Delivered in Plenary 14th March 2002
Three years ago Hamma Hammami and three other leaders of the Tunisian Communist Party were convicted in absentia for dissident activity. Last month, after the defendants surrendered to the authorities, those sentences were confirmed in less than a minute without a presentation of evidence by the prosecution or defence or an examination of witnesses. There are also accusations of widespread abuses by the government against other dissident groups.
Democracy and the rule of law are attributes enjoyed until recently by few countries, even in Europe itself. They take time to evolve and can appear fragile in the face of threats.
In states like Tunisia, it may seem an achievement merely to resist the kind of radical socialism or Islamicism that has blighted the lives of so many in the Arab world in recent decades, and we ourselves have to be careful when we urge greater pluralism and respect for democratic norms around the world that we do not undermine governments which, however imperfect, are moving in that direction.
I believe, however, that the EU has an important role to play here in helping to provide an example for countries which want to move away from a spiral of poverty, extremism and repression.
Nor can we entirely isolate ourselves from the problems experienced by neighbouring countries like Tunisia. By encouraging economic and political reform, together with foreign direct investment, as well as respect for good governance, democracy and human rights, we help others, but also, ourselves, by reducing not only resentment against the West, but also the migratory pressures that are generating serious problems in our own societies, and which themselves require urgent solutions.
For that reason it is right for the French government to highlight the importance of giving Aid to the Maghreb countries, many of whose citizens are settled in London which I represent as migrants or refugees. It is also right to begin to open EU markets, including our agricultural markets, to poorer countries who wish to trade with us in ways that benefit them more directly, and prevent future migratory pressures by the long term stabilisation of their own Economies.