Over the last year, the shortcomings within the EU’s security policy towards its southern neighbourhood have dramatically come to the fore. For years, the EU has declared that the best way to ensure its security around the Mediterranean is through developing a “ring of friends” – “a zone of prosperity and a friendly neighbourhood” with whom the EU would enjoy “close, peaceful and co-operative relations” (European Commission Communication on Wider Europe, 2003). In order to achieve this goal, EU Member States have officially committed themselves to pursue a twofold strategy: to help stem the various conflicts which exist within the region and to promote good governance amongst their neighbours through the offer of closer bilateral ties. EU governments have invested significant efforts in attempting to achieve the first objective of supporting conflict resolution, and have been particularly active towards the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is considered a key EU foreign policy priority. But the difficulties of working as a single organisation composed of 27 countries have limited the EU’s ability to be taken seriously as a diplomatic heavy weight in the region. As a result, the impact of EU efforts has been limited and several of the conflicts across North Africa and the Middle East have continued to worsen.
While EU governments have been genuinely committed to conflict resolution, their interest in implementing their declared objective of strengthening good governance across their southern neighbourhood has been more limited. Over the years, the EU has often given only lip service to calls for democratic reforms and stronger respect for human rights amongst its Arab neighbours. Many European governments have preferred to cooperate with the various authoritarian regimes in place in order to guarantee short-term stability and secure the collaboration of southern countries in areas of interest to Europeans, including the control of illegal migration and counter-terrorism. But as popular protests toppled regimes across the Arab world during the early months of 2011, they threw into question many of the EU’s short-term security gains and highlighted the long-term unsustainability of its approach to the Mediterranean.