Europe will have earned respect once it stops expecting it
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Europe will have earned respect once it stops expecting it

Wednesday, 11 November 2020
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
© Belga

Respect. It’s good to be respected. At first glance, it costs nothing and protects one from a number of annoyances. But is it really so? Does it really cost nothing? Is there any way to compel or outsource respect?

In 2016, notorious football coach José Mourinho took over a club with a legendary history – Manchester United. After failing to meet expectations during his two-year tenure at the club, he came under pressure from both fans and journalists. He gave a newsworthy press conference in the summer of 2018, during which he passionately demanded respect from journalists asking vexatious questions.

His argument was that, in his previous time as a Premiership manager, he won the title three times (with a different club than Manchester United – Chelsea) while his counterparts at the time, the managers of the other 19 clubs of the top English competition, won it only twice. Mourinho stormed out of his press conference shouting: ‘respect, respect’!

A few days ago, several European leaders responded to an ill-conceived attack by Turkish President Erdoğan on his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, urging the latter to seek psychiatric treatment. The reason was that Emmanuel Macron strongly condemned Islamic extremism and vigorously defended the freedom of speech and expression.

Several European leaders came to the defence of Macron. But what caught my attention in the first place was the utterance by EU Council President Charles Michel, who closed his statement by calling: “Respect for Europe and for its member states!”

Coach Mourinho and the President of the EU Council are both undeniably skilled at their jobs. But I was disappointed in both of them at those moments. I was disappointed for they demanded something that cannot be compelled by words alone. Something that cannot be bought. Respect is something one needs to fight for, to earn, through concrete actions relying on one’s own strength and abilities.

While it was only a singular episode in the case of the football manager, in the case of Charles Michel, it is a serious symptom of the EU and its policies of recent years. The EU is losing respect. It is losing respect because it is not able or willing (most likely both) to reach the required results, especially in the field of foreign policy.

The EU is not a relevant player in the Middle East, nor is it in Libya. In both cases, it surrendered the “playfield” to Russia and Turkey. As the EU cannot prevent illegal immigration on its own, it “bribes” Turkey, which has no qualms about blackmailing the EU whenever it finds doing so suitable.

The most glaring disrespect for the EU is shown by the gas exploration drilling carried out by Turkey in Cyprus’ territorial waters. The mention of the 46-year occupation of Northern Cyprus by Turkey would be close to embarrassing…

So how can the President of the EU Council be surprised at Erdoğan’s arrogance? Does he feel so helpless, or is he so naive as to think that Turkey can be compelled to have respect for the EU?

After his Manchester failure, Mourinho left for another club. The recent fixtures of his new club – Tottenham Hotspur – seem to indicate that Mourinho is back in business. It is high time for the EU, also, to get down to business. Time to make essential changes and take action. To forget about developing new strategies, but rather to start implementing those it has adopted in the past. Like, for example, the strategy on enhanced cooperation in the field of defence.

We are conducting heated debates on how to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. It is no doubt necessary. But it seems as though we avoid seeing that we are slowly but surely losing ground under our feet, right now and in our immediate neighbourhood, and even within the EU itself.

Mikuláš Dzurinda, former Prime Minister of Slovakia (1998-2006), President of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies