Exclusive Interview with Xavier Nuttin – Expert Policy Advisor, European Parliament
EUBULLETIN: You have worked in the European Parliament for many years – if you look at the whole world from the perspective of an MEP, what would be the top-priority countries in terms of human rights?
NUTTIN: Asia has never been on top of the agenda and is not on top of the agenda. In the European Parliament, what is on top of the agenda is the neighborhood, so it’s the Arab Spring countries, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, so the southern neighborhood. We also have the eastern neighborhood and now with Ukraine, and also Moldova – these regions have always been the priority. And it is logical because these are very close neighbors and every country in the world is first looking at the countries surrounding it.
Then we have Russia because it is a big neighbor and we have some disagreements with Russia on many different topics and then we have the United States as a priority because it is our strategic partner and then we have Africa for historical reasons because many of the EU Member States have a colonial past. Then, after that we have Asia and when it comes to Asia, there has always been China first because when it comes to Asia, the most important topic is not human rights, but it is trade. And for the EU, China means trade. Of course, we are having human rights issues with China but if you look at the balance between trade and human rights, it is quite obvious on which side is the balance tipping. And after China, it is India, of course.
EUBULLETIN: But when it comes to the issue of human rights in Asia, most people would probably think of such countries as Myanmar, also known as Burma.
NUTTIN: Now, you are talking about Myanmar that has always been high on the agenda of the human rights issue in Asia which means not top of the whole agenda but only on the Asian agenda. And it still remains as a one of the priorities. Even though there have been lots of changes and improvements, the country still has a long way to go. And the EU is very eager to follow up on all the promises made by the government in Myanmar and is very eager to follow up on what will happen for the next elections in 2015.
This is mainly because we have the issue of the peace agreement with the ethnic groups and we have also the issue of the constitution which should be amended to be more inclusive so that more people can participate in the political processes. But it is true that all those changes has made that Myanmar is not any more the highest topic. Next to Myanmar, we have Pakistan that is a very important topic in the EU in terms of human rights because there is a lot of discrimination towards the ethnic and religious minorities and also towards women. So, Pakistan has been the topic that has drawn lots of attention from the Parliament in terms of human rights.
EUBULLETIN: If we take the Myanmar/Burma case, do you think that the fact that the democratization process is on the way now, is it the result of the EU pressure, namely its sanctions, or have the changes occurred rather due to the internal pressures?
NUTTIN: I think it was mostly an internal process but of course the sanctions have played a role. To what extent, that’s almost impossible to determine. But the sanctions were not the main factor behind the far-reaching socio-political changes in Myanmar. I think the main contributing factor was the internal process because, first, they were quite worried about the importance taken by China in their own country and they wanted to rebalance the influence of India, China, the EU and the US. And they also knew that if they kept the same non-democratic system within ASEAN, the gap between their country and the other ASEAN countries will become ever bigger.
And they have been thinking about this for several years. Because the changes have been so rapid, so fast, that without a proper and thorough preparation, I don’t think they would have been able to implement the changes so fast as they have done over the past few years. I am really convinced that all this was in their minds for several years when we still had the sanctions in place that and they were looking for ways to get out of this situation which was taking them in the wrong direction. So, it is not a question of human rights, it is a question of survival of their own system and the regime with regards to China and the other ASEAN countries and I think the generals realized that there was no future going in that direction. In other words, they have had to implement these changes for their own sake, for their own interest.
EUBULLETIN: We also touched the post-Arab Spring in North Africa. Can you elaborate on that, especially in the case of Egypt and those hundreds of protesters and opposition members sentenced to death last year? What is the EU’s position on that?
NUTTIN: As a principle, the EU is opposed to death penalty in whatever circumstances. So, it is not a question to know if it’s deserved or not deserved, we are against it. We are not taking side because when the EU expresses opposition to the death penalty, we don’t want to interfere into the judicial process. We are not taking sides, saying that the justice is right or the justice is wrong. But we are opposed to principle of death penalty in all circumstances, in all cases.