Council of Europe: Arab world deserves support

15 April 2011

Council of Europe: Arab world deserves support

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is next week sending the presidents of its five political groups to Tunisia for talks with the country’s acting president and representatives of the revolutionary movement which, after thirty years of dictatorship, brought an end to Ben Ali’s rule. Amongst the political group presidents making the trip will be SP Senator Tiny Kox, head of the United European Left in the assembly. ‘Europe has done a great deal that is bad in relation to the Aran world,’ says Kox. 'We’re going to look at whether we can now better cooperate.'

Tiny KoxThe Council of Europe, in which forty-seven countries are represented, is offering to bring about closer cooperation with an Arab world now experiencing nascent democracy. Morocco and Palestine have already responded positively. Whether Tunisia is also interested, the five group presidents will hear during the week to come. In the country’s capital, Tunis, they will also meet the ambassadors of several European countries to discuss the recent developments.

“In Tunisia the people themselves put an end to the dictatorship, without foreign intervention,” Kox stresses. “I’m curious to hear what they will do next. In July there will be an election for a Constitutional Assembly, followed later by elections to parliament and for the presidency. This is a different approach from that taken in Egypt, where first of all parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in the autumn, and only after that will a Constitution be proposed. Clearly there is no single way to move from dictatorship to democracy. Each country is seeking its own way, as it should.”

Tunisia was the first country in which the people put an end to the dictatorship. This was followed by Egypt. In neighbouring Libya intense fighting is continuing between rebels and the dictator Gaddafi’s troops. NATO has for several weeks been bombing Libya in an attempt to dislodge Gaddafi. As to the necessity and legitimacy of this bombing, Europe is extremely divided, as we saw this week in the PACE meeting in Strasbourg. “The United Nations called for protection of the civilian population,” says Kox. “But now NATO is acting as the rebels’ air force. That is going too far, as I argued in the assembly. We must not continue this bombing but instead do all we can to bring about a cease-fire.”

This week Turkish Prime minister Reçep Tayyip Erdogan visited the assembly in order to explain his peace initiative for Libya. “While Britain and France want to step up military action, the Turkish premier argued for negotiations, which I found valuable,” says Kox. “But I also asked him whether, if he is so strongly in favour of democratic change in the Arab world, it wasn’t high time that he kept his promise to his own people and lowered the existing 10% threshold for representation in parliament, which would give smaller parties a fairer chance. Turkey could play a leading role in developments in the Arab world. But in order to do so it must show the courage to democratise itself.”

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe has dealt with the request for closer cooperation from the parliaments of Morocco and Palestine. In June a decision will be taken regarding the Moroccan request, and in October that of Palestine. Palestine’s President Abbas will address the Assembly in Strasbourg on 23rd June on the subject of this request, and as ‘rapporteur’ responsible for following this issue, Senator Kox has played an important role in bringing the visit about. ‘During my working visit to Palestine I invited the President to come to Strasbourg,” he says. “He immediately agreed.” President Abbas will also visit the Netherlands, immediately before he goes to Strasbourg.

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