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War, Peace and Development Europe D66 European Parliament

Rules are rules

   Tue 16/04/2002


Rules are rules. Or so they were until Europe tried to get involved in the Middle East. As we watch Israel denying access to ambulances and using civilians as human shields the call for EU action gets louder and louder. The European Parliament has taken its responsibility and called for sanctions against Israel, but the EU ministers lack the political will to act. The solution to the crisis is clear and has been outlined in UN resolutions: two independent viable states, co-existing peacefully. But Europe is at a loss on how to achieve that goal.

It is time for Europe to start following its own rules. In 1998 the EU adopted a Code of Conduct on Arms Export which clearly prohibits export of arms to unstable regions, countries that violate human rights or countries that engage in arbitrary executions. Europe has condemned Israel's extra-judicial killings and human rights violations but still has not imposed an arms embargo. Various Member States have bilateral moratoria, but Europe has not been able to consolidate these bilateral actions into a coherent European policy.

Two years ago the Association Agreement between Israel and the EU entered into force. It contains a human rights clause as a precondition for preferential access for Israeli goods to the EU market. Goods may only come from Israel itself. Goods from the Occupied Territories are expressly excluded. The EU has found that Israel violates both the human rights clause and the rules of origin requirements. Still, there is no agreement on suspending the Agreement. EU Ministers will not even call an Association Council in order to discuss the issues.

If Europe wants to be taken seriously as a political power, it needs to start abiding by its own rules. We cannot keep hiding behind the United States, but need to find our own voice. It is not much use having economic power when you cannot put it to work when your vision of a world order based on international law and human rights is being threatened.

There are currently three Member States blocking a European consensus on action in the Middle East conflict. Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands are preventing a European consensus to take action in the face of escalating violence and human suffering. Their inaction is contributing to increasing insecurity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

There are those who claim that Europe would lose its leverage on Israel if it would impose sanctions. What leverage? Repeated calls for a withdrawal of Israeli troops, an immediate halt to settlement activity and stopping the extra-judicial executions, have been ignored for years. Europe is now violating its own laws in the hope of influencing a partner that has indicated it will go its own way, regardless of what Europe says. Forbidding EU High Representative Xavier Solana to visit Yasser Arafat, and denying EU consuls access to their citizens in Ramallah, are mere illustrations of how Israel takes Europe's voice into consideration.

It is time for Europe to choose its own path and to start applying the agreements it has signed. Rules should be rules, even in the Middle East. Especially in the Middle East.

Lousewies van der Laan Member of the European Parliament for Democrats 66 The Hague, the Netherlands