The positive human energy unleashed by the 2011 Arab uprisings has given way to a wave of upheavals in the region, featuring collapsing states, thriving terrorist networks, burgeoning transnational crime, millions of refugees, and intolerable violence. All this, too, is happening at our doorstep, just a few kilometres from our shores.
The most immediate task is that of stemming the tide of terrorists and criminal networks by enhancing the coherence between internal and external security policies. We also have to address the humanitarian crises in war-torn and refugee-hosting countries through humanitarian assistance, asylum policies and development cooperation. In doing so, we must insist on the full application of international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians and the respect of human rights in conflict situations. Our diplomatic, economic, migration, asylum and security policies need to account for the deep connections between Europe’s southern neighbours and their neighbours in the Gulf and sub-Saharan Africa in order to help put out the fires ravaging the region, from Libya to Syria, and Iraq to Yemen.
But the biggest challenge is reminding ourselves that stability is no substitute for sustainability and that the root causes of resentment – from repression and deprivation to the ‘old’ Israeli-Palestinian conflict – have deepened across the region. We need to devise policies that, without preaching, support human dignity, social inclusiveness, political responsiveness, educational modernisation and the rule of law across the region. In this respect, devising tailor-made policies in the fields of economic development, social protection and youth inclusion, as well as political accountability, justice and security is key. Equally important is to encourage inclusive and rules-bound reconciliation in old and new conflicts embedded within a new regional security architecture in the wider Middle Eastern space.
The EU needs to tackle the immediate challenges in its South by sharpening its tools in the internal-external security nexus and addressing immediate humanitarian crises. We also need to respond to old and new conflicts and help address the root causes of resentment through tailor-made responses.