander Lukashenko's security forces are firing away at the country's citizens as they demonstrate against election fraud. And the EU has not found a response.
It took several days before the EU's top foreign affairs official or Germany's foreign minister were able to formulate a halfway strong statement to condemn the violence. The EU and NATO are paralyzed by concerns that Lukashenko, should he remain in power, will cozy up even more closely to Russian President Vladimir Putin – or could even permit Russian military bases on Belarusian soil. The result: Europe looks completely impotent on the issue.
In the Mediterranean region, the situation is even more precarious. The EU there finds itself dealing with a number of aggressive powers seeking to take advantage of the ongoing violence and instability in Syria and Libya to secure influence and territory, including Iran, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and, most recently, Turkey.
A Dangerous Form of Provincialism
Indeed, the latter country is now playing the central role in Libya, a country of strategic importance for Europe. Not only that, but Turkey is also currently risking a military confrontation with EU member state Greece, which is nominally a Turkish ally within NATO. A Turkish survey ship, accompanied by a fleet of warships, is searching for natural gas reserves in waters that Greece claims. There is a lot of money at stake, but also geopolitical leverage. An escalation cannot be ruled out. What would happen then?
The EU won't last if it is unable to develop any sort of geopolitical ambition, if it doesn't work to become a diplomatic and military power. France, under the leadership of President Emmanuel Macron, is currently the only European country currently showing a desire to play such a role, but its actions are mostly unilateral.
Europe's ineffective foreign policy is also, of course, a function of the bloc seldom agreeing on the correct course of action. But there is more to it than that. In Germany, for example, candidates for the country's highest political office can confidently ignore foreign policy, knowing that the issue will never come up in media interviews.
That is a dangerous form of provincialism. Power relations in Europe's backyard are shifting, not least because the U.S. is withdrawing. It is high time for Berlin to finally take an interest in such developments. Instead of continuing to gaze at its navel.