As here in the United States, media coverage of the political situation in the Middle East is focused largely on the role the US State department will play, and it is easy to overlook the impact that other nations may have on the region, particularly ones with stronger geographic, if not economic, ties. This article, “Europe’s Middle East policies: a southern European twist,” delves into the long and complicated history between Europe and the Mediterranean Middle East. While the EU-Middle East foreign policy has traditionally been steered towards stability, the recent economic breakdown in most European countries have caused many policymakers to rethink their approach to the changing political landscape.
The European Union has long required stable relationships with the Middle East to protect their mineral and economic interests, but with this stability taken out of their hands as protests and regime-overthrows wreak havoc on international trade, the EU is starting to realize the necessity of being on the right side of history. But how does this changing approach to foreign policy affect the Middle East? The experience Europe has accrued in regards to changing democratic patterns is what could be most valuable to the Middle East. Two reasons for this are highlighted in this article: the EU’s own political history, and the current economic problems facing the region.
Nations like Italy and Spain are well aware of the political toll a changing political landscape can have on a nation’s stability, as can be seen from their track record post-WWII. The author posits that by sharing their history, their “lessons learnt” and “mistakes to be avoided”, the EU could help provide a blueprint for many Middle Eastern nations who are on the precipice of a major political change. Secondly, the economic and political troubles currently facing the EU mirror directly many the problems in many Middle Eastern nations. The high youth unemployment rate in Spain is similar to the same rate in Egypt, and the “surge of populist extremes” in Italy and surrounding nations is akin to the fight between secularism and religious authoritarianism in Libya.
The benefits of a dialogue between the EU and the Middle East is one that I believe the United States should quickly take notice of. The history and geographical closeness the two regions share allows for an insight that is simply impossible for the US to have. If it is truly in the United States’ best interest to aid in the development of a democracy foothold in the region, the Obama administration would be wise to consult with leaders from the EU to determine the best way to achieve this goal, lest they repeat failed attempts from American history.