It has been a trying time of late for the European Union. The last several years have seen the continent's common currency battered under the weight of seemingly never ending sovereign debt crises. The talk of a Euro break-up, or at the very least the exit of some of the union's more troubled southern nations (i.e., a Grexit), has been at a constant low murmur. In many ways, the EU's critics have been proven correct.
Yes, monetary union in the absence of fiscal union is unsustainable. Yes, the forced internal deflation taking place in southern Europe has had disastrous social and human costs. Yes, the formulation of a continent wide monetary policy to benefit wealthy, high productivity, export oriented, creditor, northern European countries is bound to leave the relatively less wealthy, lower productivity, importing, and debtor nations of Europe's southern tier reeling.
But it is important to remember that the European project is more than the current failings of its monetary union. Conceived of in the wake of World War II the creation of the European Union's genesis was in the idea that an increasingly interconnected, and interdependent, continent was needed. Its purpose was noble, its execution gradual, and its orientation towards process interminably boring. It was also wildly successful.
A continent that had been plagued by centuries of constant fighting, by the development of some of history's most horrific weapons, and by its most effective killing machines, learned to live another way. The bonds created by markets had done what shared religious traditions, cultural touchstones, and social practices hadn't been able to. It also brought widespread prosperity.
These are no mean achievements, and good reason to honor the union for its most lasting and important accomplishment: a continent at peace. For this reason, bravo to the Nobel committee for its choice.
As much as this honor may be deserved, the EU is sending mixed messages to a country that is as much a threat today to international peace as any other: Iran. How is this the case? On October 27 the European Union's parliament sent a delegation to Tehran.
Why is this a problem? Because even as the EU is tightening sanctions on Iran for its continued nuclear pursuits, human rights record, and export of terrorism, it is qualifying its increasing toughness with the equivalent of a reward for good behavior.
As the EU itself has indicated through its own recent actions, there is no good reason to provide the Iranian regime with the honor of this visit. There is no "good behavior" to reward. Just this week the European Parliament rebuked the Iranian regime by awarding the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to two of Iran's leading dissidents, human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and film-maker Jafar Panahi.
But on October 27 an EU parliamentary delegation's arrival in Tehran sent the Iranian regime a message with its mere presence. No matter the words of the delegation, the message is that the regime is not fully isolated.
The utter confusion of the message being sent by this small group of European MPs traveling to Tehran is recognized by the European Parliament's vice president and chair of the committee in charge of relations with Iran, Alejo Vidal-Quadras . As Mr. Vidal-Quadras has said:
(A)ny formal delegation from the European Parliament to Iran would be extremely counter-productive coming so soon after increased sanctions were announced aimed at forcing Iran's hand to abandoning its nuclear ambitions, as well as rejecting not only human rights violations, but also repression, fundamentalism and terrorism.
Vidal-Quadra is exactly right. Sadly, it doesn't look like it will change the mind of the body he serves, or his misguided colleagues.
Update: The EU parliamentary delegation's trip to Tehran described in this piece, which was supposed to occur on October 27, was canceled by the Iranian regime at the last minute because of the delegation's request to meet with Iranian human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh and film-maker Jafar Panahi. We applaud the delegation's effort to meet with the recent recipients of the Sakharov prize, but believe that the trip was ill advised to begin with. The EU Parliamentary delegation shouldn't have put themselves in the position where they are sending mixed messages on the regime's human rights record in the first place.