Think EU-MED

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Inside Story - Mediterranean Union - 13 July

AlJazeeraEnglish asks if the Union for the Mediterranean will work...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Assad's Comback on International Stage

Ahead of the launch of the Mediterranean Union Summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy hold talks with key Mideast leaders in Paris. The meetings marked the beginning of a weekend of intense diplomatic efforts for the French president. After a meeting with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on July 12, Sarkozy met later in the day Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and the new Lebanese president Michel Suleimann.
The reception of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the meeting in Paris marks his comeback to the international stage and Syria's break from diplomatic isolation. Syria is suspected of being behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, and has long been accused by the international community of interfering in Lebanese politics. France and many other western countries have shunned Syria in recent years, accusing Assad of destabilizing neighbouring Lebanon and fomenting unrest across its borders with Iraq.

Sarkozy used the meeting to improve the tense relations between Damascus and Beirut, following the forced withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in mid-2005. The talks may have been effective considering thatLebanon's President Suleimann and Assad have agreed to open embassies in each other's capitals after talks with Sarkozy. Lebanon and Syria broke off diplomatic ties after former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005. Beirut accused Syria of being involved.

Sarkozy also discussed other issues with his counterparts from Syria and Lebanon during talks in the Elysee Palace, such as Iran's nuclear programme and peace efforts between Syria and Israel. French officials said it is important to re-establish high-level ties with Syria and declared that its recent decision to restart indirect peace talks with Israel shows that attitudes are changing in Damascus. Although the conditions were not yet right for direct Syria-Israel talks, this meeting can be seen as a diplomatic victory for Sarkozy. The French president booked his first success when Syria and Lebanon agreed to relax their often stressed relations. "We can say that Lebanon has moved from being a zone of turbulence, a war zone, to a more pacified zone where the Lebanese, and only the Lebanese, have the right to determine their own future," said Assad after the meeting with Suleimann.

We all know that the French president is keen to push the Middle East high up in the EU's agenda, but to mark a major shift in policy towards Syria might have surprised some French and other Europeans.
Assad's reception in Paris and his invitation to attend Monday's Bastille Day military parade have been criticized by human rights activists. Critics say it is too much of a reward when there are still serious question concerning human rights in Syria and its alleged role in the killing of Mr Hariri. Even French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stated that this does not make him "especially comfortable."

43 Nations form historic Mediterranean Union (AP)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Press Freedom Groups criticize Sarkozy

A coalition of international press freedom organisations raised concerns with French President Nicolas Sarkozy about ignoring human rights violations in Tunisia as he seeks to create a Union for the Mediterranean at the summit meeting on 13 July. According to the World Association of Newspapers and 17 press freedom organisation Mr Sarkozy underestimates the tendency to resort to censorship, intimidation and
violence in Tunesia.

In a letter to Mr. Sarkozy they wrote: "It seems essential that the French government does not underestimate the seriousness of the human rights violations in Tunisia." And “it is furthermore essential that France adopts and promotes a policy in accordance with the values of the Republic, by inviting the Tunisian authorities to respect their international human rights obligations, specifically those in favour of freedom of expression and the press."

Members of the Tunisia Monitoring Group include: Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (Egypt); ARTICLE 19 (United Kingdom); Canadian Journalists for Free Expression; Cartoonists Rights Network International (United States); Egyptian Organization for Human Rights; Index on Censorship (United Kingdom); International Federation of Journalists; International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions; International Press Institute; International Publishers’ Association; Journaliste en danger (Democratic Republic of Congo); Maharat Foundation (Lebanon); Media Institute of Southern Africa; Norwegian PEN; World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters; World Association of Newspapers; World Press Freedom Committee; and the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN.

Read the full letter

Does the Union for Mediterranean lack of an human rights agenda?

Amnesty International raises concerns about the agenda of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) initiative.
The new Union might bypass human rights as there is no reference to human rights in the current proposal. According to Amnesty International the increased cooperation and dialogue will be based purely on commercial and financial terms. Unlike the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership which put an emphasis on the human rights dimension, the EU is maybe taking out this paragraphs to avoid problems with the partner states.

If the fact is right that the EU bypasses human rights "we are facing a dangerous precedent: it not only undermines core principles of the EU’s relations with third countries but openly allows human rights to be sidelined for the sake of business," said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s EU Office.

In a letter sent to the French EU Presidency, the Amnesty International EU office demand from the EU’s external relations initiative the following:

"-Reaffirm the EU's commitment that human rights principles govern all EU external relations
-Ensure that the EU holds to its commitment to systematically raise human rights concerns in all bilateral and multilateral dialogues, to mainstream human rights into all external policy areas, and to fully involve civil society
-Develop human rights monitoring mechanisms within the Union for the Mediterranean, to examine human rights concerns in all countries, in order to address the current human rights deficit"