European Parliament

12 February 2003

In a debate on the situation in Iraq held in the European Parliament on 12 February 2003, Baroness Emma Nicholson (ELDR, South East) Vice Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy, was convinced of links between al-Qaeda and forces in northern Iraq. She singled out the MKO Muslim dissident organisation with bases in Iraq as a source for concern with its criminal elements. It was in effect a private international terrorist organisation and a threat to world security, she said.

Council and Commission statements on the situation in Iraq
Debate : 12.02.2003

Speaking on behalf of Council Tassos GIANNITSIS came before the House to express concerns about the increasing prospect of a conflict in Iraq. He did, however, emphasise his commitment to exploring all avenues for peace. The EU policy, he said, was based on emphasising the need for Iraq to comply with UN resolution 1441 and, in particular, to cooperate with weapons inspectors. It should, he said, show due respect for international law and human rights. He undertook to do his utmost to persuade Iraq to do this, adding that perhaps now was the last opportunity for a peaceful solution. He recognised calls for a Common Foreign and Security Policy and admitted that recent events had shown this was not in place at present. Nevertheless, he was aiming to find a common viewpoint at the special meeting of EU leaders convened for 14 February. As he put it, European Member States shared common political values and as it was in the EU's interest to secure a peaceful solution.

For the European Commission, Poul NIELSON again stressed that everything had to be done to avoid war, and military action is an absolute last resort. He stressed the importance of the second report from Hans Blix to be presented to the UN Security Council. The European Commission, he said, supported a multilateral approach and supported the UN's efforts for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

He regretted that the EU was now "weaker than ever" as Member States divergent opinions meant that a reaching a common position would be an extremely difficult challenge. He called this " a moment of truth" for the EU; however, he welcomed the Greek Presidency's initiative of calling an extraordinary European Council, and hoped that the EU would be able to speak with one voice on the Iraqi question. Personally, he said that the division showed a more fundamental difficulty with the Common Foreign and Security Policy then had previously been recognised, he said tinkering around with the EU's institutions was not the answer. Nevertheless, he did call for qualified majority voting in the Council on CFSP questions.

Regarding the potential humanitarian crisis resulting from eventual military action, Commissioner Nielson recalled that after two wars and years of international sanctions, the situation in Iraq was already extremely precarious. He pointed out however, that the EU through ECHO, was the largest international donor to Iraq.

Military action, he said, would undoubtedly lead to a worsening in the humanitarian situation, which would possibly spread across the entire Middle East region. A war would lead, he contented, to tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees being spread throughout the region and a deterioration in the Israeli - Palestinian conflict. The EU, he remarked had been working with all relevant international organisations on likely humanitarian scenarios, post military action.

For the EPP-ED group, Hans-Gert POETTERING (D) stated that although the CFSP had proven to be unhelpful in this situation, it did not signify the death of the CFSP, rather it signified that the EU would have to rethink its internal polices. He criticised the "isolationist" position of the German Chancellor, and said he had taken up this position for electoral reasons. The Chancellor, he said, should have spoken to his EU partners first before taking such a position and broadcasting it to the media. The worst scenario, he said, would be a divided international community, with Paris, Berlin and Moscow on one side and London, Madrid, Rome and Washington DC on the other.

For the PES group, Enrique BARÓN CRESPO (E) stated that in Europe "there is more that unites us than divides us." Tensions would need to be overcome in Europe, and he also stressed that the views of the candidate countries should be taken on board. He called on President Pat Cox, when he addresses the extraordinary European Council next Monday to recall the resolution that was passed by the European Parliament, which states that all the resolutions of the UN should be fully implemented, that any unilateral approach should be condemned and that Saddam Hussein should be tried before the International Criminal Court. He also pointed out to Mr. Pottering that the first time that German troops since the second world war had contributed to international action was in Kosovo under a Socialist/Green coalition.

For the Liberals, Graham WATSON (South West) felt that disunity amongst European leaders could not sink much further after the "ill judged" letter of the eight leaders followed by the Franco-German move. Existing institutions such as NATO had served Western nations well and were too valuable to come under threat, he said, expressing the view that for the US to show patience would be no bad thing, especially in view of the support of public opinion in the United States for a UN approach. He then welcomed the forthcoming European summit and, indeed, expressed support for NATO standing by Turkey. In conclusion he made a special plea for UN inspectors to be given time and space. All eyes, he said, would be on the UN Security Council meeting.

For the GUE/NGL, Francis WURTZ (F) pointed to the massive public opposition to war and the demonstrations across European scheduled for the weekend. As part of a delegation of MEPs to Iraq, he said he had seen at first hand a country whose people were experiencing poverty and malnutrition, with the prospect of food and water shortages in any outbreak of violence. It was clear that the "oil for food" programmer is not working and he warned of a massive humanitarian disaster should war break out. Lending his support to the Franco German initiative, he made a special plea for a strengthening of the inspection procedure.

For the Greens, Pierre JONCKHEER (B) too noted the large-scale opposition to war by the general public. He supported an alternative approach using UN inspectors and looked to the forthcoming European summit as a means to increase support for the position adopted by Belgium, France and Germany.

For the UEN, Gerard COLLINS (Munster) too recognized dangers as tensions were increasing. It would be, he said, a tragedy if the United Nations was weakened and lost international credibility over Iraq. It must be involved and remain in control, he felt, adding his support to the work of the UN inspectors.

Eurig WYN (Greens/EFA, Wales), following his recent visit to Iraq with a delegation of MEPs, refuted any criticism of the trip, and said he had called for the end of the Iraqi regime and for Saddam Hussein to step down. He said the Iraqis had a genuine desire for peace and he said that the country had been ruined by war and sanctions. 3000 children each month, he said, die of malnutrition. He stated that the only feasible and logical solution was to give more time and resources to the weapons inspectors. He also stated that he had the opportunity to visit a Kurdish refugee camp in the north of Iraq where conditions, he said, were awful. He called for an end to the suffering of the Kurdish people.

Baroness Emma NICHOLSON (ELDR, South East) was convinced of links between al-Qaeda and forces in northern Iraq. She singled out the MKO Muslim dissident organisation with bases in Iraq as a source for concern with its criminal elements. It was in effect a private international terrorist organisation and a threat to world security, she said.

Gary TITLEY (PES, North West) noted that when the question of poverty in Iraq was mentioned, no reference was being made to the policies of Saddam Hussein in using weapons of mass destruction on his own people, carrying out internal repression and siphoning off funds from the "oil for food" programme to build more palaces. There was no doubt, he said, that the villain of the peace was Saddam Hussein and any weakening of the international community in recognising this would only make war more likely. As to an EU CFSP, he noted that the introduction of qualified majority voting would not create the political will for a common policy and indeed added that the position taken in Copenhagen was now disintegrating. He singled out the French President for his "rhetoric". He reminded the House that Iraq was already in breach of UN Resolution 1441 and faced "serious consequences". It was vital for the international community to be united in order to safeguard world global security.

John BOWIS (EPP-ED, London) stated that Iraq for the last 12 years had been flouting several UN resolutions. Saddam Hussein had committed atrocious acts against his own people, but yet public opinion was still uneasy and uncertain about the need for military action. He said the British Prime Minister had failed to convince and lead the British people of the need for his policy and stated that even his own MEPs could not support his line. More inspectors, he stated, was not the answer; the answer was for Saddam Hussein to comply with UN resolutions or face the awful consequence for himself and for his people.