The Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade, in cooperation with the French Institute of Budapest, hosted a roundtable discussion entitled “The strategy of the European Union regarding the Middle East” on the 24th of February, 2020. The event focused on the evaluation of the foreign policy of the EU in the region and on the challenges related to formulating a unified approach.
Didier Billion, the Deputy Director of the Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) argued that the EU’s foreign policy towards the Middle East should be based on values such as multilateralism and the universal application of international law. He emphasized that the revitalization of the Barcelona Process, originally initiated in 1995, would provide an opportunity to create a concrete, overarching European approach to the region as well as to expand Euro-Mediterranean relations. Mr Billion also noted that even though the EU rhetorically demands a larger role for itself in the region, reaching consensus between EU Member States on a common position is often halted by their differing historical relations and strategies towards the Middle East.
Janos Budai, former Ambassador and Hungary’s Coordinator of Syria reflected on some of the tensions within the region related to the US’ current disengagement; Russia’s security and economic driven expansion in the Middle East and its impact on US-Russian relations; the simultaneous strengthening of Russian-Iranian as well as Russian-Israeli relations; the US’ withdrawal from the Iranian Nuclear Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); as well as Turkey’s balancing efforts. The former Ambassador stated that the EU’s strategy towards the Middle East should reflect both economic and political considerations.
In the second part of the roundtable discussion, the participants reacted to the questions of the moderator, Máté Szalai and of the audience which covered an array of topics ranging from the question of failed states and the possibility of cooperation with non-state actors, the situation of Daesh, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian question.