Commentary: Medreset Policy Brief 4 – ( The EU and Political Ideas in the Mediterranean ) - by Karina Goulordava
The policy brief “The EU and Political Ideas in the Mediterranean” looks at how European institutional actors view policy approaches in the Mediterranean versus European civil society actors. The brief outlines a link in that both European and south Mediterranean civil society actors share similar views on EU’s policy approaches to the region, which is in contrast to the approaches of European institutional actors. While European institutional actors place security and stability first, civil society stakeholders on both sides of the sea call for a human rights and social justice approach. Such an approach would reevaluate EU’s support for authoritarian regimes, be it for dictators, harsh rulers, or for long standing sectarian systems like in Lebanon. A human rights and social justice approach would further question who the EU supports and how. As seen in south and eastern Mediterranean countries (SEM), the governments are not viewed by the countries’ dwellers as being at the forefront for human rights. Instead, civil society actors are often seen as the watchdogs, advocates, and promoters of human rights. A shift in policy approach would thus see the EU working more closely and directly with civil society actors.
If we apply this analysis to Lebanon, indeed we see that the EU has supported security and stability in Lebanon over human rights and social justice. This approach, I would argue is not unique to the EU, but is also common amongst other actors such as the United States, Russia, Turkey, and Gulf countries. However, I would also contend that expectations from the EU were held at a higher standard due to its own rhetoric than from the other mentioned actors, at least prior to the Syrian refugee crisis. Lebanon is comprised of 18 sects, which have their own political parties, and many of which are tied to cruel and bloody events during the country’s civil war. Further, as the same parties and leaders have remained in power since the end of the war, their names are clouded in corruption, mis-management of the country, impoverishment of the people, and human rights abuses. Given the constantly discussed fragility of the sectarian system, all efforts to disrupt it are avoided by the EU and other international powers. Although the EU and others should not meddle in the political formations of other countries, Lebanon is a good example of how an approach to support stability and security thus maintains further suppression of human rights and social justice. In supporting stability and security, most aid in recent years has gone to the central government, the Lebanese army, and occasionally municipalities in assisting with the needs of Syrian, Palestinian, and Lebanese dwellers since the arrival of around 2 million Syrian refugees since the start of the Syrian war. However, Lebanese government laws and policies towards refugees and even its own citizens are not based on human rights or social justice approaches. Thus, while the EU works to prevent instability in the country, they also support a government which violates the human rights of its refugee and Lebanese populations.
EU’s support for stability and security also affects Lebanese civil society’s fight for civil rights. In propping up the country’s reigning sectarian system, laws regarding women, civil marriage, inheritance, and other personal status laws, are unable to be approached. As these laws are often divided along sectarian lines, with many personal status laws being governed by sect rather than the national government, a human rights and social justice approach to EU policy cannot exist at the same time as a stability and security approach. Although indeed there are real stability and security concerns in Lebanon as well as other SEM countries, the current approach does not provide security nor stability for dwellers of SEM countries. This has been made most evident and visible by the grave danger faced by refugees and migrants as they attempt to reach fortress Europe by means of crossing the Mediterranean Sea.