Tag Archives: Cathy Ashton

“FAC” and Iran – The time for Ashton to prove herself.

Recent Violence in Iran, Photograph thanks to Doug20022 (Flickr)

On the 25th Jan 2010, Cathy Ashton (High Representative of the Union’s Foreign and Security Policy) chairs her first Foreign Affairs Council (‘FAC’ formally known as ‘GAERC’s).  This is her, and “Post-Lisbon-EU’s” chance to stand up and show that they can act coherently in this interim period and perform as a global player. Just because everything in the Lisbon treaty is not operational does not mean the EU cannot and should not act as a global player.

On the council there are some agenda points that should be easy for the EU to draw up some strong council conclusions on.  Iran and Somalia are both examples of situations with deteriorating human rights situations where a strong external voice could bring about real change. I will briefly look at the situation of Iran to illustrate this.

There has been a human rights crisis in Iran since the disputed presidential election in June 2009. The Iranian authorities have responded to the ensuing demonstrations with the arbitrary detention of demonstrators, human rights defenders, journalists and opposition figures. Torture and other ill-treatment are widely reported, non-violent demonstrations have been met with excessive use of force leading to unlawful killings.  There are now signs that the Iranian authorities may soon start executing people in connection with the post election events.

Iran, however is in an internationally sensitive position (more so than usual) with the up-coming UN Universal Periodic Review process and the up-coming UN Human Rights Council (1-26th March).  Iran has recently sent the defiant message of refusing to accept a European Parliament delegation.  Iran knows however, that they can afford to do this for as long as they are respectful of the main power base of the EU for Common Foreign and Security Policy in the EU (The Council and now Baroness Ashton).  If, Ashton pushes for really strong conclusions in this up-coming FAC then it will leave Iran in a really tricky situation.  Do they ignore Ashton, and the EU’s new structures (possibly damaging future relations) or do they implement the (what will probably be ‘modest’) human rights proposals put forward by the FAC.

The FAC and Ashton must include some human rights language in their conclusions.  As a minimum this must call for the UN Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to be allowed access to Iran.  If they really wanted to be brave they could mention; the excessive use of the death penalty, the routine use of torture, the blanket oppression of the freedom of expression, assembly and association or even the on-going violence used by security forces. 

This is the first real big test for Ashton (as opposed to announcing relief aid to Haiti – which according to some commentators she managed to screw up).  We need a strong performance by Ashton to bring on board all the member states to push for some sort of human rights language in the council conclusions.  We will wait and see if this materialises.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under EU politics, Human rights

The UK and the EU

This is an issue which affects my daily life.  I am a Brit working and living in Brussels.  I have got used to the usual jibes about not caring, about being arrogant and such forth.  I accept the fact that the UK is politically isolationist, and to its own detriment.  What I do not accept though, is the level of the debate which continues to rage throughout the British Isles and fails to hold our politicians to account.  Are you pro or anti EU? What a bloody stupid question!

Am I opposed to the introduction of the Social Charter that bought with it basic societal protection like the minimum wage, no.  Am I opposed to the increasing shift towards joint military operations such as Operation Atalanta (that smacks of safe-guarding oil), yes! 

Hopefully you get my point.  The EU is a complex beast with fingers in many pies.  To suggest you are either “pro” or “anti” it is clearly daft. 

Firstly let’s expel a myth.  The EU is not separate to the UK.  The UK is part (a disproportionally powerful part at that) of the EU.  Our elected national government has to agree to all legislation that is passed (in the European Council).  So when you hear…”it was forced onto us by Brussels”… you can be safe in the knowledge that this is scapegoating.  Equally, the UK is represented by 72 Members of European Parliament (which makes up the second part of the bicameral legislative branch of the EU – along with the Council).  On top of this, we have just had Baroness Cathy Ashton appointed as the new High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy (a sort of EU foreign minister).  To suggest that the UK is not an integral part of the EU is nonsense. 

Why then, if the UK plays such an integral role in Europe do I get constantly mocked for being a “Brit” (apart from my obsessive tea drinking)?  Why is the UK not seen as a “real” part of the EU? This question is a complex one and I do not suggest I hold the full answer.  Here though are two possible ideas that might shed some light.

Firstly, there is a historical significance of how we came about to become a member of the EU and how this contrasts with others accession process.  We can see that membership of the EU is something all other countries have strived for (in the current Enlargement programme the Balkan states are jumping through hoop after hoop to get in).  The UK however, eventually joined the Union in 1973 with a massive sense of feet dragging.  Whilst most nations joined with an optimistic sense of opportunity, the UK slouched in to the back of the class to play the disruptive role from the beginning.  Ever since then, the UK has been plagued by this concept that we might somehow be losing out.  This is something uniquely British.  Even other Member States who have tricky domestic politics have the ideological commitment to an integrated Europe to fall back on. 

Secondly, New Labour in the early 2000’s, chose a series of policy choices that scuppered their commitment to improve relations with the EU (after 18 years of disastrous relations jerking from one crisis to another).  New Labour came into power with a strong commitment to play a key role in the EU. Blair, by all accounts demanded respect within council meetings and for a short while a British voice was taken seriously.  In Blair’s own words, he saw himself as a bridge between Europe and the US. 

This position however was only successful in the short term.  Geo-politics soon meant that Blair had to decide to between Europe and the US.  With both France and Germany opposing the American neo-cons war mongering, Blair was left with an opportunity of great strategic importance.  At this time of decision between being Bush’s poodle and his strategic commitments within Europe, Blair sat on his metaphorical bridge for so long that the path back to the EU was soon cut off.  His inability to criticise the US meant that he lost all credibility and support within the EU (this was all dragged up again recently with him being linked to the position of President of the EU). 

Blair, back tracked on his personal enthusiasm for the euro, he smashed any concept of a common position on foreign and security policy within the EU and most of all he isolated himself from all “socialists” across Europe. 

Enough about the past though…what does the future hold for us?

In all likelihood a Conservative led government headed by Cameron.  This is a man who has chosen to remove his MEP’s from the most powerful block in the European Parliament in favour of teaming up in a marginal group with radicals from central and Eastern Europe (The European Conservative and Reformists Group).  This has annoyed nearly all major centre-right figures across the EU.  A Cameron UK government will not be taken seriously by their conservative counter parts (who now make up the main power houses across the EU).  This EU observer article gives you an idea of how the UK Tories are viewed (http://euobserver.com/9/28783). 

The only ray of European hope in British Politics is represented by Greens and Nationalist (Plaid Cymru) who sit in the Greens/EFA group.  Both the UK Greens and Plaid Cymru representatives have played a progressive integrationist role in Brussels.  This however, is only reflected in the European Parliament and not in the European Council (which has national governments in…i.e. Labour or Conservatives). 

The EU is facing a defining two years as it entrenches the changes that the Lisbon treaty has put in place.   I welcome the introduction of a progressive British politician into the position of High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy.  I worry however, that the level of debate in the UK around European politics removes any sense of accountability to our flailing politicians.  Cameron should not be able to ruin the UK’s strategic interests in Europe and not be held to account.  Browns work to repair relations with the EU should be applauded (opposed to the usual Brown bashing we experience in our media).  More to the point, I should not have to endure daily jibes because my fellow countrymen are blind to one of the most powerful influences on their lives and cannot hold their politicians to account.

The UK is lost in Europe but it is not dead.  We still (just about) have the economic and political stature to be welcomed back by other Member States.  I do not know whether this will still be the case in 5 years after a Cameron premiership!

21 Comments

Filed under Balkans, EU politics

Welcome to Cathy Ashton

The two top jobs in Europe were decided last night, Cathy Ashton, the former commissioner was appointed as high representative on foreign affairs and security.  If you are wondering who Cathy Ashton is, don’t worry, so is half of Europe.  She was bought into replace Peter “mandy” Mandelson as commissioner for trade! She has never stood for elected office and she has just over a years experience in foreign diplomacy.

It is clear, that this decisions (along with the decision to appoint Herman van Rompuy, PM for Belgium as President of European Council) is the result of the Member States choosing to climb down from the Lisbon Treaty by choosing two individuals who will pose no challenge to Member States autonomy.

Let’s look on the bright side though.  She used to work for CND and she was the former minister for Human Rights in the UK.  Can we expect to see nuclear disarmament and human rights being pushed onto a world stage?

 We will have to wait and see, but I suspect this means we can expect more of the same here in Brussels.

Leave a comment

Filed under EU politics, Human rights