The Summit of Europe’s Ineffectiveness

LONDON – The European Union likes summits. Just look at the way it reacts when the other side decides not to show up (for example, its response to President Barack Obama’s decision not to attend the May EU-US summit in Madrid). If the EU wants to be taken seriously and have a tangible impact, it needs to learn that talking about the right things is no substitute for taking the right kind of action.  

No policy area better illustrates this EU preference for talk over action than Pakistan. The Pakistan-EU summit will take place on April 10, a follow up to the first meeting last autumn. But you would be hard-pressed to know anything about the event, since nobody is taking ownership of it: not Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council’s new permanent president; not Catherine Ashton, the EU’s new foreign policy chief; not even Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero, who has pushed Spain onto the stage in plenty of other areas.

The reason is simple: the EU has nothing new to say or offer. Pakistan desperately needs the EU’s vaunted expertise in police training. But any deployment of trainers is seen as too dangerous, expensive, and likely to fail. Instead, individual member states are going it alone, with their own bite-sized assistance projects.

The EU is equally unlikely to change dramatically its development-aid policies towards Pakistan. Questions of capacity, corruption, and quality assurance remain unanswered, and with the US granting $1.5 billion a year for five years, any change in the EU stance would be relatively insignificant.