Emerging economies offer seductive opportunities for European investors at a time of little or no growth in Europe. But how much do we care about working conditions and human rights in the countries we do business with? On Tuesday MEPs vote on a resolution calling for an anti-corruption law that would freeze the assets of foreign officials guilty of breaching human rights and prevent them from entering the EU. We talked to resolution author Ana Gomes, a Portuguese member of the S&D group.
What impact does corruption have on human rights?
Highly corrupt countries are also those where human rights violations occur in a persistent manner and go unpunished. To ensure their impunity, their corrupt elites have a vested interest in perpetrating human rights violations and denying basic rights: access to information, freedom of expression and opinion, a fair trial.
How should the EU address this problem in its contacts with these countries?
We should look at how we can help human rights and anti-corruption communities to be more effective. I believe that the EU's role, as a major donor and partner, could be very important by insisting on good governance. We should also fight corruption among state officials and companies. Corporate responsibility is an area there the EU has tremendous possibilities to act.
I believe this is also going to be very useful for the EU and for the sanity of our own methods. It could improve the transparency of our procedures so that we do not cooperate with practices that actually increase the opacity, like money laundering.
Many highly corrrupt countries are also fast-growing economies and hence important trade and business partners for the EU. How could the union find a balance between trading with these countries and still addressing the corruption issue?
There is a tendency to turn a blind eye to human rights when important business is going on. This is particularly evident with oil-producing countries, like Saudi Arabia, Caucasian republics and African countries.
There is no lack of glaring examples. In Russia energy is used as an economic and political tool, the Chinese people are fighting against serious abuse of all sorts, but the EU is very apologetic. But I also think that we in the EU care about human rights and believe it to be an essential fundament of our union, as well as a requirement of a world based on international law. Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, has said that human rights are the silver thread of our policies. Let's put it into practice. I think that a big step forward has already been taken as Lady Ashton appointed Stavros Lambrinidis as the representative for human rights.
This interview was originally published on 28 february 2013.