Who speaks for the EU when it comes to Mideast diplomacy? Is it the European delegation under Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, or the previous president of the EU, France's Nicolas Sarkozy?
Sarkozy is currently in the Mideast as one of the leaders of the newly minted economic and political entity, the Mediterranean Union.
Sarkozy and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are currently sharing a two-year Mediterranean Union presidency. On Jan. 4, 2008, France and Egypt, along with Turkey, condemned the Israeli ground invasion in Gaza.
Technically speaking, the EU group plays a decisive role. According to Brussels, the Schwarzenberg delegation and Sarkozy are not treading the same ground, but instead are there to complement one another.
An embarrassing image
EU Comission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj drily said that any effort is welcome, as long as it sends a unified EU message to the parties in the conflict.
But that is an idealized way of thinking. In reality, the EU is emanating an embarrassing image of indecisiveness and conflict.
On the one side is the weak Czech EU presidency, hindered by internal squabbling over Europe. Clearly, they should be the leaders -- but they either will not or cannot take on that role. On the other hand there is the French president, who fairly bristles with self confidence and ambition, and would have liked nothing more than to continue his term as EU president. He wants to lead and is capable of it -- but is no longer allowed to.
Kouchner's troublesome role
Especially troublesome is the position of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. In this case he is not part of Sarkozy's group -- he is one of Schwarzenberg's troika. It is a particularly delicate situation because Kouchner and Schwarzenberg take very different public stances on the Mideast conflict. Schwarzenberg focuses on the right of Israel to defend itself, and Kouchner says Israel's military actions are disproportionate.
What's more, the Germans are sending a special envoy to the region to negotiate specifically in the name of the German government.
As understandable as every individual attempt is, the EU shouldn't be surprised that it is unsuccessful diplomatically, given the variety of messages it is sending. The result can be seen in the attitudes of the Israeli government, which seems to find all European attempts at diplomacy irrelevant.
But actually, there is a good chance that the Europeans could play a constructive role in the region. The US under George W. Bush failed in the Middle East and the president elect, Barack Obama, will need time to find his footing in foreign policy.
Sarkozy wanted, and wants, to make the EU into a foreign policy actor on the Mideast stage that can hold its own with the USA. But once more that opportunity is being lost -- through Sarkozy's own misplaced efforts.
DW-RADIO's Christoph Hasselbach is a current affairs expert. (jen)