BRUSSELS – This one looked simple.
In view of the devastation of the leader of Belarus, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko – the fraudulent elections, the crackdown on opposition leaders, the beatings and arrests of peaceful demonstrators – the European Union seemed ready to respond quickly with economic sanctions, something more tangible than words.
Top E.U. Officials, including Josep Borrell Fontelles, the foreign policy chief, have called The re-election of Mr Lukashenko was illegitimate, called for a new vote and said that despite his “inauguration” they no longer recognize him as president in a secret ceremony on Wednesday.
But new sanctions against Mr Lukashenko and around 40 of his cohorts have not yet been finalized, almost two months after the August 9 elections. They require the unanimous support of the 27 E.U. Nations, but are held hostage by one of the smallest members, Cyprus.
Failure to act is more than an embarrassment – it undermines the European desire to be a forceful actor setting its own course in global affairs at the superpower level. It undermines the European goals of “strategic autonomy” independent of the United States, and it underscores the Russian and Chinese objections – let alone those of the Trump administration – that the European Union is weak, divided and unable to be effective and swift strategic To take action.
Although many have asked for one Abolition of the unanimity rule This is highly unlikely for foreign policy decisions, as this would also require a unanimous vote. And smaller countries with special concerns like Cyprus or Greece have no interest in diluting their power.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader who was forced to flee to Lithuaniawent to Brussels on Monday morning before the meeting of foreign ministers to plead for sanctions and “bravery”. She didn’t go away with anyone.
Cypriot officials such as Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, insist However, they fully support the sanctions against Belarus. But they also insist that they be approved in parallel with new sanctions against Turkey, which wants to punish Cyprus for energy exploration in its waters, which Turkey denies.
“Our response to any kind of violation of our core values and principles cannot be done à la carte,” said Christodoulides. “It has to be consistent.”
Greece shares Cyprus’s concerns and recently put the military on alert given what it also regards as Turkish aggression in Greek waters. However, Greece is not openly blocking sanctions against Belarus and is letting Cyprus take the heat.
On Monday, Mr. Borrell was visibly angry. “Although there is a clear will to pass these sanctions, it was not possible today because the required unanimity was not achieved,” he said at a press conference.
He added bitterly, “If we can’t, then I fully understand that our credibility is at stake.”
And so it is, but so it is also his own.
Mr Borrell commented on major disputes between Libya, Iran, Turkey, Russia, Venezuela and the United States’ application of secondary economic sanctions against European companies. However, it was difficult to get unanimity among foreign ministers to back up his words. So much so that Stefan Lehne, a former senior Austrian and European diplomat who is now with Carnegie Europe, has wondered if Mr. Borrell is speaking for anyone other than himself.
In the years since the E.U. Expanded into Eastern Europe and Cyprus in 2004, an era of new global economic pressures. “There has been a loss of internal cohesion,” Lehne said. “In my day, when a country was isolated, it felt very, very uncomfortable,” and eagerly looked for a deal, he added. “Now some countries are very happy to block the consensus and see it as a triumph of their national foreign policy.”
While former foreign policy chiefs looked for compromises and generally limited themselves to less sensitive issues, “Mr Borrell interprets his mandate as far more courageous statements than anything the 27 can agree on,” said Mr Lehne. There are risks involved, he said: “Ultimately it will lead to the question of who he is speaking for.”
While the larger countries like France, Germany and Italy set their own foreign policy and sometimes E.U. The consensus remains whether a group of countries so diverse can develop a “European” foreign policy for anything serious that is comparable to the policies of great powers like Russia, China, and the United States.
Turkey and Belarus are not on the other side of the world, but are part of the European neighborhood, which makes conflicts with them both more delicate and urgent. But Europe is divided over what to do with Turkey, which paralyzed it in Belarus.
France and Greece support Cyprus, but not to the extent that Belarus is blocking the decision. France’s visible support for Greece and Cyprus against Turkey, including the deployment of fighter jets and high-level diplomatic visits in the name of “European Union solidarity”, is nonetheless seen as a factor in Cyprus’s intransigence.
Germany, which currently holds the bloc presidency, is pushing for sanctions against Belarus, but at the same time is trying to mediate the dispute between Turkey and the European Union. Members Cyprus and Greece. To this end, the Germans see further sanctions against Turkish officials as counterproductive and want to separate the issues.
In fact, on Tuesday, the day after the Foreign Ministers failed to impose any new sanctions on anyone, Turkey agreed to new talks on the dispute with Cyprus and Greece after it withdrew its energy survey ship, which was defended by warships and aircraft. And now, under the auspices of NATO, it is holding talks with Greece on “military de-conflicts”.
As cynical as it may be, the Turkish move is likely to postpone the pressure for sanctions against him.
To make the problem a little more absurd, the chance of breaking the impasse at a summit of European leaders this week was missed when Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, postponed the meeting for being in attendance by a was a security guard who tested positive for the coronavirus.
The heads of state and government are expected to meet on October 1st. However, the final decision on the sanctions can be left to foreign ministers when they meet again on October 12.
Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and European legislator, complained on Twitter: “Unanimity kills the EU’s credibility … and much more!”
Quoting the bloc’s paralysis on Belarus, Russia’s aggressive measures and the plight of tens of thousands of migrants living in poor camps in Greece, he asked, “How often do we have to fail before we see our own rules set us hold back? ”
The Baltic and Central European Member States have been the strongest pushers for action against Mr Lukashenko. At the end of last month, Impatience with Brussels, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia jointly issued travel bans on Mr Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials.
Their impatience was underlined this week by Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. who wrote on twitter: “It is regrettable that today we were unable to decide on sanctions for human rights violations there because a member state took a hostage. Sends the wrong signal to Belarusians, our societies and the whole world. “