Europe is seen in many parts of the world as a fair arbiter, as a continent as much impelled by principles as by interests. But this is Europe's strength- not its weakness. By Martin Griffiths

It is easy to criticise the European Union for being inefficient or bureaucratic. But sometimes we need to look beyond the headlines and remember why the EU exists and what we Europeans have learnt from our own history. We easily forget that the origin of our modern Europe was a passionate and unyielding desire for peace. Europe is seen in many parts as a fair arbiter, as a continent as much impelled by principles as by interests. Weirdly, and possibly because we dare not use our power, Europe is seen as a fair and neutral actor. To some extent, this judgment is a result of our pitiful inactivity caused by our desire to find a consensus amongst 28 States. But this is Europe’s strength and we should accept it as a compliment. Two European foreign policy challenges illustrate this point.

Europe and Syria

Syrians tell me on many occasions that the European Union represents neutrality. Europeans don’t seem to listen. We have an opportunity here to show that Europe can support negotiations and develop agreements. A few weeks ago several Syrian opposition groups came together for the first time. They chose Brussels for this historic meeting because of the neutrality it represents. They accepted European aid because they wanted to be free of political patronage. They appreciate the European way more than Europeans do.

Europe and Iran

The second and more dramatic example is of course Iran. Frederica Mogherini and her predecessor Catherine Ashton (we should not forget Helga Schmid) were instrumental in getting the deal done. They shaped and drove the negotiations. Their presence had been a constant reassurance to the Iranians that a fair deal would be possible. Over the years the Iranians learnt that Europe is a trustworthy partner. And it is in Europe’s interest to ensure that this newly developed trust can flourish in the future.

The European way – Interests vs values?

Fairness and inclusiveness are core elements of how Europe conducts its foreign policy.  In fact, these are the values that brought us together. We should remind ourselves that our values often define our interests. Our political DNA inspires us to find fair compromises – inside and outside Europe. This is the European way.

But our role in the world is increasingly judged by how we solve problems internally.  At the moment we seem to ignore our values. Refugees who drown in the Mediterranean or camp in Calais are attracted by our European way – but we don’t offer them a future in Europe. I have spent a lifetime with families whose only marginal hope of a future for their children is perilous travel and it saddens me to see that Europe welcomes them with insults instead of empathy. This is not the Europe I know and it’s not the Europe we should aspire to build. I hope that Europe's core values will prevail and that they once again can come to the rescue of Europe's interests.