Don’t just speak with one voice: Act!

EU member states worry too much about speaking with one voice. But endless unified expressions of 'interest and concern' about the situation in Tunisia and Egypt show that the problem is that others aren't listening because we often have little to say.  

For too long, people have demanded the EU to speak with one voice. But this is an unfair criticism: we do speak with one voice, or at least we do it sufficiently often. In fact, the EU produces so many statements than it simply floods the market. The problem is that in these statements we say very little, or that what we say is completely irrelevant. So, our problem is not speaking, but people listening, which actually requires having something to say.

Take, for instance, statements by the EU and, for that matter, those of individual member states, on Tunisia and Egypt: “we follow the situation with interest and concern”. This is the minimum one would expect from a Foreign Ministry. After all, this is what a diplomat gets paid for, for following things with interest and concern. Can you imagine a statement saying: “we are not worried by events in North Africa and thus are not following them”? So, if interest and concern is all the EU has to express, it is better to remain silent. People are not fools, and they realise that what those statements mean, when translated to ordinary English is: “we do not have the slightest idea of what is going on or how to react to it”.

The EU is pretty lost in Tunisia and Egypt. That is understandable. It placed all the eggs in one basket (regime stability) and that has volatilised. There are many things that could go wrong, and no one wants to bet on a change that has not yet taken place. But the argument that the EU should not interfere with the events is a bit weak. The EU has already interfered in Egypt, supporting Mubarak all along through trade and political concessions. But now it want to exercise an exquisite neutrality. Can one be neutral between the Mubarak regime and the people?

After a week of hesitations and deliberations, the EU Ministers met yesterday. They produced yet another statement. In this, they call for a peaceful, orderly and democratic transition. Wow! Is this all what 27 foreign ministries and the EEAS could come to? Could they call for a violent, chaotic and authoritarian reversal? Since the EU position does not alter an inch the structure of incentives Mubarak faces, its impact will be null. Once again, we spoke with one voice, and this was the alibi to do nothing about something.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow

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