As Europe watches Arab unrest, fears over oil, migration shade its response
Some have criticized Europe for responding slowly to the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt, though the EU was quick to condemn Libya's violence.
Europe's proximity to North Africa makes revolution in the Arab world of obvious and enormous significance. The speed of change in Tunisia and Egypt caught Europe unprepared and slow to respond – though European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton quickly responded to violence in Libya, calling it “unacceptable.”Skip to next paragraph
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For the most part, however, the euphoria and ingenuity of the young, tech-savvy revolutionaries and their calls for dignity, jobs, and the end of police states initially filtered to Europe through a layer of caution and worry. The first EU ministers' meeting on the subject took place Feb. 20, and a “new partnership” with Egypt and Tunisia was promised. Prior to this, a divided EU mostly watched as Western response got shaped by the US.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is reportedly miffed that President Obama abandoned Hosni Mubarak so soon, and Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi defended the ousted leader a week after he fell. Mr. Berlusconi is also the closest EU leader to Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.
Much of the fear in Europe involves sudden changes to a status quo the Continent has been comfortable with for years. Arab autocrats policed borders and coasts to stop migrants heading north, and won Western support by presenting themselves as bulwarks against Islamic extremism. Human rights issues were rarely raised.