EU stumbles over UN racism conference
The Czech Republic issued a statement on Tuesday condemning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at a U.N. conference on racism in which he called Israel a “cruel and repressive racist regime”.
The statement by the country holding the EU presidency was meant to underline the bloc’s unity but highlighted divisions on the issue.
Although 22 member states said they would stay to the end of the Geneva conference, four others have not attended from the start and the Czech Republic has decided to play no further role in the meeting.
The failure of member states to agree on a joint position shows how hard it is for the bloc to reach agreement on a common foreign and security policy now that it comprises 27 countries.
Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said the decision of some EU member states to boycott the Geneva conference was “no sign of strength in the EU at this time”.
The EU stance has also opened the bloc to criticism from U.N. officials and human rights campaigners over a walkout by 23 EU delegations over Ahmadinejad’s remarks, and also left the EU at odds with the United States, which is not attending. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner criticised the U.S. decision not to attend — something that is unlikely to go down well in all EU capitals at a time when the EU and Washington are trying to improve ties under President Barack Obama.
How can the EU avoid such problems in the future? Many EU leaders say the answer is the Lisbon treaty setting out reforms of the Union’s unwieldy institutions. The treaty is intended to provide stronger leadership and make foreign policy more effective, creating the post of EU foreign minister.
But as on many other issues, the EU is having trouble winning final agreement on the treaty. It is still awaiting approval from states including Ireland, which has already rejected it once. Until then, the EU will remain open to criticism, including from within its own ranks.
Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said the decision of some EU member states to boycott the Geneva conference was “no sign of strength in the EU at this time”. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the EU’s inability to form a common front “shows the inability …. to find at least the slightest common denominator on a core issue: that of fighting against discrimination.”