Event Reports

Prof. Dr. Thomas Demmelhuber lectures on EU-Middle East relations at Birzeit University

by Abeer Zaghari
Professor Dr. Demmelhuber from the Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany visits Birzeit University and gives a lecture about the foreign policy of the European Union towards the Middle East.
Our partner, the Ibrahim Abu Lughod-Institute, had the chance to invite Professor Dr. Thomas Demmelhuber during his visit to Birzeit University. The German political scientist shared his expertise on the EU foreign policy towards the Middle East. His main premise was that EU foreign policy in the Mediterranean is getting increasingly pragmatic as the decision-making is driven by security and stability.

The lecturer first discussed the requirements to be called a foreign policy actor such as the necessity to have institutions, a joint political will and international credibility. While the EU might lack in some aspects, especially in finding a common voice, Demmelhuber stated that the it can nevertheless be perceived as a foreign policy actor.
Concerning relations with the Middle East, he highlighted several multilateral treaties that strengthened the relation between Europe and the Middle East, in particular the Barcelona Process in 1995. He further mentioned the Berlin Declaration following the Oslo Accords in 1995, in which the EU explicitly endorsed the idea of a Palestinian statehood. However, in course of the 2004 EU enlargement, a new EU Neighborhood Policy evolved. The new challenges that the new members and especially their neighbors brought up, led to a political discourse of pragmatism. In 2011, the sudden dynamic of the Arab Uprisings caught Europe by surprise. According to Demmelhuber, the short process of EU neighbors’ democratization further contributed to the idea of a pragmatic foreign policy. Today, the normative nucleus of the EU is challenged by right-wing tendencies and an erosion of democracy.
Demmelhuber went on discussing EU-Palestine relations which started in the 1970s as part of the Euro-Arab Dialogue. As the biggest financial support to the Palestinians, the EU Commission works towards a democratic and accountable state as manifested in a set of agreements such as the Action Plan 2013 or the European Joint Strategy in support of Palestine. The latter highlights among many others the areas of governance reform, rule of law, citizen safety and human rights as well as access to self-sufficient water and energy services.
Towards the end, the lecturer touched upon the issue of product labelling and the complex implementation of respective EU law. In conclusion, the guest speaker reiterated that EU foreign policy towards the Middle East is a mixture of both, ambitious ideas but pragmatic and poor policy output.
Finally, the KAS Ramallah director Marc Frings provided the audience with a more practice-oriented view on EU foreign policy in the region while referring to the lecture. After his assessment, Frings and Demmelhuber answered the audience's questions on the topic.