The European Union and Its Role in the Middle East and in the Arab-Israeli Conflict
The Middle East, together with its attendant dynamics in the international scene, has always been an emotionally charged issue. Almost every reference to the Middle East made anywhere is very strongly colored with high interest and deep concerns.
As a region, the Middle East has immense strategic importance in at least two ways. First is its geographical dynamics. Constituting an intersection of continents, the Middle East faces the world from this resulting unique characteristic of opportunities and conflicts across diverse areas of more or less mutual interests among the different nations and interest groups within the region. Secondly, it is extremely significant because of its fossil oil deposits, in particular, and as regards energy source in general. The relevance of the Middle East in world economy, more specifically in the international oil market is evident.
One great factor that adds to the assessment of the Middle East as a subject which bears to the emotion is the presence of three monotheistic religions in the region, Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Hence, the Jews and the Arabs have poignant effects in the cultures of Europe and the United States of America (USA). The Jews play a major role among Europeans and Americans because of their historic relations with the Christians from the beginning of history. This continued on up to the holocaust which was of special importance and which was itself a significant component of the essence of relations between the Jews, on one side, and the Americans and the Europeans, on the other side. The reconnaissance of the West with the Muslims of the region presented, on the other hand, presence in the arena where the great Islamic empire of the Ottomans collapsed. With that remarkable event in the past era, the West had to face and comprehend how it is viewed by a culture which still relinquishes on its supremacy from the middle ages. It is likewise worthy to note that the once very powerful civilization now grieves its unjust inferiority to the Christian West.
Furthermore, having been heavily involved in the shaping of the Middle East, Europe’s colonial experience in this region has left a feeling of great responsibility. As a result, the Middle East occupies a disproportional attention of the media and politics and consequently exposing the population in Europe to disproportional amount of information, and immense bias, emotional information and shaped opinions on the region. However, there is a second reality. As Europe gets more and more united and tries to find its place in the contemporary world, it realizes the importance of the Middle East and its own significance attached to the Middle Eastern region. Not only does Europe wish for a credible and influential position in the Middle East. It is likewise frustrated by the mere fact that most people in this region do not encourage such a position for Europe or the European Union in particular. The Israelis do not encourage it as a result of being somewhat biased and heavily tied with the USA from the first days of the Jewish state. Upon the other hand, the Arab nations do not also wish it for they, as far as their perceptions go, will not allow Europe to impose its will on the Arab world; in the latter case, the diverse and fragmented allegiances and ties of the states must be importantly noted. In conclusion of what has been said so far, the discrepancy between the role Europe desires and intends to play in the region, and how it will be perceived as a figure to contend with in the Middle East is apparent as what is seen in reality.
At the same time, Europe itself faces heavy challenges in the attempt to adopt a position of influence and successful inter-relations with any of the groups and sides in the Middle East. Be it observed that Europe is still traumatized by the catastrophe of the Second World War. With that frame of mind, there is that consistent and constant attempt on the part of the European Union to refrain from engaging in armed conflicts, whatever the costs and expenses may be, and even that of side lining clearly unjust armed struggles. To add to this basic initial approach, the relations with the Jewish Land are loaded with restraints evolving from the fate of the Jewish people in Europe, side by side with the demand from the Jewish State to apply the highest moral standards in its own conduct. In another but highly relevant note, things get equally complicated with the Muslim Arabs factor: With the presence of a significant Muslim immigrant population in most of the Western European countries, at the face of a cultural defiance by such demographic, and with the growing of right wing anti-immigration movement in many parts of Europe, the engagement with Muslim Arab homelands of such societies is far from simple. The recent declaration of a holy war between the Western and the Muslim societies, and its dramatic manifestation in 9/11, plus the European coordination and cooperation, are adding more strain to the already charged and highly sensitive relations. Therefore, Europe, one vital continent which has been interacting more closely with all of the fragments of the Middle East in recent as well as in ancient history, is accused of biases. Along these lines, there is that imperative need to confront any such bias and prejudice coming from either of the parties or from both. The lack of clear directions and targets derived from the recollections of the past has to be taken into account within this macro viewpoint.
It is hence not surprising to witness the great diversity in the way Europe perceives its rightful role in the Middle East region. In the same vein, the misperceptions in Europe of what is right and what is wrong in the region also come to play. These factors affect to a considerable extent the shaping of the current foreign policy being adopted by the European Union and that by its members concerning the Middle East. In a mirroring process, the way Europe is perceived by the different parties in the Middle east, and the expectations by each of them of the role Europe should play, are diverse, and wrongly comprehended by European public opinion as well as by the political leadership. It is equally not a surprise to discover that the obvious result of those misperceptions, diversity, and emotionally charged past and present cultures, results in passive stalemated policies, and in a vacuum for other foreign player hegemony. The complexity and lack of clear direction also fills an otherwise empty space for biased and unbalanced public opinion. These correlations release a big amount of frustration from the insignificance of the role Europe is playing in the Middle East which is so close to the emotions and the attention of Europe. Obviously, these attendant dynamics lead to more misconceptions and into forming more emotionally charged opinions and ideas.
In sum, the questions on hand are the origins of the mentioned differences in perceptions as well as where such are leading the public opinion, the political leadership, and the foreign policy shaping powers. The ability of Europe to move from an area of long-lasting violence to a so-called soft power and the applicability of its lessons from its own history should have been carefully reviewed when applying them to the Middle East conflict. This, however, is what many Europeans feel needs to be done in the Middle East despite strong indications from the region that such an approach is not working, is too simplistic and, as a matter of fact, not particularly helpful if not, under certain circumstances, somewhat harmful.
It may be ventured that the question of leadership has to be treated as an enormous question. Within the framework of this thinking, it is highly suggested that the European leadership takes appropriate action to at least absorb certain Middle East cultural features in the European mainstream. For instance, a deeper understanding of Middle East culture, history and dynamics may be given sufficient element of integration in the educational systems of European Union member states and territories. In a more detailed aspect, existing literary view must be inspired to deal with the matters of misconceptions, misperceptions and confusions as earlier explained and discussed.
Likewise, taking into consideration that people universally hate to be pictured as dole out recipients, the European Union must totally erase the charity style approach in giving aid and support to Middle East sovereignties. Instead, the focus may be more shifted to encouraging entrepreneurship in the area of, say, alternative energies and energy efficiency.
Cultural and academic or scholastic exchanges and engagements between and among the European Union, on one hand, and Middle East nations, on the other hand, have also to be further enhanced. Such a prospective setting will make a robust intellectual relation between the parties. Suggested fields may include Islam and Arab History, Judaism, Israeli realities, total exclusion of academic bans and other relevant alliances.
European Union leaders may also take initiatives to address the micro issues of media, economic and defense politics. Not attending to these issues can result into some serious dimensions that may no longer be manageable in the future.
It is true that there are good moves on the part of the European Union to fortify its relations with the sovereignties inside the Middle East. For one, the so-called integrated mission for Iraq appears to be effective and efficiently carried out. The program includes appropriate transfer of managerial expertise and related skills to Iraqi officials concerning police, judiciary and penitentiary functions, duties and responsibilities. It further plans to improve the applicable processes within the components of the criminal justice and investigation systems including the accepted standards on the respect for the rule of law and human rights. These initiatives were actually in conjunction with the Coalition Provisional Authority which is aimed at steps for the smooth transition of Iraq into a democratically elected government. The efforts are of course geared toward a particular country. It is certain though that the positive fruition that may result will have impacts and repercussions that will surely delight the people not only of Iran but also of the rest of the Middle East region.
There is also the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, likewise called the Barcelona Process. It began in 1995 and organized by the European Union specifically to focus on strengthening the relations between the Mashriq and Maghreb territories. With the coming out of an enlarged organization coverage in 2004, Cyprus and Malta were incorporated in the European Union. As of the present, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is now composed of forty three members broken down into twenty seven from the European Union and the sixteen partner countries which are Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia, and the Palestinian Territories. Admittedly, the objectives toward peace and stability, perspectives along the common goals for prosperity through economic and financial cooperation and coordination and the mutual development of a free market environment, and the multi-lateral linkages among the peoples of the countries or nations involved anent social, cultural and human partnership, are well taken cared of. Toward these ends, whatever clash in civilizations and misunderstandings may be threshed out. Still, it is opined that a better execution of the policies of the partnership and some improvement on the same will be of great help to the causes, visions and missions under consideration. Furthermore, all the mechanics, details, operational structures must be dominantly exposed and made known to the whole world via appropriate media usage.
In recapitulation, the role of the European Union in the Middle East must be showcased as one of healing of wounds and building of friendship. Corollary to that and as an essential element, that role must likewise address with careful assessment and extreme caution the matter of the Arab-Israeli conflict. At the end of the day, the ordinary and average citizen in any Middle East or European Union jurisdiction will savor the amity and calm flourishing in these lands.
Euromediterranean Partnership. Wikipedia, [internet]. Accessed July 25, 2009. Available at:
Iraq: Integrated rule of law mission. Summaries of EU legislation. Europa. [internet]. Accessed
July 25, 2009. Available at:
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546. Wikipedia. [internet]. Accessed July 25, 2009.
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UN_Security_Council_Resolution_1546
 Iraq: Integrated rule of law mission. Summaries of EU legislation. Europa. [internet]. Accessed July 25, 2009. Available at: <http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/foreign_and_security_policy/cfsp_and_esdp_implementation/ps0003_en.htm
 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546. Wikipedia. [internet]. Accessed July 25, 2009. Available at: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UN_Security_Council_Resolution_1546>
 Euromediterranean Partnership. Wikipedia, [internet]. Accessed July 25, 2009. Available at: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euromediterranean_Partnership>
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