It’s only February and we already have what for sure will be 2019’s most hideous joke. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s chief diplomat, called the EU “a consistent champion for human rights”. This statement would be slightly more credible had it not been made at the margins yet another summit where high-ranking EU officials and the member states’ heads of state mingle with some of the worlds worst dictators, brokering inhumane anti-migration deals. It’s a joke made at the expense of not only refugees, but millions of people Europe’s foreign policy helps to trap in the appalling dictatorships that Europe supports these days.
In fact, Europe couldn’t care less about human rights. Quite on the contrary, indeed. For everyone willing to face the ugly truth, the evidence suggests that the guiding principle for the EU’s foreign affairs in the age of the migration hysteria knows but one principle: the more brutal the dictators, the more efficient they are in stopping migration.
Of course, there is a superficial commitment to human rights. At the recent summit between the EU and the League of Arab States, a journalist asked whether the league was aware of the EU’s alleged „concern“ over the region’s human rights situation, only to receive the answer that this has never been an issue in the talks between the two blocs. Jean-Claude Juncker protested immediately and he is not entirely wrong to point out that various high-level EU leaders briefly touched on the human rights issue in their speeches. But the question is: what are these mentions worth, when what the EU actually does, is supporting those who violate human rights on a daily basis?
Even leaving out for now the horrifying atrocities Europe committed while colonising the entire world or its support for Western-oriented dictators during the Cold War, if we look just at it’s most recent actions, the idea of Europe as a “consistent champion of human rights” starts to look like a very bad joke. The only thing consistent about Europe’s relationship with human rights is the fact that they are invoked whenever they serve European interests, but run roughshod over whenever they are in the way. Whenever Europe feels it is in its interest to support a dictator and forget about human rights, it does so. Over the past two decades, the most prominent interest of the EU has shifted from stabilising capitalist regimes to preventing the migration of those, who for whom the situation in the countries that Europe has ravaged and looted for centuries has become unbearable.
Ask yourself a question: who do you think is more efficient at stopping refugees? Is it the democratic regimes, with an independent judiciary and good laws protecting their citizens, the ones with a free press to make the life of the government hell when they attack innocent people? Or is it the dictatorships, who don’t have to answer to anyone, no matter what they might do to those trying to leave or pass through their fiefdoms, the ones who make any critical voices disappear or are so intimidating already that critical voices don’t even appear in the first place?
I concede, the selection of mature democracies to work with in our immediate vicinity, is very limited. North Africa and the Middle East are home to some of the world’s most repressive regimes. Take Sudan, whose president couped himself to power when I was born and still remains in power in the year I celebrate my 30th birthday: Omar al-Basheer, a guy who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur. Or Eritrea, a regime so repressive it is often called “Africa’s North Korea”, a country that doesn’t allow its citizens to leave – something many of them would like to do, not the least thanks to the daunting spectre of a life-long military service under the most appalling conditions – and, being under drastic sanctions, finances itself largely by extorting a “tax” from its diaspora, incarcerating and disappearing relatives of those who refuse to pay. It’s also home to Morocco, a repressive kingdom who has been brutally occupying the Western Sahara for the past 30 years, and Libya, the derelict ruin of a state currently ravaged by a horrendous civil war and claimed by three competing “governments” plus several warlords, and Egypt, repeatedly and increasingly accused by leading human rights organisations to commit atrocities against journalists, the opposition and LGBT community. All of these regimes are now appearing on the lists of “partners” Europe relies on for its war on refugees. Despite the appalling human rights records of these and other countries in the region, they and other countries receive money, development projects and photo opportunities ar fancy summits – in short: prestige and legitimacy – in exchange for them keeping refugees as far away from Europe’s borders as possible, at all costs.
Let’s not forget: Europe would still have a choice here. It could determine that these regimes are too appalling to cooperate with under any circumstances. But it simply doesn’t. Instead, leaders like the German conservative MEP Michael Gahler openly admit on the margins of the EU-LAS Summit in Egypt, that “whenever we decide, after a careful analysis, that it is in our interest to stabilise a certain country, a certain regime, than that’s a legitimate political decision.” Thanks to the increasingly xenophobic climate in Europe, it seems that some of our leaders don’t even bother anymore with finding excuses for their support to some of the world’s worst regimes.
Words and language are important. Sometimes they are powerful tools, even weapons against those committing horrendous crimes. But this is certainly not the case for the EU when it talks to the regimes that produce or let pass refugees. The truth in this case doesn’t lie in words and language, but has to be found in Europe’s actions. These actions are not suggesting that the EU cares about human rights. On the contrary, it seems that the more brutal a regime is, the more interesting it is for for the EU as an “efficient partner” – as Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz called Egypt recently. Glossy words on how important human rights are for the EU are worth just about nothing, when they come from the very same actors who consistently support those violating them so horrifically.
There is no polite word for what the EU is doing here. So let’s call it for what it is: bullshit.