The highlight of this week in European Foreign policy has probably been on 4 July session at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Indeed the late afternoon and evening was dedicated to foreign policy debates between Members of Parliament and the Cypriot Deputy Minister for European Affairs Mr. Mavroyiannis who was speaking on behalf of High Representative/Vice President Catherine Ashton. Topical foreign policies such as Georgia, Syria, and Egypt were addressed.
Situation in Georgia
The debate started on the situation in Georgia, as many parliamentarians are concerned about the increasingly polarized political climate in Georgia in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in early October. The ruling party and President Saakashvili seem to have been shaken by the entry into politics of a newcomer, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is emerging as a serious opponent.
The Cypriot Deputy Minister for European Affairs Mr. Mavroyiannis explained on behalf of Catherine Ashton that “President Van Rompuy is in Georgia today. His visit is an opportunity to demonstrate the top-level commitment of the EU to the deepening of our relations with Georgia, and to the peaceful development of the South Caucasus region as a whole. I will not anticipate President Van Rompuy’s messages to Georgia here, but I would like to signal - before the debate is opened - a number of critical issues for us at this time."
He said that good progress was being made with Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area negotiations. He also stressed that work will soon begin on a Visa Liberalization Action Plan, preparing for mobility and stronger people-to-people contacts.
In this context, President Barroso, Commissioner Füle as well as Catherine Ashton have emphasized to President Saakashvili in their recent meetings in Brussels the need to ensure fair political competition and the legitimacy of elections. Parliamentary elections in October must meet international democratic standards. Public trust in the election process will be crucial.
Situation in Syria
As the UN- Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan's Action Group meeting took place on Saturday 30 June in Geneva, with the participation of the International community, the European Parliament was eager to debate the latest developments in Syria.
Mr. Mavroyiannis declared on behalf of Catherine Ashton that “the situation in Syria continues to gravely concern the European Union. Violence has increased and numbers of casualties have reached unimaginable levels. Risk of civil war has become more real and there are already signals of increasing sectarian conflict. Human rights abuses continue. Any further militarisation of the conflict would have serious impact not only on the Syrian people but on the region as a whole."
He said that in response, "the EU has stepped up its activities on Syria with the aim of urgently bringing about an end to the violence, and finding a solution to allow for a peaceful Syrian-led political transition to take place.”
Mr. Mavroyiannis on the outcome of the Action Group meeting in Geneva highlighted the following: “The challenge is now to implement the agreed principles and guidelines for transition. Key issues to be addressed include the appointment of an effective and empowered interlocutor by the Syrian government, which is also acceptable to the opposition. Many components of the opposition have been quick to reject this very notion but without a partner to negotiate with, a political solution is difficult to achieve.”
The Deputy Minister on behalf of the High Representative/Vice President also pointed out to the House that “In parallel, the EU continues to call for united action by the UN Security Council to add more robust and effective pressure. The Syrian regime holds great responsibility for the violence perpetrated - massacres continue while international efforts to solve the crisis are ongoing. This is unacceptable, and those responsible for crimes during the current conflict must be held accountable.
Situation in Egypt
This debate on Egypt has been convened by the European Parliament to discuss the recent developments in the country after the completion of the Presidential election and the proclamation of Mohammed Morsy as President-elect with 51,7% of the vote.
Mr. Mavroyiannis on behalf of Catherine Ashton assessed the outcome of the election process and the implications for the EU. He began his statement by recalling that "The Foreign Affairs Council of 25 June has praised the peaceful conduct of the electoral process which is marking an important step in Egypt's democratic transition."
"The EU Electoral Expert Mission and the accredited international civil society organisations have not reported any major and systemic violation which could have change the outcome of the elections. The EU delegation played a very useful role in coordinating the "witnessing" of the elections by the international presence in Cairo.
It is of extreme importance that under President Morsy's leadership all Egyptians will be able to enjoy their full democratic rights and fundamental freedoms and that an independent and active civil society will flourish.”
On behalf of Catherine Ashton he finished his statement by saying “Egypt can count on the EU’s strong support in addressing the complex political and socio-economic challenges which are lying ahead. We are looking forward to engage and to establish a close and fruitful working relationship with the new President and with the future government with the aim to further deepen our bilateral relations. In order to do so, the formal dialogues between EU and Egypt should be resumed as soon as possible.
One of our priorities is the drafting of a new Action Plan reflecting the objectives of the new neighbourhood policy as defined in March and May 2011 communications. In this context, the meeting of the Task Force with Egypt, foreseen this Autumn, will be a unique opportunity to show EU’s commitment to Egypt’s democratic transition. The HRVP will welcome the European Parliament involvement and constructive input in the Task Force.”