The EU could play a key role in rebuilding Syria

Since the beginning of the war in Syria in 2011, the European Union and its member states have given €10 billion worth of aid to Syrians inside and outside the country, says Le Monde.
International mine clearance in Aleppo, Syria.

The EU, the largest provider of humanitarian aid to Syria, organised a conference this April in support of  peace process pursued by the United Nations.

In order to ‘create conditions for a return to normal life,’ the EU is also looking for ways to help on the ground, assisting – for example – with the management of the four ‘de-escalation zones’ along the country’s western border.

If a ceasefire eventually comes out of the agenda both sides agreed upon during the Geneva peace talks, ‘the cost of rebuilding Syria will be beyond what anyone can imagine.’

‘No one, not the Russians, nor the Gulf countries, nor the Americans, will have the means to cover the costs alone.’

‘The EU won’t either,’ says Le Monde, ‘but it could play a key role.’

Though we shouldn’t get carried away, this is going to be a very long process.

It would be ‘unrealistic’ to think that after seven years of civil war, war against ISIS, and several hundreds of thousands of deaths, ‘Syrians will be able to pick up from where they left off, as if nothing had happened.’

When – and how – the peace process concludes will be up to the Syrians themselves, not the UN or the EU.

After all, as the UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said himself, the country has a “sophisticated” political culture that mustn’t be underestimated.

Besides Russia and the US, ‘other regional actors must become more involved,’ said Le Monde.

What the EU can do is to continue to support the peace process and ‘help the Syrians who wish for peace and democracy for their country.’

Trump and Macron: best of enemies

‘Just because the French president gives a good handshake doesn’t mean he sees himself as a champion of the liberal West,’ says Benjamin Haddad in Foreign Policy.
macron and trump
French president Emmanuel Macron with US president Donald Trump.

To outside observers, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron’s relationship didn’t get off to the best start.

First came the ‘infamous handshake,’ then there was the French president’s “make the planet great again”  comments after his American counterpart pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement.

Pitted as ‘a direct repudiation of Trump’s populism,’ Macron was seen as ‘Europe’s best hope for standing up to Trump.’

It was Macron – who once taught philosophy and can recite Molière – the liberal defender of the EU and the free market, versus Trump, the “America First” protectionist who supported Marine le Pen, Macron’s election rival.

Yet, ‘different as they are, Macron and Trump are likely to get on rather well,’ says Haddad.

First, Macron is ‘no Hillary Clinton.’

Despite being a liberal, the French president ran on an anti-establishment platform and criticised both the major parties on the left and right.

‘Like for Trump, few “experts” would have bet on Macron’s victory just a few months before the election.’

And his first bill will aim to “moralise” French politics, imposing maximum terms and ‘barring MPs from hiring family members or working as consultants.’

Did someone say “drain the swamp?”

Second, Macron sees himself as a realist, and has embraced the “Gaullo-Mitterandien” realpolitik tradition of ‘realist French foreign policy.’

And despite his strong criticism of Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik, let’s not forget that early on in his presidency Macron invited Putin to France to discuss cooperation in Syria.

‘For years, this French attitude of independence has raised eyebrows in Washington; these days, it fits perfectly with Trump’s agenda.’

Third, Macron’s “Europe first” attitude ‘seems to dovetail with Trump’s wariness of free-riding allies.’

macron and trump
Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump may be closer than you might think.

The French president wants to increase eurozone budgetary coordination, as well as create a finance minister for the bloc.

This will mean ‘convincing Germany to give up on trade surpluses that have reinforced imbalances within the EU,’ and the two nations have already begun discussions for the creation of a European defence fund.

Rather than ‘embracing movements like Brexit that weaken Europe and leave it more dependent, the America First president should welcome European leaders who want to strengthen the continent and shoulder more responsibility for defending their own interests and security,’ says Haddad.

Finally, both Macron and  Trump support military action and assertive foreign policy.

He has ‘repeatedly said his top foreign-policy priority would be fighting Islamism,’ and supported the Trump administration’s airstrike of the Syrian Army’s Shayrat airbase.

‘Paris – always more comfortable with hard power than Berlin – could be a more neutral partner for the Trump administration.’

Macron has vowed to increase France’s defence spending to 2 percent of GDP.

Widespread dislike of the new US president saw many people hopefully cast Macron as an ‘anti-Trump champion.’

But the French Constitution grants the president much more freedom in foreign policy than, say, Germany, and the ‘widespread loathing for the US president, real though it may be, is unlikely to have a major impact on Macron’s decision-making.’

Their initial handshake was frosty, ‘and it remains unlikely that Macron and Trump will be taking in any Molière performances together anytime soon, but sometimes a rough handshake can be the start of a fruitful relationship.’