Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Guinea-Bissau

Delivered in Plenary - 23rd May 2012

Mr President

Ever since independence from Portugal in the 1970s after a bloody war, the small, impoverished West African country of Guinea-Bissau has remained in a state of almost constant conflict between the civilian and military authorities, with a spate of political assassinations.

My Group, the ECR, condemns the latest actions of the military last month, when a coup derailed the presidential elections and installed a military junta. The regional organisation ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) must be commended for its robust leadership in responding to this crisis. A combination of security-building measures, involving 600 regional peacekeeping troops, and hard-hitting pragmatic negotiations with threats of economic sanctions, has reportedly now broken the deadlock, and hopefully stabilised the country.

I have heard reports recently that the military junta is stepping down and handing power back to a civilian and interim government, with the prospect of free and fair elections taking place in the future. This state of affairs, if it is true, is to be welcomed. The EU should demand that the interim government make significant reform of the political system its top priority.

We must not forget that a stable, law-abiding, democratic Guinea-Bissau is very much in the West’s interests. The country is, sadly, a key intermediary for drug shipments between South America – mainly the Colombian cocaine cartels – and Europe. Therefore, to continue the fight against illegal drugs, which blight the lives of so many of our citizens and fuel organised criminality, the international community must continue to observe closely and apply pressure, particularly economic pressure, on Guinea-Bissau to act responsibly and appropriately and cease to be a failed state or, worse still, a ‘narco state’.

The country must, with the support of the African Union, the United Nations and the EU, move forward with determination to ensure democratic and civil rights for all its citizens. I would like to agree with my colleague Rui Tavares and ask why – as Baroness Ashton cannot, unfortunately, be here – Nick Westcott, the EEAS managing director for Africa and a regional expert, could not have been here in her place to listen to this debate.