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An Elusive Goal: a Common Middle East Policy for Europe

DW staff (kjb)August 5, 2006

The European Union says it wants to have a common foreign policy, but is deeply split over the Middle East crisis. We took a look at a few EU countries and their neighbors and what divides them on the issue.

The EU has called for an "immediate cessation of hostilities" in LebabonImage: AP

Despite repeated efforts, Europe has not been able to find a common approach to the Middle East crisis. The possibility of sending an international peacekeeping force to the region remains open, but the opinions of the various European countries and their key partners remain across the board.

Some countries -- including France, Sweden, Norway, Slovakia, Canada, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Ireland -- have already expressed a willingness to participate in an international peace effort by sending troops.

EU berät in Brüssel auch zum Libanon
Historical ties are influencing Europe's stanceImage: AP

A ceasefire and an international mandate, however, are seen as a prerequisite for involvement, whether it takes places under the banner of NATO, the UN or the European Union.

There is hope among Europeans that the Middle East would also join in and contribute to a peacekeeping effort, particularly Egypt.

DW-WORLD.DE looked at a few of the key players in the greater European area, what is at stake for them, and why they can't find a common line.


Israel's President Ehud Olmert said in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily that he has "absolutely no problem with German soldiers in southern Lebanon….At the moment, no other nation is as friendly to Israel as Germany. If Germany can contribute to the security of the Israeli people, this would be a rewarding task…"

Olmert's expectation of German involvement rests on the tight but history-laden relationship the two countries have developed since World War II.

Not only were the Nazis responsible for the death of six million Jews during the Holocaust, the state of Israel was established in 1948 as a direct response to the Nazi persecution. The international community felt obligated to secure a Jewish state for the survivors.

Germany's history has made it very reluctant to send soldiers into combat since World War II.

Germany's Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung (CDU) has said he considers German participation in an international peacekeeping force a possibility, while Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) are more cautious.

Bundeswehr Soldat in Kosovo
Kosovo is still a painful memory for the EUImage: AP

"We don't necessarily dismiss involvement, but we are hesitant," said Merkel, as reported by Germany news agency dpa.

Within Germany's political parties, opinions are split. Some see Germany's history as an obligation to participate, other see precisely that as a reason to stay out of it, wrote DW-WORLD.DE's Peter Philip.

History is not the only factor in Germany's hesitancy. Its army, the Bundeswehr, has current obligations in other crisis areas, such as DR Congo and Afghanistan, and it could become increasingly difficult to convince the German population of the need to take part in the Israel-Lebanon crisis as well.


A traditional American ally and supporter of the Iraq War, Britain, along with Germany, was one of the countries to call for a "cessation of hostilities" instead of an immediate ceasefire in the EU foreign ministers' joint statement.

Lebanese President Fuad Siniora has, however, called on Tony Blair to advocate an immediate ceasefire, reported AFP.

The British government supports a gradual ceasefire, along with the United States, so that Hezbollah can be weakened before the hostilities stop since the Lebanese army is not as strong as the extremist group.

With troops currently in Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain's resources are already stretched thin and it has not expressed a willingness to engage troops in Lebanon or Israel.


Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was one of the very first heads of state to announce a willingness to send troops, wrote the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) daily. He's a practicing Muslim himself and his government acted as a mediator between Israel and Hamas this spring.

The country, which has been negotiating for years with the European Union on future accession, has been mentioned as a possible leader in an international mission due to its proximity to the region. However, recent statements have indicated France is more likely to lead a mission.

Erdogan has yet to convince the population of Turkey that military involvement in the crisis would be beneficial, wrote the FAZ.


Russia renewed demands for an immediate end to hostilities in the Middle East, reported the Financial Times Deutschland daily.

Libanon-Konferenz in Rom
Douste-Blazy and Steinmeier in RomeImage: AP

An immediate ceasefire "is the only way to establish a foundation for a political solution," said the director of the Security Council Igor Ivanov on Friday after a meeting with Saad Hariri, the majority leader in the Lebanese parliament, reported dpa.

Russia has been critical of the US, saying it is undermining the position of the UN in the Middle East conflict by supporting Israel.

"The discontentment among the countries in the (UN) Security Council has grown recently since the US is ready to block any decision that could put pressure on Israel," Russian UN ambassador Vitali Tzurkin told the Russia newspaper Isvestia.

Russia is not a member of the European Union, but is a member of the Group of Eight and the United Nations.


French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy has announced France would participate in an international peacekeeping effort, reported the FAZ. The French government, however, has remained somewhat more hesitant, stipulating a ceasefire and an international mandate before sending troops.

A commentary in Le Figaro daily added that Israel, Lebanon and the world are expecting France to head up the international force, but the country is waiting for a ceasefire.

The Financial Times Deutschland reported that France would be able to send as many as 5,000 well-equipped soldiers quickly as part of an international mission.

Israel Libanon Explotionen Aita al-Shaab
Potential members of a peacekeeping mission are waiting for a ceasefireImage: AP

As in the Iraq War, France has taken a position staunchly opposed to the United States. Twice this week, France refused to attend UN peace talks on the Middle East, hoping to put pressure on the US.

France is a traditional ally of Lebanon, which was a mandated territory after the end of World War I, along with Syria. Lebanon gained independence in 1943 when France was occupied by the Nazis.


Italy's government was voted out of office for supporting the United States in the Iraq War. It sent troops to support the international efforts in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, though President Romano Prodi pulled Italian soldiers out of Iraq after he took office in May.

Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema has emphasized his country's readiness to send troops to the Middle East.

"Italy's unified decision (to send troops) came as a surprise because the 9-party governing coalition already had trouble agreeing on involvement in Afghanistan," wrote the FAZ.