The European Union and Events in the Euro-Mediterranean Area

By Rompuy, Herman van | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, April 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

The European Union and Events in the Euro-Mediterranean Area


Rompuy, Herman van, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


We are speaking this morning about our community of security in the Euro-Atlantic Area. Obviously, everybody's focus is more on the Euro-Mediterranean area... For good reason, what happens there will affect us all. History is on the move, right at Europe's southern borders. A common approach between Europe and America is key.

Yesterday, the leaders of Member States of the European Union made clear that we stand behind the Egyptian people in its legitimate struggle for political rights, social justice and economic development. Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron also emphasised it this morning. An orderly and expeditious transition should begin right now.

We witness a moment of truth for our southern neighbourhood. And although the whole world is watching, Europe will be the first to feel the consequences, whatever those may be. We do not know all the answers and cannot predict the outcome right now; it would be foolish to pretend so. However, we should at least try and get the terms of the event right.

So let me offer a few remarks.

The Middle Eastern Uprisings

Later this year, we will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Back then, it seemed the beginning of a new period. Supposedly, as it was misunderstood by some, an era of violence and tensions between the West and Muslim countries.

The amazing events of the past weeks change the picture. They do not fit in the post-9-11 frame. The protests in Tunis, Cairo or last year in Teheran are not about religion. No, the protesters' aspirations are familiar to young men and women all over the world: jobs and justice, a say in their country's politics, the right to speak. We witness no extremism, no clash of civilizations, but an episode in the timeless fight for freedom and justice.

A second remark. In my view the world has changed a lot more than we think. Is it not remarkable that Central and Eastern European countries achieved democracy without civil war? That in the end, South-Africa cast off apartheid without violence? And is it not very heartening that all this happened beyond the Cold-War-style control of any global power? We must hope and work that the events in Tunisia and Egypt follow a similar course. Some doubt whether human progress is possible. It is. We not only witness change: we are witnessing progress, human progress.

A third remark. The events in Tunisia and Egypt remind all of us that stability can lead to immobility. Betting on stability alone therefore can not be the ultimate answer. There is a difference between stability and sustainability. The latter has its foundations in economic results and social justice, in freedom and democracy. A political system which does not allow for peaceful change will remain weak at heart. I think this realisation deserves more attention in our foreign policies, in our expectations, ... and not only in the Middle East.

A fourth remark. Even if the "ingredients" for a revolt are all there, one never knows when the bottle will be "uncorked", when "enough is enough". So if people notice that some political actors have been "taken by surprise" by events in Tunisia and Egypt, that is beside the point. Of course they were. We ALL were. Revolts are as unpredictable as earthquakes.

A fifth and final remark. The cyber security session of this conference was shortened in order to allow for a discussion on the situation in the Arab world, and rightly so. But the two issues are linked! The events in Tunisia and Egypt, and the role played by Facebook and social networks, show once more how all modern societies live by the grace of a free flow of goods, people and information. Cyber attacks must therefore be resisted. The U.S. and Europe are both so deeply embedded in global networks that we must do this together. That's why at the EU-US Summit of last November, we decided to develop our cooperation on cyber security. …

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