BY PETER TABERNER
Franco Frattini, the chair of the EPP ad hoc group on foreign policy, has revealed that the Arab Spring countries, international and transatlantic relations, and religious and human rights will be the overseas priorities at the EPP congress that will take place in Bucharest on 17-18 October.
The situation in Syria is particularly serious after the recent tensions with Turkey, the fear of the civil war escalating has now prompted the United States to deploy troops on the Jordanian border as a protective measure.
Frattini explained: “We will be discussing the position of Syria at the EPP congress, I would want Europe to take a much stronger stand than is currently being taken. Looking at the situation with Turkey we will give them confidence and solidarity when it comes to dealing with refugees, where there are currently a 100,000 of them in Turkey.”
“We are looking for a capital impact in Syria in terms of promoting human rights and religious rights that will protect the practising Christian minority, something that we hope will grow across the Middle East. We are looking for a resolution of the situation and there will be considerations on this from the party leader President Martens.”
Libya, having overthrown its tyrannical dictator Muammar Gadaffi have made their experiments into democracy, where last July’s elections produced a surprising victory for the liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA).
However in September the NFA’s saw its prime ministerial candidate, Mahmoud Jibril, beaten by two votes in favour of Mustafa Abushagur, many believed he would be the compromising candidate, but his leadership eventually disintegrated after his choices in the cabinet list.
Now Libya is left without a strong government at a vulnerable time following the assassination of US ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, leaving a power vacuum.
“I know the situation quite well in this country that has overthrown a dictator like Gadaffi. We need to help Libya, we need elections to achieve a definitive result in the country to fill in the current power gap, and to avoid what happened last time when the prime minister tried to reform government without the sufficient deference and the end result was negative.” Frattini commented.
“The EPP aims to put forward proposals that we think will help to overcome their transitional phase, its imperative that the US is involved in stronger cooperation with Libya, even if they are not the main protagonists, the fact that the US participates in the country’s reform is extremely important after what has happened” Egypt is also amid its own transitional period after overthrowing a dictator, after ending the 30 year reign of Hansi Mubarak, and they recently celebrated the first 100 days of President Mursi’s reign. Celebrate would be an apt word, as a recent poll taken by the Egypt Centre for Public Research revealed that 79% of the respondents were happy with their leader.
Mursi has weakened the influence of the military, retiring several generals from positions of influence.
Although there continues to be economic problems with shortages in basics such as fuel and bread, and there have been an increased level of strikes from different sections of the Egyptian economy.
Frattini expressed his belief in President Mursi following his visit to Rome, where he met the Italian President Napolitano and Prime Minister Mario Monti, and he highlights Italy’s economic partnership with Egypt, plus the fact that there are 700,000 Italian tourists who visit the world class sights on offer in this part of north Africa.
He said: “I think that the most important thing is to get the concrete improvements in the economy, previously I have proposed a ‘Marshall Plan’ style initiative to help the economy recover.” Frattini stated. “Due to the economic difficulties in Europe its been difficult to have a direct influence, although thanks to the contributions of international institutions like the World Banks and regional African banks, there are economic plans in place.” Like in other Arab Spring countries, social rights are also a concern for Frattini. “We have seen that Egypt is a country that is not always a country that accepts foreign impositions, but like in other Middle East and African countries we want to see that the rights of Christians are being honoured.”
As pointed out the involvement of the US is paramount for security in this still vulnerable region, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has recently voiced his disdain for what he perceives as the Obama administration’s weakness in taking advantage of “An historic opportunity to win new friends who share our values in the Middle East, there is a longing for American leadership.” Both candidates will debate foreign policy in their final showdown on the 22 October.
In the most up to date poll of polls from Real Clear Politics, Romney now leads the incumbent by 1.5%, although that does not concern Frattini too much.
“Of course the EPP is willing to work with either candidate and so far we have worked well with President Obama and Hilary Clinton over the last four years, and we are sensitive to the fact that there are presidential elections taking place.” He enthused.
“We wish that there is a strengthening of American co-operation with Europe over issues such as the Middle East. At the same time I want Europe to step up and have a more active stance, to take the initiative over important areas such as security, and not just rely on and leave it to our ‘big brother’. to do the job for us.”
The congress the EPP hope will feature contributions from its head and non-heads of state and government, all 13 EPP members of the European Commission and all of their 264 MEP’s, but what is the message that they hope to spread at the gathering to the rest of theEuropean Union?
Frattini wants the EU to be a stronger political union, and not just one that facilitates an economic system: “What I hope will happen is that the EPP will adopt a position on political union as an economic one just is not strong enough, and talk about having a United States of Europe. I would like to see the party fully committed to that, this is all part of seeing the Europe of the future being protagonists on the international scene.”
It’s a vision that is being greeted with increasing scepticism across Europe, with antiEuropean sentiments increasing in Germany, and even murmurs of support from the UK’s main political parties for a referendum on its European participation.
Frattini is wary of the anti- European feeling, but still has infectious enthusiasm for political union: “I am afraid about the ultiplication of European sceptic tendencies that has even hit Italy. In the EPP we will have these debates over more European integration.”
“It is more of a global world and Europe and its citizens would benefit if there were less divisions between the member states, I hope that countries will understand that integration is the right way forward.” An optimistic foresight indeed.