Fracturing Europe can learn much from the fate of Lebanon and must do so before it is too late

Fracturing Europe can learn much from the fate of Lebanon and must do so before it is too late

Fracturing Europe can learn much from the fate of Lebanon and must do so before it is too late
Every EU nation evaluates the effect any collective foreign policy decision. (AFP)

Electricity and energy problems. A conflict that includes Iranian interference and the use of their drones. Political instability. Rising inflation. Insecurity. These are a few of the many things one might mention when discussing the crises in Lebanon.

Strangely enough, they might also now be used to describe the situation in Europe. The continent is in the midst of an energy crisis. Iran is involved in the war in Ukraine. There is political volatility all over the continent. And as a result of persistent inflation we have started to see social clashes.

It is as if Europe, while trying to help Lebanon emerge from its crisis, has caught “the Lebanon virus” and we are witnessing the Lebanization of Europe.

One could argue that the reasons for the continuous vicious circle in Lebanon that empowers outside influence is due to the country’s political structure: A confessional and centralized political system that pits one group against the other and always invites outside influence.

This has resulted in the current Iranian occupation, in the form of Hezbollah. Before that it was the Syrian regime. We can be certain that unless some real, structural, political change takes place, this cycle will never end. Along the way, Lebanon has lost its identity and what made it different.

We can see that Europe, or the “old continent” as it is sometimes called, is facing a vision and belief crisis. Here, too, one could argue that it is the result of a political structure, in this case that of the EU.

In Lebanon, the interests of minorities collide on major political and international issues. In Europe, the national interests of member states collide when attempting to set a common European foreign policy. The EU, part of the reconstruction of Europe in the latter half of the 20th century after the horrors of two world wars, brought stability and peace to the continent — until now.

As Europe faces a war in Ukraine and an ongoing energy crisis, there are tensions within Germany and France and this is a dangerous state of affairs

Khaled Abou Zahr

The EU is a wonderful achievement. Yet, in a changing world, one needs to ask whether Europe can, and should, shift toward a single and unique foreign policy voice, instead of balancing both a regional policy with the national policies in each member country.

This has resulted in a frustrating situation in which Europe has lost sight of the international challenges it is facing. It has also put an increased focus on the Franco-German alliance, a partnership that has been a pillar of the EU and achieved a lot. But every time the alliance of these two countries shakes, the whole of Europe shakes with it.

Now, as Europe faces a war in Ukraine and an ongoing energy crisis, there are tensions within Germany and France and this is a dangerous state of affairs.

In the current EU structure, every member nation evaluates the effect any collective foreign policy decision will have on their own country. This applies both to political and economic decisions. This has led — because of the layers of consensus that are needed, and the political representation both on national and EU levels — to a loss of long-term vision and strategy and an increase in transactional politics and deal-making.

It is also fertile ground for playing the “blame game” and therefore for outside interference to flourish. No one could have imagined that Europe would be facing such challenges again — and the war in Ukraine is exacerbating everything.

The political structure it operates under has also led to a big mistake for Europe, just as it did for Lebanon: It gave away the design of the political vision and strategy and handed it to technocrats. This stripped Europe of the symbol it had become, and what it represented, and made it look like little more than a bureaucratic enterprise in charge of, for example, determining what type of charger the next iPhone model must use.

This makes the citizens of Europe forget that the united continent is a symbol of hope and the benefits of living together peacefully. The same applies to Lebanon, which was once more than a country, it was an example of modernity.

Obviously the expertise provided by technocrats is needed but unfortunately this has been transformed into a way of making decisions without bearing the political responsibility for them. In Lebanon, many ministers have found that it is a way for them to extract themselves from their political responsibilities of working alongside Hezbollah. It is the definition of hypocrisy. How many times have we heard, “This minister is fine, he was in a technocratic government.” But everyone fails to hold them accountable for the dangerous political decisions they took along the way.

The same applies in Europe; technocrats have not been held accountable for their decisions that, for example, led to the energy dependencies we are now living with.

Europe faces a big challenge and needs to return to a strong political vision. This is why it is important for France and Germany to open a dialogue on what happens next, and engage with all EU member countries.

Europe needs to state what it stands for now and what are its beliefs. It needs to remain anchored within the transatlantic alliance while maintaining its own voice and deciding its own future and fate. This is the best way for Europe to protect all of its citizens.

This cannot happen within the existing framework of the EU and so all European countries are at a crossroads: A decision needs to be made about whether to mutualize the affairs and fate of all member states, or to be content with being a simple economic bloc. If European countries decide to move forward and speak as one, it means there should be only one foreign department for all and, in the future, a single military force.

This clarity is needed urgently. The current crisis has revealed that Europe needs to shift toward a strong political voice to protect its own interests and avoid losing to its enemies, just as Lebanon did.

Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view