Thursday, October 30, 2008

A View from Europe

From Karel De Gucht, Belguim Minister of Foreign Affairs:
The Russian-Georgian conflict has been a shocking experience for the EU, albeit a shock that was perceived in a different way throughout the 27 member states.

For some, it carried echoes of a Cold War mentality they have known all too well. For others, it seemed like a prelude to a very hot war, the likes of which we haven't seen for generations. For all of us, it was a profoundly humbling experience – one that would make us think and that should make us act more convincingly than we have been doing for some time.

A strong and united European foreign policy is now needed more than ever. A common European energy policy is not just a complement but a precondition for that to come about.

Because it is our dependence on Russian energy more than anything that has prevented us from more decisive and unified action. Some of the EU member states import up to 100 percent of their oil and gas from Russia, and Russia has been more than ready to exploit that simple fact of life. It knows very well that it has the finger on the button that makes lights go out all over Europe.

It is only by linking our energy markets and finding new ways and sources of providing for them that we can take remedial action against this geopolitical weakness.

And that's where Turkey comes in.

Those of us who have actually spent time looking at the map will know that all of the existing oil and gas pipelines southeast of Europe run through Turkey, coming in through Georgia, from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and, of course, from Russia. Likewise, all projects aimed at importing energy supplies from those countries but bypassing Russia will definitely have to run through it.

There is no doubt about it, the European energy policy we so desperately need, both for economic and for political reasons, will involve a lot of money, it will involve a lot of resolve and it will involve closer and unbreakable ties with Turkey. Then what are we waiting for?

. . . .

These are troubling times. With so many states reaching economic and political power, people are afraid Europe might fall off the map. And because so many of these international forces value the hard power of oil, guns and money over the soft power of enlightened ideals, democracy and institution building, they are rightfully perceived as a threat to our way of life, to the values and ideas we stand for, to the worldview that has made us what we are.

We are right to be apprehensive. But we would be wrong to let fear paralyze us, and we should not let it force us into making the wrong decisions, into making no decisions at all or into closing ourselves off from what is happening in the rest of the world.

Quite the contrary: We'll fight for our place in tomorrow's world. And I believe we will win this fight, simply because our liberal values and ideals of democracy, in the end, are stronger than any power. They have proved to be exactly that in the past, and they will be in the future.

In all this, despite what scaremongers throughout Europe try to tell us, Turkey is our ally. As an integral part of the European family, sharing the same values, it is our bridge towards the emerging powers in Asia and – let's not forget – the Middle East. Even more than that, Turkey is a bridge to the Muslim world, it is the prime example that modernization, secularization and democracy are not anathema to Islam.

It is, in short, an essential ally in the two most important struggles the world is engaged in for years to come. So let us rise above our fears and be as great and generous as the great game demands us to be.

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