Iraq, Middle East and Zimbabwe: briefing by EU Parliament Delegation

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International Relations

26 February 2003
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


26 February 2003

Chairperson: Dr Z P Jordan

A delegation from the European Union Parliament, led by Mr. Collins from Ireland, briefed the committee on various issues. The EU's position on Iraq, the Middle East and Zimbabwe was explained. The delegation explained that they supported the United Nations in its efforts to secure peace in Iraq. They hoped that democracy would be restored in Zimbabwe and asked South Africa to put pressure on President Robert Mugabe to do this. Sharp differences emerged on this subject during the discussion.

The Chairperson welcomed the delegation and noted that there was a special relationship between the EU parliament and the South African parliament. He explained that South Africa was one of the first parliaments with which the EU had made agreements.

Mr. Collins, chairperson of the delegation, commented that the EU parliament had a very active Foreign Affairs Committee which also invited other Foreign Ministers to address them. The EU Parliament had been given powers of co-decision and that it can also be very critical of member state governments. The largest political grouping was the Christian Democrats followed by the Socialist Party.

There were certain issues at present which were of great concern to the parliament such as the Middle East. They were very eager to see peace in that region. The EU was the largest donor to that region yet it seemed that on the political front they were being sidelined by other nations.

On Iraq, Mr. Collins said that the EU had taken resolutions that they could not support Saddam Hussein and would support the United Nations (UN) in its action against him.

Developments in Korea were also of concern to the EU and had been discussed in the parliament.

On Zimbabwe, Mr Collins said that the EU had taken a resolution for which there was unanimous support. He pointed out that the EU's view is different to South Africa's. Half of the Zimbabwean population was on the brink of starvation and that the government was controlling the food distribution. The economic situation was declining rapidly and that only 50% of the land that had been farmed previously was now being farmed. The country was no longer democratic and that violence, intimidation and torture continued. The EU was committed to working together with African nations to find a solution to the problem. The EU wanted sanctions to continue against the government and they called on President Mbeki to put pressure on President Mugabe. He concluded by saying that the EU wanted democracy to be defended.

The Chairperson pointed out that some of the same issues were of concern to the committee and had been discussed - except Korea. He explained that South Africa also wanted democracy in Zimbabwe but probably differed from the EU in the manner in which this was to be done.

Ms. M Magazi (ANC) noted the concern that the EU had for Zimbabwe. She explained that the committee had had Zimbabweans address them and that they feel only the Zimbabwean people can solve the problem themselves through the ballot box. She stressed that outsiders could not tell the Zimbabwean people what to do. She said that the people did not have a problem with President Mugabe but with the way things were done.

Mr. B Geldenhuys (NNP) said that he agreed with the EU, in broad terms, where Zimbabwe was concerned. He had a problem with the fact that there was a ban on President Mugabe yet some concessions had been made for him to travel to Paris. He wanted to know whether the EU parliament also had a common view on Iraq since some states favoured the United States action.

Mr. P Mulder (Freedom Front) referred to the double standards which was seen by certain countries. On Zimbabwe, he said that he agreed with the EU and pointed out that human rights was the main issue and that it had nothing to do with race.

Mr. Andreasen (EU) said that human rights was the issue at stake in Zimbabwe and that the EU could therefore not stand by and watch the suffering. On Iraq, the EU had a common position and had taken a resolution regarding this. He said that there was no proof of a military attack from Iraq and that they would wait for the results from the UN.

Mr. Moraes (EU - UK) explained that in the UK those on the left were against the war. The UK would probably be involved in a strike against Iraq. Personally, as a member of the Labour Party, he was against a war.

Mr. Bradbury (EU - UK) said that the Conservative Party, of which he was a member, supported the Labour Party on Iraq. He added that the Conservative Party felt that there was still potential for a second UN resolution.

Ms. Doyle (EU - Ireland) wanted to know from the committee how they felt democracy could be restored in Zimbabwe.

Mr. M Ramgobin (ANC) explained that everybody was against terrorism but that this must not be confused with the Iraq issue. In his opinion, there was no democracy in the US or in the UK as the opinion of the majority of the people was not taken into account and therefore these nations were not able to criticise Zimbabwe. He referred to the fact that the EU had taken a unanimous resolution on Zimbabwe, but reminded the delegation that the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) had also taken a unanimous stand in Zimbabwe and wanted to know why there was a difference. He wondered if had to do with race or resources. He felt that the delegation needed to think about it.

Mr. C Eglin (DA) asked what the EU Parliament's position was regarding agricultural subsidies given to EU farmers and the impact this had on Africa. He also asked what the EU parliament's position was on debt relief for African countries. He pointed out that some EU countries were getting more from arm sales to African countries than what they were giving in donations.

Mr. S Pheko (PAC) asked what the EU's response would be if the US and UK were to go ahead and attack Iraq. He pointed out that the US, UK, France and other countries also have nuclear and chemical weapons yet Iraq was the only one singled out. On Zimbabwe, he said that it was not fair that a few whites had the majority of the land. He also asked why the EU did not insist on change in Burundi.

Mr. Gailer (EU - Germany) said that he had been an observer in the Zimbabwean parliamentary elections. He pointed out that the EU had taken the initiative and had made money available for land reform. President Mugabe had not made use of these funds and it was only when power was slipping away that he had used the land issue as a political tool. He stressed that the needs of the people were important. He pointed out that France has a different view and has much control in Africa. He warned members to be very careful about agreements that had been reached in Paris as these favoured France more than Africa. Agricultural subsidies was a big debate and these subsidies could not be sustained. On debt relief, he said that countries such as Germany had canceled some debts. He agreed that some countries were benefiting from weapon sales but pointed out that Germany only sold arms to NATO countries, Japan and New Zealand.

Mr. Collins (EU - Ireland) added that there was much debate around the issue of subsidy reform in the EU. He noted that there was democracy in the UK and that the EU would accept any democratically elected leader. He did not support Robert Mugabe's visit to Paris. He added that he did not support arms sales. He did not think this should be linked to donor support as Mr Eglin had done. He noted that there was much criticism of the US and UK leaders, but none about Saddam Hussein.

Ms. F Hajaij (ANC) remarked that everyone was concerned about world peace, she however found it difficult to understand some of the points raised by the delegation. She said that even though the EU was united, she found it strange that it still needed the US to lead NATO. She also felt that the EU should make concrete moves and give a timeframe to phase out the agricultural subsidies to farmers. Lastly, the EU should not just talk about assisting Africa, but that it should start to act.

Mr Z Madasa (ACDP) noted Robert Mugabe's remark that the former British Prime Minister, John Major was in favour of land reform, but that Tony Blair was not. He said that human rights was important but that it seems that the political stance of some leaders comes in the way.

Ms. F Mahomed (ANC) wanted to know what the EU's position was on the reformation of multilateralism, in the light of the fact that the US wanted to act unilaterally against Iraq. She also felt that the EU and its member states needed to reflect on how they had become developed and then need to act on poverty alleviation. She also felt that that there seems to be discrimination since the issue of the Palestinians was not receiving attention. Israel had flouted UN resolutions on countless occasions yet no action had been taken against them.

Mr. J Sithole (ANC) noted that the EU demanded democracy yet it denied African countries access to markets. He felt that the EU's stance on Zimbabwe was absurd since it seemed to favour the MDC. The EU demanded democracy yet it does not seem to address the rise of the right wing in Europe and increasing xenophobia in their countries. He also commented on remarks made by the British High Commissioner to this committee. She had said that the UK would not go to war unless the UN sanctions it, yet it did not seem as if this was happening.

In closing, the Chair remarked that the exchange had been useful and noted that there were areas of difference and convergence. They all agreed that if a country elects a leader, that result ought to be accepted. He questioned the election of President George Bush, since that election had been clouded in controversy. People forgot this and that many voters in Florida, particularly African-Americans, had been disenfranchised. On Zimbabwe, he felt that the issue was the compensation which white farmers wanted for the land. He did not feel they should be compensated. Just as land in East Germany had been given back to families of the previous owners without any compensation, so the same should happen in Zimbabwe. On Iraq he said that no one supports Saddam Hussein, yet no country has the right to change the leaders of other countries and definitely not by force. When talking about the restoration of democracy in Zimbabwe, people should not talk in hyperbolic terms. The EU was silent on other states where there was no democracy such as Saudi Arabia where opposition was not tolerated. Since Zimbabwe was South Africa's neighbour, it had to careful what it said as South Africa would be affected directly.

Mr. Collins thanked the Chair for his remarks and said that he understood the land
question as his country, Ireland, had also faced the issue years ago. He agreed that there
were double standards in the UN and felt that sanctions was a crude instrument.

The EU ambassador, Mr. Lake, said that the would like to inform the committee regularly about developments through the internet and said that presently, the EU is the largest donor in the country. He said that in 2002, 117 million euros had been given in aid. The EU wanted to see small farmers settled on the land in Zimbabwe and that they were willing to help them.

The Chair the adjourned the meeting.


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