Fellow bloggers Kosmopolit and John Worth have already weighed in on the (lack of) reaction by the European Union on the events unfolding in Egypt. Their analysis of the relative inactivity of the EU’s institutions is worth reading.
What I would like to point out is that the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, was much more specific in addressing the situation in Egypt. He made a statement on Friday, 28 January, saying:
“The entire world is watching what is happening in Egypt tonight and will hold the authorities accountable for any inappropriate use of force or any innocent death. (…) I call on Egypt, as a partner country of the EU, to fully respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of their citizens.”
Now, this isn’t the first time Mr. Buzek has responded quickly with an unequivocal statement. He also addressed the violence against protesters in Belarus, specifically calling on Lukashenko to stop the violence. The High Representative remained silent on Belarus for a few days, too.
It should be clear that the High Representative cannot act before aligning positions of all Member States. It takes only one Member State – for example, Italy, to block a common position (art. 31 TEU). That is why Ashton is significantly restrained in her field of action.
It appears that Mr. Buzek’s statements are, in such situations, the only legitimate and decisive voice coming from the institutions of the European Union.
Brussels, we’ve got a white elephant in the room. It’s Belarus, of course. The place where they beat up presidential candidates (watch the video of the beating of presidential candidate Neklyaev). The place where one man is clinging to power for 16 long years.
There were presidential elections yesterday in Belarus. They ended in protest and police violence, just as you might expect from a country which is at the bottom of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2010. All the mise en scène was there – flags, songs, and police beating up and arresting protestors. This is a place where they kill journalists, after all.
I witnessed both the protest and ensuing police violence in Minsk, the capital of Belarus and the reaction of relevant EU officials yesterday. Three politicians spoke out in this order: Carl Bildt, Wilfred Martens and Jerzy Buzek (Mr. Buzek’s statement specifically called on Lukashenko to stop the violence). Not a single word was heard from the High Representative Catherine Ashton or any representative of the Commission.
Now there is a slight annoyance. It turns out that Belarus lies on the EU doorstep. Technically speaking, EU is committed to the values of democracy and rule of law. Democracy and rule of law are obviously not abundant in Belarus. So what do we do about it?
Well, not much, to be honest. There is something called high-level EU–Belarus political dialogue. There is some action by OSCE observers who say that probably the election process got somewhat better in the 2010 elections. Sort of.
This is worrying. Belarus is a European country and a potential EU Member State (no matter how far-fetched that sounds). The European Union has already experienced relative loss of leadership on the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The case of Belarus is disturbing and quite obviously Lukashenko has no intention to lose grip on power. All geopolitical considerations notwithstanding, EU can only profit from a free and democratic Belarus, and vice versa. That is why the EU must really step up its pressure on the political regime, or at least condemn it properly.
UPDATE: There’s a statement now by the spokesperson of the High Representative Catherine Ashton.
Posted in Foreign and Security Policy, Human Rights, Institutional Affairs
Tagged #electby, Belarus, Carl Bildt, elections, European Union, Jerzy Buzek, Lukashenko, OSCE, police, President, protest, violence, Wilfred Martens
Many fellow bloggers have done a great job covering the State of the European Union address by Jose Manuel Barroso and the parliamentary debate that followed both in their blogs (see Grahnlaw and Jon Worth) and on Twitter. I will not discuss the issues in the debate or the qualities of the speakers in it.
However, I am very much interested in the (hidden) institutional framework of this debate. It is not uncommon for the Commission president to outline his legislative program before the European Parliament, as Andrew J. Burgess has pointed out. However, the new format appears similar to the US State of the Union address delivered by the President. Does this mean that Barroso sees himself as the head of state of the EU? Hardly the case, but there is some symbolic value in this endeavour.
More importantly, the President of the European Parliament made this observation via Twitter:
“This is the first time we have a debate on the State of the Union. It is a step on the road to a parliamentary Europe.”
If this is not an empty statement, it should be revealing the conviction of the Parliament that we’re moving on that road to “parliamentary Europe”. The Parliament has been claiming this for many years, but the difference today is that it has more instruments to actually influence both the work of the Commission and the policy choices of the EU. So it may turn out that Mr. Buzek’s comment reveals not only an objective for the future, but also some satisfaction with the results already achieved.
The President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, has started a Twitter account. Why? According to Mr. Buzek:
“The European Parliament is increasing influential and must be increasingly present.”
Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, has called for a vote on the candidacy of Jose Manuel Barroso for President of the European Commission in September. Mr. Buzek says the best date is 16 September.
The leader of the Liberals in EP, Mr. Guy Verhofstadt, outlines three scenarios for the vote – approval, outright rejection, or delay of approval. Mr. Verhofstadt acknowledges that a rejection of Mr. Barroso’s candidacy can affect the results of the Irish referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon.
Posted in EU Reform, Institutional Affairs
Tagged candidate, European Commission, European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, Ireland, Jerzy Buzek, Jose Manuel Barroso, President, second referendum, Treaty of Lisbon
Jerzy Buzek was elected European Parliament president. He will be the first politician from a former Communist country to lead an EU institution.
Mr. Buzek was part of the Solidarność movement in Poland.