Powerful conservative trends

The disruption of the European constitution’s ratification process unveiled a wider political crisis in the European Union. This crisis stems from factors as diverse as the decline of the transatlantic link–despite its enduring strategic value in EU eyes–and European ambiguities in responding to pressures deriving from globalization. More generally, there is a dwindling sense of the role the EU plays with respect to both daily life and destiny.

How would the failure to endorse the constitution affect EU policies toward the Middle East and North Africa?

First of all, the whole of EU foreign policy would be broadly affected because the constitution is largely intended to improve the institutions and instruments of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. In fact, it is expected to provide two fundamental institutional inputs: a manageable decision-making institutional mechanism in a now-crowded membership; and a significant upgrading of institutions and instruments dealing precisely with foreign policy. Its rebuff would be a serious blow to EU foreign policy capabilities, in particular at a time when bold decisions and interventions are required, especially in neighboring areas like the Balkans, the Black Sea, North Africa and the Levant, as well as in the more or less greater Middle East.

No doubt, EU policies toward Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, regional economic and political reforms, the Mediterranean, Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council would fade. The inclusion of Turkey in the Union–indirectly linked to the Arab-Muslim world–would also be affected.

Second, the European Constitution is being rejected by European people either because it fails to provide convincing responses to the major factors of crisis mentioned above or because it provides responses that are out of tune with deep trends in European public opinion. When it comes to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), political aspects are probably even more significant than institutional ones. In fact, among the complex reasons that have led people to reject the constitution, relations with Islam and immigration play a crucial role. There is no doubt that the liberal perspective underlying the constitution, with its refusal to include the notion of EU "Christian roots" and its broad trend toward further liberalization and inclusiveness with respect to people and countries, sounds frightening or unconvincing to many Europeans.

In this respect, what the constitution’s rejection would entail for EU policymakers concerns less external policies toward MENA than internal ones. European people are asking for more security with respect to legal and illegal immigration, mostly Arab and Muslim, in Europe. The rationalist approach toward inter-civilizational issues adopted by the constitution fails to convince many Europeans. The attitude of the newly-elected Catholic pope, ostensibly very much engaged against the egalitarian simplifications brought about by secular rationalist approaches, shows how powerful conservative trends in today’s Europe are.

The mainstream message coming from European conservatism stresses the necessity of limiting Muslim influence, if not presence. Certainly it is squarely against multiculturalism. More than that, it says that Muslims have to integrate European customs much more than Europeans have to recognize Muslim customs. Leaving aside the most extreme xenophobic groups, the large majority of Europeans ask for a more regulatory approach toward immigration, be it integrationist (the left) or exclusivist (the right).

If a tighter regulatory policy is to be established, an integrationist approach would definitely be more desirable and far-sighted than an exclusivist one. Several factors, though, suggest that the balance tilts toward exclusivist policies. First, there is strong disagreement among EU members about immigration as well as related issues, such as citizenship, asylum, and so forth. The constitution is liberal in its overall approach, yet it does not point to a clear immigration policy. A liberal constitution that does not specify policies because of inter-governmental disagreement creates a need for reassurance. In this sense, it may easily foster a conservative EU response to immigration and civilizational dialogue with MENA.

The July 7 terrorist attack in London is certainly going to reinforce conservative tendencies in the EU. Europe will focus its policies toward the Arab and Islamic world on what the EU calls optimistically "justice, freedom and security space" and the Americans will focus, more prosaically, on "homeland security"–meaning immigration and terrorism, with strong linkages between the two. The London attack, seemingly carried out by Muslim British citizens of Pakistani origin in connection with people in Arab-Muslim areas, easily confirmed to Europeans that the threat derives primarily from within, and has first of all to be tackled domestically, with foreign policies playing a complementary role with respect to domestic ones.

A particular casualty of the conservative trend unveiled by the European Constitution’s rejection might be the inclusion of Turkey in the EU. Despite the fact that Turkey has taken remarkable steps forward in democratizing its regime in tune with EU requests, it was abundantly targeted in the French and Dutch referendum campaigns. Turkey’s EU membership was also a factor in the debate about "Christian roots" that characterized preparation of the text of the constitution.

Thus the prevailing trend in Europe is apparently a strongly conservative one that complicates problems without solving them. At the end of the day, what is probably lacking in Europe is a leadership able to assert "secular rationalist approaches" that might guide Europeans out of their fear and blindness.