Row over human rights: GCC puts off EU talks
A high-profile meeting between the foreign ministers of the GCC and the EU has been canceled allegedly due to some differences including a row over human rights. The talks, scheduled for June 23 in Luxembourg, were “postponed at the GCC’s request,” said Michael Mann, an EU spokesman, speaking via phone from Brussels on Wednesday.
Mann said: “The EU is obviously disappointed at the postponement and hopes that the meeting can be rescheduled soon, as EU-GCC relations are of great importance in addressing the situation in the wider region in particular.”
Arab News could not contact Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg, assistant secretary general for negotiations & settlements, for the GCC side of the story.
However, Saleh Al-Khathlan, deputy chief of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) said the meeting’s postponement “shows that human rights issues are gaining importance. “Although the EU and GCC have an enduring strategic relationship that covers political issues, security and economy, the new issues of human rights are going to complicate the relationship,” warned Al-Khathlan.
“It is important to initiate more dialogue to reach a common understanding and accept differences without hurting bilateral relations,” he added.
On the developments following the postponement of the ministerial meeting, EU spokesman Mann said: “A top EU official, Maciej Popowski has had high-level meetings with Saudi authorities including talks with Prince Muqrin, second deputy premier, on a range of issues of mutual interest before leaving Jeddah on Tuesday.”
“We will engage with the GCC to find an alternative date for the GCC-EU ministerial meeting in future, as is normally the case for such annual meetings between the EU and third partners,” he noted. He further said the EU had taken “good note” of the request for postponement of the EU-GCC ministerial meeting.
But, a diplomatic source, who asked not to be identified, said the GCC had cited a joint statement on Bahrain adopted earlier this month in Geneva by the UN Human Rights Council as the reason behind the postponement. The sources said the meeting had been canceled because of a statement read out criticizing Bahrain’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council on June 10.
The statement, that was critical of GCC, was signed by 47 countries including all 28 EU member states. The statement expressed concern at the human rights situation in Bahrain. But, a Bahrain delegation present at the Geneva meeting reportedly hit back at these claims saying that the statement “failed to take into account the tangible improvements officially documented” and was undermining “the unrelenting and sincere efforts undertaken by Bahrain to carry out its human rights obligations”.
The last GCC-EU joint council talks were held in Manama, Bahrain, on June 30, last year. The two blocs have also been at loggerheads over a free trade agreement. The EU and the GCC were negotiating a free trade agreement, but the negotiations were suspended by the GCC in 2008. Informal contacts between negotiators have taken place to test whether a basis can nonetheless be found to conclude negotiations, but there has been no success so far.
The EU established bilateral relations with the GCC countries through a Cooperation Agreement, which was signed by the two blocs in 1988. The accord calls for strengthening stability in a region of strategic importance and facilitate political and economic relations. The agreement provides for annual joint councils/ministerial meetings (between the EU and the GCC foreign ministers), and for joint cooperation committees at senior officials’ level.