Interview: EU leaders ‘too weak’ on human rights

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The EU and its new, six-month French Presidency must push harder on issues such as good governance and human rights in the international arena, including with Russia and at the Olympic Games in Beijing, Socialist MEP Ana Maria Gomes (Portugal) told EURACTIV in an interview.

While Gomes conceded that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s EU programme is an “ambitious” one, she lamented its loopholes in the field of development cooperation, describing the current presidency as “defensive and low profile” on this particular topic. “It is shocking that the words ‘good governance’ and ‘human rights’ never show up in the working paper that has been prepared by the French Presidency,” she said. 

European leaders in general, she said, are “weak”. Citing Russia as an example, she stressed that “we should not shy away from confronting [that country] about its obligations,” adding that despite Russia’s position as Europe’s main energy supplier, “we cannot accept blackmailing”. 

“We need strong leaders who are strong in our values and strong in the strategy and tactics to achieve it,” but “we don’t have such strong leaders at the present,” she said, pointing the finger notably at her compatriot, Commission President José Manuel Barroso. While stressing his competence, she lamented: “I don’t think he has shown the ambition for Europe that I would have liked to have seen from a President of the European Commission.” She notes that this could partly be due to the fact that, having obtained the position just after his party had conceded a severe defeat in national elections, Barroso “was obviously put in a position to please everybody and not to push for a Europe with ambition”. 

She highlighted the role Parliament should also play in relations with third countries and said she was hopeful that the French Presidency would have the leadership to deliver concrete results at the global level. 

When it comes to the controversy raised by Sarkozy’s decision to attend the Beijng Olympic Games this summer, Ms Gomes defended the decision, saying the Games should not be boycotted as they have always represented an opportunity to highlight human rights. “I am not criticising Mr Sarkozy for deciding to go there […] But since he is going, he now has additional obligations. He has the obligation to raise the issue of human rights, very clearly and very loudly,” she said. 

This, she added, is not only about improving the human rights situation in China and Tibet, but also about the role that China now plays in many nations and regions, including Zimbabwe, Burma and Darfur. 

To read the interview in full, please click here.

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