The EU, principled or pragmatic?

The EU has decided not to renew its arms embargo on Uzbekistan. These sanctions were imposed after the indiscriminate killings in Andizhan in 2005 and were up for review this last week. These sanctions have always been symbolic, as the EU is not a major arms supplier to Uzbekistan. The arms embargo represented the EU’s collective dismay at the human rights violations that have occurred within Uzbekistan that cumulated in the massacres that took place in 2005. On the face of it, it would appear straight faced hypocrisy from the EU to drop this arms embargo despite the Uzbek authorities ignoring the EU’s call for a full investigation into the shootings.

If you look a little deeper however, we stumble across a problem that is symbolic for how the EU can hit a brick wall in certain Central Asian countries when addressing human rights concerns. We can see that despite slapping on sanctions there has been no significant improvement in human rights within the country. So how do we improve the lives of ordinary citizens within Uzbekistan? The current presidency makes an argument to say that it is better to look to the future to try and work in a long term cooperative relationship with Uzbekistan. To kick-start this relationship an act of good faith is needed, on this occasion it is the lifting of an internationally embarrassing arms embargo (or in the case of Turkmenistan agreeing to a lucrative gas pipeline). The EU is committed to promoting human rights in its external relations. Can we believe them when they say there is a human rights dialogue that is happening behind closed doors?

Call me a sceptic, but considering the importance we currently give to the war in Afghanistan, the need for energy security etc…, I find it very hard to believe that the EU will live up to its own standards and prioritise human rights in its external relations. With Uzbekistan holding significant German military bases and bordering Afghanistan we can see its strategic importance. Equally with the discovery of some of the largest gas fields in the world in Turkmenistan we can see the strategic importance of working with Ashgabat.

The sad truth of the matter is that the EU in this case has managed to commit both hypocrisy and yellow-bellied pragmatism. There are a number of member states who were opposed to the dropping of the sanctions but decided not to voice their concerns because of the perceived importance of creating a common position. Not only are certain member states (not to mention any Germanic names) happy to back track on human rights commitments because they see some political opportunities; but other member states (again not mentioning any yellow bellied names) are willing to let them get away with it for the sake of saving face.

In the UK we can see the logical conclusion of politics without ideology with no-one but Giddens still talking about a “third way”. Now, more than ever, we can see the importance of value driven politics. The EU has 27 member states and hundreds of millions of citizens. It is not the size of the EU that makes it such a powerful world player, but it is the values that unite us. If the EU does not represent these common values we simply become a large collective with little power. It is the time for the EU and all its member states to stand up and be counted. It is time for us to condemn the Uzbek’s inability to affectively investigate the Andizhan massacres. It is time for the EU to prioritise it human rights agenda.

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Filed under Central Asia, EU politics, Human rights

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