One of the highlights of this week in the European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg was its key debate on foreign polices. Parliamentarians exchanged views with Catherine ASHTON on the future of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the situation in Syria and on the political use of justice in Russia.
Annual report on the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)
The foreign affairs session started with a debate on the main aspects and choices of the CFSP and Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The European Parliament wished to mark a new departure with this report, in contributing to the forward looking approach to the EU's Foreign Policy. In that respect Catherine Ashton welcomed the important role of Members of the European Parliament in ensuring that the EU has an effective and democratic EU foreign and security policy.
On the creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the High Representative/Vice President of the Commission strongly advocated that "We are building the best possible diplomatic service to meet Europe’s needs and the needs of the European citizens. (…)The EEAS is becoming a centre of excellence: a source of ideas, policy and analysis. The network of EU Delegations is the greatest asset we have.(…). What makes us different from member states is that we work in a different way. In a way that is unique to the EU."
The situations in which the EU is operating are multi-faceted, complex and particular. There is no simple solution – political, military or economic. According to Catherine Ashton the great strength of the EU, is the range of diplomatic tools at its disposal. She said that by mobilising them all in the appropriate way, the EU can be more effective at preventing crises, and swifter in resolving them.
To develop that comprehensive approach we need three things:
The Situation in Syria
Following the informal Meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers (Gymnich meeting) on 8- 9 September, the European Parliament was eager to debate the latest developments in Syria with HR/VP Catherine Ashton.
She opened her statement by saying that the humanitarian track is an absolute priority for the EU. In fact, Commissioner Georgieva has announced on 7 September an additional €50 million of humanitarian funding and that has put the Commission's total contribution at €168 million, with a total EU contribution of about €240 million.
The High Representative/Vice President of the Commission delivered her strong message to Members of Parliament and declared "It is clear of course that we are absolutely united in that Assad has to go and that we need to see this political transition move forward (…) We have to carry on urging a political solution and we have to find a way to make contact with those who are striving for a peaceful transition process. That means continuing our efforts towards outreach on the ground, through the people we have on the ground and all the contacts we have."
Catherine Ashton also focused on the importance of accountability for the crimes committed in Syria. She said "these atrocities cannot go unpunished and we have been prominent in calling for a strong response to the-systematic and widespread violations of human rights, to combat impunity and hold accountable those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria."
Political use of Justice in Russia
The debate on Russia has been convened by the European Parliament to discuss the recent developments on human rights and in particular on the worsening of the freedom of expression.
Indeed the recent package of legislation limiting the freedom of assembly, restricting NGOs, curtailing the freedom of the internet, the Pussy Riot case, an upsurge in prosecution of opposition activists including Alexey Navalny and the sentencing of Mrs Osipova, the dismissal of an opposition-minded Duma deputy and a continuous lack of progress on the Magnitsky case constitute a trend that is of very serious concern to the European Union. For Mrs Ashton "this trend raises serious questions as to the state of the rule of law in the country, in particular the use of legal and law enforcement structures and other instruments for political purposes rather than for protecting and safeguarding the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Russia."
In conclusion, Catherine Ashton stressed once again the importance of having an economically successful, modern, and democratic Russia at the border of the EU. She declared "Russia is sometimes a challenging neighbour, but it remains an important partner of the EU on many issues and in many fields."