Veteran French diplomat: EU should play greater role in resolving Syria crisis

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Article Summary
French diplomat Alain Le Roy discusses the European Union's "unstable" and "insecure" borders and its greater challenge of resolving the crisis in Syria.

Alain Le Roy, who served as the United Nations undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations and secretary-general of the European External Action Service, has extensive knowledge of international affairs and peacekeeping missions. After leaving his post in Brussels this month, he answered questions in a written interview with Al-Monitor on Sept. 16.

Born in February 1953, Le Roy started his career as an engineer in the oil exploration and production industry. He then moved to the French public service. In 1995, he became the UN deputy special coordinator for Sarajevo and continued as UN regional administrator for Kosovo. He was the European Union special representative to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 2001-2002, and returned to the French government in 2002 as director for economic and financial affairs in the French Foreign Ministry. He then served as the French ambassador to Madagascar in 2005-2007, and ambassador in charge of the Union for the Mediterranean project. In 2008, Le Roy was appointed UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations. In this capacity, he supervised many operations all over the world. After serving as the French ambassador to Italy in 2011-2014, he worked the last two years as secretary-general of the European External Action Service (EEAS). Now that he has been succeeded by Helga Schmid of Germany, Le Roy gives us his views at a time when the EU faces a critical moment, not only because of the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, but also because of tense discussions on its future, on migration and on security issues in particular.

The text of the interview follows:

Al-Monitor:  As former head of the [EEAS], what do you consider to be the first priorities of the EU external policy?

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Le Roy:  Our wider region has become more unstable and more insecure. The crises within and beyond our borders are affecting directly our citizens’ lives. In challenging times, our first priorities are a common vision, a joined-up approach and ways to act together with credibility. This is the aim of the Global Strategy for European Foreign and Security Policy presented by the High Representative Federica Mogherini to European heads of state and government last June. In this Global Strategy, Europe's neighborhood remains a key strategic priority, and this includes the Middle East.

Al-Monitor:  Did you have the instruments and financial resources to drive your actions?

Le Roy:  As the EU member states are saying, "The EEAS, while still a relatively new organization on its way to full maturity, has achieved significant progress in developing into a modern and operational foreign policy service, has increasingly demonstrated its capacity to add value on policy and to strengthen the EU's response to global challenges, and has become a stable feature of the institutional makeup of the European Union." Working closely with the EU member states, the European Commission and the European Parliament, we now have the political and economic means to drive our actions.

Al-Monitor:  Is the sharing of responsibilities between the council, the member states, the commission and the EEAS clear and satisfactory?

Le Roy:  Yes, I believe it is the case. There were enormous challenges in the beginning, but now — five years after the Lisbon Treaty — the sharing of responsibilities is clear.

Al-Monitor:  Do you believe that the decision by the UK population to leave the EU could have any negative impact on the EU external policy?

Le Roy:  For sure it will have an impact, as the UK is obviously a very important player in the EU. But the new UK government has already told us that they want to remain as close as possible to the EU's external policy. For sure, we will find ways to associate them as closely as possible. We need them.

Al-Monitor:  As far as the Middle East is concerned, what do you see as the main achievements of the EEAS?

Le Roy:  The EU has many delegations in the Middle East run by the EEAS, and a dedicated EU special representative for the Middle East peace process, through which the EU undertakes a range of activities — political, economic and practical.

The EU continues to work with its Israeli and Palestinian counterparts along with the Quartet and other stakeholders in the region and beyond in order to make progress toward a just and lasting peace based on a two-state solution. The EU is the largest donor to Palestinian state-building efforts aiming at a Palestinian state based on the rule of law and respect of human rights.

In the E3/EU+3 Iran talks, it is clear that the expertise of the EEAS has been extremely instrumental.

In response to the continuing conflict and its consequences both inside Syria and in neighboring countries, the EU and its member states are implementing a comprehensive EU regional strategy for Syria, Iraq and the Daesh [Islamic State] threat.

Al-Monitor:  Is the EU a contributor to the resolution of the crisis in Syria? In what way?

Le Roy:  The EU is an active member of the International Syria Support Group and, in my opinion, should play a more important role than it does today in the resolution of the crisis. The EU is a very important actor in the assistance field and remains a close partner and supporter of UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura. The EU stands ready to provide support to stabilization and reconstruction once a political transition has started.

The Syrian crisis has become the world's worst humanitarian disaster. The EU and its member states are the largest donor and have mobilized over 6.4 billion euros [$7.15 billion] in humanitarian aid as well as stabilization and development assistance since the conflict began, to those affected by the conflict inside Syria and refugees and host communities in neighboring countries, especially Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. In December 2014, the EU Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian crisis was established.

Al-Monitor:  Do you believe that Turkey is a key partner in this conflict and could contribute to soothe the situation?

Le Roy:  Turkey is an EU candidate country and a very important partner for the EU. We work closely together on a range of common challenges, including to contribute a solution for the Syrian conflict, to which Turkey can bring a lot.

Al-Monitor:  How does the EEAS evaluate the initiative taken by French diplomacy on the Israel/Palestine conflict?

Le Roy:  For the EEAS, this initiative is very important as a way to renew the efforts and to contribute to bring together regional and international actors and overcome the status quo. We hope that an international conference can take place by the end of this year.

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Found in: syrian crisis, quartet, middle east, issg, european union, european parliament, diplomacy, daesh

Denis Simonneau is a member of the French Diplomatic Service and has held many international posts, including consul general of France in Houston and deputy spokesperson for the French government’s Department of Foreign Affairs. He is currently the director of European and international relations for an international group.

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