The EU’s messy foreign policy

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March, 2024 at 2:04 pm by Andre Camilleri

Last Tuesday, while I was still unsure what to write for today’s opinion piece, an acquaintance texted me to see if I am available for a quick call. The person on the other side of the call reminded me of an episode, when I, along with my family were sanctioned by China. Indeed, I realised that it is a good topic and warrants visibility in an opinion piece.

When the EU proposed and imposed sanctions, as well as restrictive measures on China, for the gruesome stories that were emerging from Xinjiang, the Chinese responded with counter sanctions. In 2021, the EU imposed sanctions, and restrictive measures to restrict China from committing human rights abuses on the ethnic minority Uyghurs, native to Xinjiang. At that time, I was still sitting in the Political and Security Committee of the EU. As an ambassador, representing the Maltese government, I questioned whether this package of sanctions must be attached to another set of sanctions for approval. Technically, I was a little sceptical on a specific line of the sanctions which included restrictive measures based on information that was extracted from an open source and which is easily modified.  

However, it dawned on me that once the package of sanctions will be approved, we, as a Political and Security Committee, including other Committees from other institutions will be targeted back with retaliation. It is the same tactic that the Chinese used against the outgoing Trump team in 2021, including the former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which saw a series of sanctions imposed on them. In March 2021, on the same day of the Foreign Affairs Council, when the package of restrictive measures and sanctions were about to be approved, a former colleague texted me to inform me about my sanctioning. I was not surprised, even though I texted back to see if it was a joke. When I went home, while I was cooking dinner, I told my husband that he cannot fly to China, invest in Hong Kong, Macao and any territory pertaining to the People’s Republic of China. Well, he told me that he does not even have investments in Malta, let alone in China.  

When I asked the Council Legal Service what the Chinese sanctions practically mean, they told us that they have no clue. They operate differently from the West, so the advice was to avoid travelling to China, due to its unknown implications. Certainly, I complied. However, I am mentioning this fact because I am not apologetic to what is wrong, wherever wrong is executed. However, I try to see the bigger picture. Clearly, I was honoured to be sanctioned for the right reasons. Committing human rights on ethnic minorities is as bad, as committing ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. If I were still seated in the Political and Security Committee of the EU, I would have pushed for sanctions and restrictive measures on Azerbaijan. And the reason for this is that the EU cannot use different measures with different regimes. If under international law, changing border is illegal with arms aggressions, it is illegal for Russia, as much as it is illegal for Azerbaijan. However, Ursula von der Leyen seems to apply different measures.

This means that when we prepare for a healthy debate, we need to have experts. We need experts beyond media bloggers that could hardly get a local bus route from Paola to Valletta right. Imagine them discussing the borders of Ukraine when they could hardly get a simple bus route right in their own country. Yes, NATO was founded to keep Americans in, the USSR out, and Germans down. The reason why we need experts when discussing the borders of Ukraine, the expansion of NATO to eastern Ukraine, the Minsk agreements and the Steinmeier formula is because the EU cannot forge ahead with a messy foreign policy. The European Parliament cannot increase its profile in the area of foreign policy without keeping synergy with the EEAS. It is not their remit under the treaty of Lisbon, and ditto for the European Commission. We have a High Representative, and everything must be channel through him. Else, we are defying what we were accustomed to in the form of Rules-Based-Order within European politics, the EU institutional decisions, as well as the EU’s foreign policy under the treaty of Lisbon.  

To make matters worse, the President of the European Commission, flew to Cairo to seal a 7.4-billion-euro aid package for needy Egypt. The same tactic has been used with  Tunisia in the past months. However, the reason to fly to Cairo was simply to seal a deal on the border also about the border of Rafah and not because Egypt needs to be saved financially. Firstly, they messed it up. Now, they are using EU’s taxpayers’ money to fix it. This woman is really amoral. However, I am not surprised anymore. When I was still in the PSC Committee, my German counterpart used to object to give money to Egypt due to their human rights abuses. I can tell because I had a lot of engagement with my Egyptian colleague. Please, Ursula von der Leyen, do read the reports form your German embassy in Cairo. Today, everything has been normalised, even human rights abuses.

Clearly, we do not afford another 5 years of Ursula’s messy policies, especially in foreign policy.

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