The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

A realistic and humble EU – Mission impossible?

Evarist Bartolo Tuesday, 11 January 2022, 07:42 Last update: about 8 months ago

We should all learn from what has happened over the years in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Iraq and other so called post-conflict countries. They show how pointless and painful it is for military powers to invade countries and prove their capability at winning wars but also reveal how incompetent they are at building peace.

As former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said recently in a conversation with Gilles Gressani “Everything is geopolitical” (THE GROUNDWORK FOR EUROPEAN POWER (FORTHCOMING ISSUE)ISSUE #3: “The imperative of intervention, even with the aim of avoiding the worst, is no longer appropriate. The idea that we can intervene from the outside in the internal development of societies that do not resemble ours was wrong. It has only produced failures. … we ought to learn to manage our own affairs before concerning ourselves with the affairs of others.”


Juncker says that the European Union needs to be realistic and humble about our position in the world: “Europe, which cannot be reduced to the European Union, is quite small. We are the smallest continent in the world even though we always think we are the centre of the world. We are not, and never have been, the masters of world history … we need to define a relationship with the rest of the world — (with the United States), with China, with Russia, (with the area immediately surrounding Europe which includes Turkey and the Middle East) and with Africa, a continent whose importance is greatly underestimated by European nations.”

To be able to do effectively what Juncker rightly advises us to do we need to overcome our Eurocentrism and all colonial hangovers and learn to think, talk and behave differently with the rest of the world and treat Asia, Africa and Latin America as equal partners and not as inferior beings that need to be lectured to and to be put on the right path that we decide for them. We must stop overpromising and underdelivering. The way forward cannot be based on wishful thinking. We must be realistic and match our objectives and strategy with our resources.

In the same conversation with Gressani, Juncker suggests that: “To do this, we must develop our own analysis. Rather than talking about strategic autonomy I would urge us to first of all put in place an analytical autonomy through a study of geopolitical positions which must be much more complete than it is at present, taking into consideration interests that are in line with our values.”

He goes on to say: “Unlike with the United States, Russia is our next-door neighbour. We cannot change geography; Europe is close to Russia, and this proximity has consequences. To envisage a security architecture for Europe without reserving a place for Russia is a dead end. I would not say that this is regardless of the problem in Crimea or Eastern Ukraine, but we must have an ongoing relationship with Russia. We have to talk to each other. The Americans are not in Russia’s immediate vicinity… In regard to these two matters — Russia and China — we cannot follow the instructions coming out of Washington; we must have analytical and operational autonomy.”

There is a lot of wisdom in what Juncker is saying. Are we willing to listen to him or are we ready to keep on charging like the Light Brigade into the valley of geopolitical death: ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die? (Lord Alfred Tennyson, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’).

The future of Libya

The postponement of the elections that were to be held in Libya on 24th December 2021 should be serving as a pause for reflection of what can be learned from the past 15 months to ensure that when elections are held, they will be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

The election process must form part of a broader process that helps bring about the acceptance of the result and the formation of a government accepted in all the territory of Libya.

The electoral process must not be an illusory short cut and a substitute for the difficult and gradual work that still needs to be done to reunify the institutions and push for economic and governance reform, security sector reform, reconciliation, transitional justice and the recovery of full sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The international community, including those countries that have been involved overtly or covertly in the Libyan conflict must assist Libya address these divisive challenges. If this does not happen, the crisis in Libya, with or without elections, will go on as has happened in similar post-conflict states like Lebanon and Iraq.

11 years after the NATO-led military intervention in Libya, we are still trying to put the pieces of Libya together. In April 2016 Barack Obama himself admitted that the biggest mistake of his presidency was the lack of planning for the aftermath of Muammar Gaddafi’s removal in Libya that left the country spiralling into chaos and coming under threat from violent extremists.

Last November I wrote in this page: “As international community we must not repeat this “worst mistake” in Libya. The least we can do is assist the Libyans in rebuilding their home but without meddling and imposing solutions that create more problems. Libya cannot be rebuilt from on top and from outside: it is as if trying to build a house from the roof down, it will collapse.”

Libya needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, by the Libyans and for the Libyans in their own reality, history, culture and geography. Expecting Libyans to leap over phases of history that took Europeans and Americans centuries to create a democratic nation state (and even for them it is still unfinished business) is neither fair nor realistic. But Libyan politicians must find ways of living and working together. The divisions of Libyans help those Libyans and outsiders who want Libya to remain ungovernable so that they can exploit it in their own interests.

Evarist Bartolo, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs





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