Kerry-Lavrov, the New Sykes-Picot in the Middle East

A few weeks ago, a new chapter opened in the Middle East that meant the end to another one; the end to the chapter in which Europe had played a starring role. The heads of US and Russian diplomacy got together in Vienna at a first meeting; later, they would be joined by two other players: Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Yesterday, those four countries met again, for a preparatory meeting, before asking other Ministers to join them, among these last was, finally, the High Representative of the European Union.

Nowadays, it is not European diplomats who draw the new map of the East, but the highest authority as concerns US diplomacy, John Kerry, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Serguéi Lavrov. Almost a century earlier, a British diplomat and a French one, both very knowledgeable as regards the Middle East (Sykes was a member of the British Arabist school, of which T. E. Lawrence of Arabia was also a component, and Picot was the Consulate in Beirut before moving on to Cairo and Baghdad), were in charge of negotiating the secret plan that drew the new borders of the Middle Eastern territories that arose from the Treaty of Versailles, and that has remained in force to this day. Next May will be the hundredth anniversary of the signature of that agreement, and it would be an excellent moment for European diplomacy to rethink its role in this region of the world, so close to us, and with which we have had ties since ancient times.

Paradoxically, Vienna – a European capital – was the witness to the demise of our influence at the same time a door was opened to a new geo-political model in which, inexplicably, Europe is practically not present. Without wanting to vent frustration or steal the limelight… How is this even possible? How can anyone explain, when it comes time to define the future of Syria and the Middle East, that Europe is not present at the beginning of the negotiations? Why did we dedicate so many political, technical and mental efforts so that the Treaty of Lisbon would include two new figures in the organizational chart of the EU: the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the European Union who we would like to consider the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the European Union. Where, and for what purpose does it have, is the European Policy of Common Security? Where are all those public figures and what can explain their absence from the core meetings in Vienna? What have the twenty-eight Foreign Ministers of the EU decided and why did they not demand to be included? What is the Spanish Government’s position and why has our diplomacy been excluded?

In contrast, the United States and Russia have started to make progress on a Diplomatic Plan that, without a doubt, they intend to impose on the international community. How can Europe defend its interests in this region? Are the risks and challenges not sufficiently clear? Are our geo-political cooperation obligations not clear? Do we need to convene a new European Council to find a solution to the new crisis of refugees fleeing from that region? Will we continue to ignore our responsibility to cooperate in the search for a political and diplomatic solution to the war in Syria? The EU cannot just sit and wait for general destabilization in the region because refugees, terrorism, new peace and security challenges… they all place us in the front row to experience unwanted aftershocks.

We must question what the European leaders are doing… Europe stands at a critical moment and, as Europeans, we are legitimized to denounce the EU’s standstill and demand that our political leaders take up a larger role as regards commitment and involvement. Vienna has just witnessed how Kerry and Lavrov have replaced Sykes and Picot.