Hypocrisy is Europe's weakness

EU Parliament election is around the corner, and voters are unlikely to harbour illusions something will change with such leaders at the helm

Photo: AP Activists holding a banner "Decisions that kill" protest against the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia in front of the Spanish Parliament, 24 October 2018.

The European Union is not inclined to impose an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia but sanctions may be imposed on specific Saudi citizens responsible for human rights violations. This sentiment was expressed by Belgium's Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders last Wednesday, as cited by local media. At present, Paris, Madrid and London are not willing to move towards an embargo, Reynders said after a meeting with his British counterpart Jeremy Hunt.

“Inclined” is such a convenient choice of word. It could easily hide lobbying interests, weakness, pressure, even indifference or lack of political will, and many other characteristics of Europe's foreign policy. Just few days ago, the European Parliament called for an EU-wide arms embargo on Riyadh to be imposed because of the 2 October murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country's consulate in Istanbul. But this shocking in its cruelty and stupidity case is only a small detail of the big picture when it comes to Riyadh.

In Yemen, between 12 and 14 million people exist on the brink of death, while famine, cholera and dysentery caused by blockades and bombings are taking casualties every day. The poorest Arab country, but one with key location as 'gatekeeper' to the Persian Gulf, is embroiled in a conflict with Saudi Arabia, a high-tech sponsor of Islamist organisations, and its coalition of Kuwait, Bahrein, Egypt, Morocco and the UAE, employing the logistics and arms support of the US, the UK, France and Germany. Alas, none of the facts about the genocide being perpetrated against Yemen's population, which have been illuminated by the UN and NGOs, seem to have had a sobering effect on the European politicians.

And why would they? After all, business is booming. Let the Saudi pilots train in real conditions how to fly high-tech bombers employing US satellite navigation systems.

On 26 October German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that her country will put on hold arms sales to Riyadh until Khashoggi's murderers are found. Just for context, in the first nine months of this year, Berlin sold €400 million worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, while in 2017 the deals amounted to a total of €351 million - aircraft, including helicopters, with an unknown number of them intended for military purposes, according to EU data. The Federal Parliament of Belgium also urged for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, but it later turned out that the decision lies in the hands of regional authorities. The trouble is that Riyadh is the largest client of the defence industry in the Belgian region of Wallonia. London's new iron lady Theresa May announced with typical British impassivity that arms sales to Riyadh meet national and EU licencing rules. UK's military exports to Saudi Arabia amounted to £1.1 billion in 2017, according to UK parliamentary papers, while Belgium and Luxembourg combined for sales of €184 million. Spain had misgivings for a moment, but ultimately went ahead and delivered 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, agreed with a 2015 contract. As the Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell said, the government found “no irregularities (in the contract) to justify reneging on it”. The deal's value was a modest €9.2 million.

Austria, currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU, also mumbled something to that effect. Its 2017 sales were worth the negligible amount of €1.4 million. Only French President Emmanuel Macron rejected as “demagogy” the calls for freezing arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Last year, Paris sold to the country planes, helicopters and other types of aviation equipment for €1.8 billion.

According to 2013-2017 figures of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the independent resource on global security, UK makes 48.8% of the bloc's total arms exports to Saudi Arabia, Belgium 32%, Sweden 12.8%, Slovakia 11.8%, Spain 8.3%, Austria 7.7%, Italy 6.3%, Finland 5.8%, France 5.5%, Bulgaria 5.4%, Germany 3.1%, and the Netherlands 2.4%.

Considering all of these figures, how and what kind of sanctions will the EU impose on those “specific Saudi citizens responsible for human rights violations”, as Belgian Foreign Minister Reynders delicately stated? How could it be possible to sanction a ruling dynasty and its heir? Hardly anyone doubts anymore who ordered the murder of Khashoggi, who once served as an advisor to the Saudi prince and was probably punished for his “dissidence” and support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps the cynicism demonstrated by US President Donald Trump, who immediately said he did not want to lose Saudi Arabia's $110 billion defence order, is the preferred option.

As European citizens, we are observing the hypocrisy exhibited by European governments and by Brussels with alarm. But we have long stopped asking ourselves how far it can go, because we know it is boundless and that politicians are not particularly capable of feeling shame. Now our attention is focused on a new case - what will, from now on, the ЕС do on the matter of US sanctions against Iran, which went into effect last Monday. The sanctions cover Iran's shipping, financial and energy sectors and are the second batch the administration has reimposed since Trump withdrew from the landmark accord in May. Despite a litany of declarations over many months that it stands behind the nuclear agreement with Teheran, the EU failed to come up with a working legal shield for its companies in order to challenge the global reach of the US financial system. And so, the European companies gradually left Iran. The French oil company Total SA announced in the middle of the summer that it would pull out of the billion-dollar deal it made with both Iran and the Chinese company CNCP. The partnership was to develop the South Pars 11 natural gas field in Iran. Total had a 30% stake in the gas field, which Iran now intends to give to CNPC. The shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk announced it would no longer ship Iranian oil due to the US sanctions. The car manufacturer Peugeot, owned by PSA Group, also signalled it plans to pull out of Iran. PSA sold 445,000 cars in Iran last year and does not currently market in the US. Siemens Corporation, which manufactures a variety of healthcare, industry, energy and automobile products, announced it would no longer take new orders from Iran. It will wind down its business interests there.

The foreign and finance ministers of Britain, France, Germany, and the top EU diplomat, blasted the restoration of sanctions, saying that Iran is complying with the deal and that they were working on ways to mitigate the impact of the US move. And to what effect? This is yet another illustration of Europe's weakness and inconsistency.

Pragmatism is a good thing when it is motivated by a sensible cause, but sooner or later there is a price to be paid for covering up injustices. The European Parliament election is just around the corner, and European voters are unlikely to harbour any illusions that something will change with such leaders at the helm.

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