MEP Langen: Thai junta must ‘guarantee free and fair elections in 2017’

Dr Werner Langen [European Parliament]

This article is part of our special report EU-Thailand relations after the coup.

The draft of a new constitution and democratic elections in 2017 will be the benchmark for the European Union’s relations with Thailand, said MEP Werner Langen, in an interview with euractiv.com.

Dr Werner Langen is a Member of the European Parliament for Germany’s Christian Democrat Union (CDU). He is the Chair of the Delegation for relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

He spoke to EURACTIV’s Matthew Tempest.

Last year, the Parliament passed a very critical resolution on the Thai junta which seized power in 2014, criticising their human rights record. Do you currently see any grounds for optimism things might get better?

The ASEAN-Delegation of the European Parliament will visit Thailand in May 2016. The resolution from last year will be guidance for our meetings with the Thai authorities. The draft for a new constitution and democratic elections in 2017 will be the benchmark for our relations with Thailand, which has been a pillar of stability in South-East-Asia. Therefore, the EU, as a friend and partner of Thailand, has repeatedly encouraged the Thai government to combat human rights abuse and to achieve a return to a democratic system.

MEPs condemn Thai junta

Thailand’s military junta came under cross-party attack at the European parliament on Thursday (8 October), with MEPs demanding a return to democratic rule, the release of political detainees, and an end to human rights and labour abuses.

The Free Trade Agreement with Thailand was suspended following the coup, with the Commission making it quite clear that the parliament would “never” ratify such a deal whilst the junta was in power. Are there any other measures the EU can take to help a return to democracy?

The European Parliament will decide ― at any one time ― on his own about the Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Thailand. To find a majority in favour of this agreement the Thai Government will have to convince the Members of the European Parliament that human rights and the rule of law are respected in Thailand.

How confident are you that the current constitutional process and election will actually see a return to free and fair elections and democracy? 

I’m looking forward to the meetings with the Thai authorities and leaders of the opposition (especially former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra) in May to discuss the further development of Thailand.

Many experts have criticised the current constitutional draft as being heavily weighted towards the junta, with an all-appointed senate, immunity for the junta, a non-elected PM, etc. Do you trust the constitution-drafting process?

I hope that this time the drafting process will not be stopped. The Thai people should then, in a free and fair referendum, decide if the new constitution is acceptable.

EU team visits Thailand to assess fishing industry cleanup

A European Union delegation that is visiting Thailand to weigh its progress in battling illegal and unregulated fishing will not make a decision this week on whether to ban Thai seafood products, the government in Bangkok said on Tuesday (19 January). 

The Thai fish export industry is a key part of its economy, worth in the region of $3bn annually. It is now threatened with an EU ban due to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. The Thai government seems belatedly to have started taking action on this. Is it enough, or is it just token measures to head off a ban?

The examination of the measures taken by the Thai authorities is still ongoing. Yet, the statements by the government do give hope for an improvement of the situation. The EU recognises the changes which are being made and welcomes Thailand’s aim for cooperation, this is a positive step towards the resolution of the problem.

In two short years under the junta, Thailand has gone from being something of an ASEAN tiger and key player, to an international outcast (witness Obama curt call for a return to democracy at the recent ASEAN summit in California). What does the junta need to do to return Thailand to international respectability?

The Thai government needs to implement the new constitution, guarantee free and fair elections in 2017 and a fair process against the former PM, Yingluck Shinawatra.

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