Promoting a culture of freedom as the core of EU foreign policy

On 11 April 2018 we thought we were certain that we had a meeting of the European External Action Service together with a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and gender-balanced delegation from the Self-Administration of North-East Syria. Men and women representing the Arabs, Kurds, Syriac Christians and Yazidis of that region hoped to have a meeting to explain to the EEAS what their autonomous self-administration aspired to do and struggled with. Trying to implement fundamental freedoms for all while fighting ISIS should clearly fit with the EU.

It was a bitter disappointment for them to hear that the meeting was cancelled without any apparent reason, nor was this reason ever given. One Syria expert who followed the EEAS policy was not surprised. When we sat down with him, he was clear that the policy of the EEAS had been extremely consistent throughout the years. Only Saudi and Turkish proxies were to be worked with and recognized as ‘opposition’ in Syria even when it was very clear that they represented Islamist extremism. Even today the EEAS refuses stubbornly to include those who are actually implementing in Syria the formal goal of the EU for the future of Syria.

The EU wants a Syria that is democratic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and realizes equal rights for men and women. However, the EEAS does not want to meet the people who implement this in one-third of Syria, which is now liberated and secured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Instead the EEAS goes out of its way in praising the role of Turkey in the Syrian conflict as can be seen in the conclusions of its rather surreal third conference over Syria that took place on last 12-14 March attended by high-level Turkish and Iranian representatives. Turkey supported ISIS and still supports Al Qaeda in Syria.

Turkey has killed and driven away the people of Afrin in North-West Syria. Iran has massively contributed to the suffering of the Syrian people and caused a lot of the refugee crisis with its militias spread all over Syria. In an almost delirious picture, the EEAS included representatives of these countries in a cocktail during a conference about their victims. The EEAS and others reading this will for sure smile over my naiveté. Of course (the thinking goes) the EU has to take Turkish and Iranian regime interests more serious than some million people in Syria or Iraq. This is how it is, it’s about the powerful eating the weak and that is all there is to say about it. They may think that realism edicts what the big economic interests have to dictate to the EU foreign affairs. ‘Realism’ commands in that view that EEAS and EU Foreign Affairs is meant to be nothing else than the long arm of our big business. If that would be the actual attitude behind these contradictive policies, then it is clear that this is extremely short-sighted.

It points to a very poor understanding of what European interests and needs actually are. It is in the interest of European citizens and EU political stability that the risk of terror in the streets is seriously reduced, that migration is reduced and that integration becomes less of a challenge. With that we are back to the people that the EEAS does not want to meet. When the SDF defeated ISIS many terror operations in Europe were uncovered and subsequently stopped. The Self-Administration successfully managed to bring a stable and inclusive governance that kept millions of people in Syria instead of fleeing to Europe. Most importantly, they managed to implement real fundamental freedoms. They introduced freedom of religion (including the freedom to leave or change religion) which is paramount for personal freedom.

They achieved equal freedom and empowerment of women, with forced marriage prohibited. Women’s committees are everywhere and women also co-run the army and governance. A mentality change on women’s freedom in this region is visibly present. It is clear that the lack of personal freedom in migrant communities is one of the most important reasons for resentment against migrants and refugees from the Middle-East and North-Africa (which again fuels the rise of the anti-parties). Therefore, it is obvious that it is in Europe’s interest to support any region that helps to change mentality in this regard. In light of these realities, it is time that the EU starts to understand that supporting a culture of freedom (meaning real space for personal choice) is a necessary geopolitical move for the EU in line with our actual needs.