di Federico Fubini
EU High Representative Josep Borrell suggests giving neighboring countries financial support to keep Afghan refugees: The US is not willing to fight for other people’s wars anymore. We need a EU permanent “Initial Entry Force” to act quickly in an emergency
Below, we publish the full transcript of the interview Commission Vice-President and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell held with Corriere della Sera on Sunday, August 29th.
Is this the end of the war or the beginning of a new war between different fundamentalist factions, like it happened in Syria?
This has been above all a catastrophe for the Afghan people. It’s a failure of the Western world and it’s a game changer for international relations. We cannot avoid recognizing as much. Is it the end of the war? It’s the end of Western military presence in Afghanistan, but I am not sure whether the Afghans themselves will start fighting among them. First, part of Afghanistan is not under the control of the Taliban, namely the Panjir. And not everybody is supporting the Talibans. But certainly for us it’s not the end of the story, because will have to continue supporting the Afghan people.
The EU and member states are taking to Europe about 10,000 people, but do we know how many have requested to be taken with us and have not been?
Frankly speaking we don’t have a concrete figure of the number of people that should have been taken out of Kabul. I don’t think anybody has this exact figure. I can tell you about the people who were working closely with the EU and which we were able to bring to the hub in Madrid. Those are around 520 people. But is it just EU institutions and the people who were working with member states at the moment? But then, what about the number of people who worked in the past with all EU member states and people who did not work with us but were engaged from civil society on trying to build a democratic Afghanistan? Among them, thousands could not have been evacuated. So, yes the evacuation was successful as to the high number of people taken out in a very short period of time, but with respect of the tens of thousands people left behind it’s a problem.
Much criticism has focused on President Biden and the US. But are we sure we as Europeans are above all criticism in Afghanistan?
The Europeans were engaged from the beginning in the Afghan war, because it was the first time that article 5 of the Nato Treaty was invoked, in the wake of 9/11. Certainly from the beginning European members of NATO sent troops, we engaged people – superb men and women – and we spent an important amount of money. That being said, as Europeans we haven’t had a clear and our own approach to Afghanistan. The first purpose was to fight Al Qaeda and this was done. But then there was a second and fuzzier objective: trying to build a modern state. During these 20 years something has been done. We can’t be negative about that, because – among other things — we brought 3 million girls to school. But the aim to build a modern society has not had time to grow deep roots. Certainly we Europeans share our part of responsibility, we cannot consider that this was just an American war.
Can the US be still trusted to ensure our security the way we have done over the last 75 years?
President Biden has been very clear in saying that the US did in Afghanistan what it had to do. They trained, they armed, they organized an Afghan army and it was time for them to leave and let Afghans to solve their problems. This is what he said. I referred to this reflection of President Biden’s to say that the US is not willing to fight for the other people’s wars anymore. And that’s true. In this respect, there is a certain disengagement of the US in the world arena. But we have to use this crisis to strengthen our transatlantic relation by building it in a more balanced way. This is not a time for our disengagement. As Europeans, we have to use this crisis to learn to work more together and reinforce our strategic autonomy. As Europeans, we should be able to do things also on our own. By strengthening our capacity to act, we also strengthen NATO.
You have called on the EU to have its own military force, but we barely managed to have a common statement on Hong Kong and EU countries seem to have acted with no cooperation among them at Kabul airport this month. What needs to change?
We know that Europe often only reacts when faced with emergencies — be it an economic crisis, a social crisis like during the pandemic or a security crisis. We need to draw lessons from this experience. Each and every EU country present in Afghanistan mobilized in the effort around the Kabul airport during the last few weeks. They have cooperated between them and shared their transportation capacity. But as Europeans we have not been able to send 6,000 soldiers around the Kabul airport to secure the area. The US have been, we haven’t. For this reason in our Strategic Compass we are proposing the creation of a permanent European “Initial Entry Force” that could act quickly in an emergency. The EU must be able to intervene to protect our interests when the Americans don’t want to be involved. Our first entry force should be made of 5,000 soldiers that are able to mobilize at short notice. We have EU Battle Groups but these have never been mobilized. We need to be able to act quickly.
How do you think we can get around national vetoes that often bog down such projects?
If there is no unanimity, sooner or later a group of countries will decide to go ahead on their own as they won’t accept to be stopped.
Can they do it according to current EU Treaty rules?
We can work in many different ways. Much has been done through specific agreements initially outside of the EU Treaty, for instance during the financial crisis.
Geopolitical crises trigger debate in Europe only when we are concerned about refugees reaching our borders. Don’t you think this attitude makes us vulnerable to bordering countries, such as Turkey and Belarus, trying to blackmail us?
It is true that in Europe we tend to focus on geopolitical crises only when we are concerned about this issue. But we can’t define all people coming from Afghanistan as migrants: they are not. Calling them that way would be abusing the very word. Many are asylum seekers. They wanted to flee out of Kabul because they did not want to be killed. Having said that, it is true – more and more refugees, migrants and asylum seekers are being weaponised. They are being used as a weapon by some our neighboring countries to put pressure on us. Recently we have seen Iraqi citizens flown into Minsk and then taken to the Lithuanian border by the Belarus regime. These attempts to weaponise migrants and asylum seekers must be rejected. But we, as Europeans, cannot look at geopolitical issues just through the lens of migration. They have much broader effects. There is a reflex of insecurity among the general populations that can be exploited politically by some actors, but we need to take a much broader approach that should consider the balance of power in and around Afghanistan and we need to keep taking care as much as possible of the Afghans that are not able to leave the country.
How can the EU help those who wanted to leave but can’t?
Right now, we are increasing our humanitarian aid from 50 to 200 million euros to help them with their immediate needs. They face a number of problems that are creating bigger humanitarian crisis: the famine, the climate change, if women are forced out of their jobs, this will only add to it. That is why we have to continue providing humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.
Is it true that the EU is going to pay countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and even Iran to keep the Afghan refugees that we don’t want to take?
What is true is that we will have to increase cooperation with the neighbouring countries to resolve issues related to Afghanistan. We must help them with the first refugee wave. Afghans fleeing the country are not going to reach Rome in the first place, but maybe Tashkent. We need to help those countries that will be on the front line.
So they will receive European financial assistance to host Afghan refugees just as Turkey got it to keep Syrian refugees?
The absorption capacity of Europe has its limits and nothing can be done without a strong cooperation. Neighbouring countries will be affected more and earlier than Europe. So, yes: that also means giving those countries financial support as we have done with Turkey.
As Europeans, a few years ago we were saying border walls are not part of what we are. Jean-Claude Juncker said so to Hungary back in 2015. Today, we openly approve them in Greece and Lithuania. Poland has also built a border protection. What has changed?
Juncker was talking about border walls between EU countries. A border wall between Italy and France would not be acceptable. But if we are talking about the external border of Europe, there are member states that had to erect barriers or fences. But this is not against EU law. The barriers are there to protect the breach of a country’s territorial limits. Any government has a duty to protect its own territory. On the other hand, such measures must be proportionate and must not prevent asylum seekers to present their requests and the requests being regularly processed on the basis of the non-refoulement principle.
Biden shows interest in reinforcing relations with Europe mainly with a view to enlisting the EU on the American side in the US confrontation with China. It this something Europe can afford, given that China is the EU’s first trading partner?
The confrontation between the US and China will frame the 21st century. But the world is not bipolar, it is more and more multipolar and the EU has to be one pole in this. We will always be closer to the US than China, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be systematically always aligned with the US, because we have different interests in some areas. Just like them. This is why the strategic autonomy is nothing against the transatlantic alliance but to have our own vision or world affairs and have the capacity to act — together with partners such as the US when possible and alone when necessary.
30 agosto 2021 (modifica il 30 agosto 2021 | 07:09)
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