EU-Vietnam Cooperation Agreement
Delivered in Plenary - 21st October 2008
I have to say – and rather sadly – that I remain sceptical as to whether the human rights clause within the EU-Vietnam cooperation agreement is really worth the paper it is written on.
The noble intentions contained within it are a reflection, understandably, of our common European values, but I believe it is little more than window-dressing and an understandable concession to the powerful human rights lobby within the Union. After all, China is now the EU’s second-largest trading partner, yet the Communist dictatorship in Beijing pays no attention to our concern about human rights. Indeed, I sometimes wonder whether it is even worth raising the issue any more.
The political repression and human rights violations in China tend to distract us from what is going on in neighbouring Vietnam, where things are every bit as brutal. Pro-democracy dissidents and religious minorities are imprisoned, journalists are intimidated into silence, and the liberties we take for granted here in Europe, such as an uncensored internet, simply do not exist.
That is why I proposed last year, with Mr Cappato and others, that Thich Quang Do should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. This brave Buddhist monk has suffered years of harassment and jail in his quest for religious freedom and human rights.
Vietnam encapsulates the dilemma facing the European Union. How much should human rights matter in our commercial relationships with third countries when they are formally written into trade agreements and partnership agreements? And can stronger economic ties alone be a positive force for political and human rights and democracy reforms?
These are tough questions which the new Commissioner from Britain for trade, Baroness Ashton, will have to grapple with. I believe our common values to be non-negotiable. Therefore, I urge the Commission and Council either to be honest and scrap this pretence by abolishing these human rights and democracy clauses, or genuinely and sincerely to hold third countries to account for their wanton abuse of values that we all hold sacrosanct. I pay a very special tribute to Mr Cappato and all the fine work he has done in this respect.