Hostility to Blair fuels crisis

BACK from the summer holidays, MEPs are facing up to the crisis in the Middle East, and debating Europe's response to it. There was clearly outrage across the continent, as there was indeed in Britain, that Tony Blair would not call for a ceasefire during the first fortnight of the hostilities.

BACK from the summer holidays, MEPs are facing up to the crisis in the Middle East, and debating Europe's response to it.

There was clearly outrage across the continent, as there was indeed in Britain, that Tony Blair would not call for a ceasefire during the first fortnight of the hostilities. The Prime Minister's apparently unshakeable attachment to the policy of George W. Bush has fuelled the old suspicion that Britain is little more than an American poodle.

The rest of the European Union sees an opportunity in this crisis to achieve a serious common policy and to work together to pursue peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.

Several EU countries - Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Finland and Poland - have taken the vexed decision to send troops to Lebanon. Turkey, an EU applicant country, has also joined in. These soldiers will boost the hapless UN force which found itself in the crossfire during the war.


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The rules of engagement of the European troops will allow them to defend themselves from attack by both Israel and Hezbollah. They will go on the attack only if requested to do so by the Lebanese Army. Denmark and Germany are sending logistical and civilian support. The UK, so far, is notable by its absence.

The European Parliament is reaching the conclusion that the British decision to stand apart from peace-making in Lebanon is just another example of the UK's inability to integrate with its European partners. Military 'over-stretch' in Iraq and Afghanistan is a pretext and not a cause of British stand-offishness. This is a pity.

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The EU has a real chance to make a difference in the Middle East. As its price for helping the Israelis out of a hole, the EU is demanding that, at long last, a dedicated effort should be made to solve the Palestinian question. I hope that we will also use the tools of the EU-Israeli customs association to charge Israel for some of the cost of the repair of the vast material damage perpetrated on Lebanon by the Israeli air force.

Europe's influence would be much greater, of course, if the UK were to become full and active participants in the common effort. But that means a radical switch in British policy away from the American towards a European preference. The Lebanon crisis should be the decisive turning point.

Andrew Duff is the Liberal Democrat Euro MP for the East of England. www.andrewduffmep.org

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