During a regular visit by High Representative Catherine Ashton to the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, MEPs criticised the lack of coordination among EU Member States over the international mission in Libya and quizzed Mrs Ashton on her plans to review EU policies with authoritarian regimes such as Syria.
Jose Ignacio Salafranca (EPP, ES) and many other MEPs criticised the failure of EU Member States to agree on how best to protect the Libyan population, with some countries like Germany abstaining from the UN Security Council resolution and others like France and the United Kingdom leading the Western air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces.
In reply, Catherine Ashton said: “I am sure we can do it better. Yet this falls on the Hungarian presidency, which is making a big effort”. “What is a positive sign is that nobody voted against UN resolution 1973 and that in the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday there was at least unanimity on how to provide humanitarian support”.
The High Representative then explained that 4400 people had been brought out using EU military assets and that EU staff was still deployed at the borders helping hundreds of people who were trying to flee.
Nato to replace US leadership?
Since the USA has said it would prefer to pull out and cede leadership in establishing the no-fly zone, should the mission be taken over by NATO, by a Franco-British mandate or by another command structure, asked Graham Watson (ALDE, UK). “It should be NATO but I don’t know when. They have to speak out. NATO would definitely be the way forward”, replied Mrs Ashton.
On behalf of the S&D group, Kristian Vigenin (BG) said any action to impose the no-fly zone must respect the three conditions requested by the Arab League: protection of civilians, no invasion or troop deployment and no division of Libya. The GUE was the only political group to oppose the establishment of a no-fly zone. “Human rights can never be imposed militarily”, said the group’s representative, Willy Meyer (ES).
Other authoritarian neighbours
Dominique Baudis (EPP, FR) called on the High Representative to review the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy “with authoritarian regimes which violently put down demonstrations”. In a similar vein, Franziska Brantner (Greens/EFA, DE) quizzed Mrs Ashton about a review of EU relations with Syria and Morocco, especially in connection with the Western Sahara conflict and the fisheries agreement. Catherine Ashton replied that there must be some space for the EU to move from isolation of a country to full engagement. “We often engage with countries where we would prefer to have other governments in place but we don’t engage with the governments, we engage with the people of those countries”.