Thijs Berman (PES, NL), who chaired the hearing, noted that since the "saffron revolution" of autumn 2007 "no-one speaks any more about Burma, even though the situation remains dreadful, human rights are still flouted and there are said to be 1800 political prisoners. How can the international community and the EU exert more influence, and by what means?", he asked.
Better targeted sanctions
Despite the sanctions imposed on Burma and some of its leaders (freezing of bank assets), the EU envisages providing €32 million (between 2007 and 2010 through the Development Cooperation Instrument) for health and education in the country.
According to Frijthof Schmidt (Greens/EFA, DE), "sanctions - which anyway have a limited effect - should be extended to the bank sector for Burmese leaders who conduct their financial business in Singapore, a country which does not support sanctions on Burma".
Glenys Kinnock (PES, UK) argued that there must be "a positive alternative to sanctions" and that we must "stop pouring money into this country without getting something in return".
On the strategy to be adopted by the EU, José Ribeiro e Castro (EPP-ED, PT) thought a mix was needed between "strong measures" and "soft measures". Mr Berman suggested an international embargo on arms - which come mainly from China - and a ban on Burma's exports of precious stones.
Negotiations with ASEAN
MEPs argued that the question of Burma should be raised during talks on a free trade agreement and a partnership and cooperation agreement with members of the Association for South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). China and India should also put pressure on the regime in Naypyidaw (the new capital of the country since November 2005).
The EP International Trade Committee is due to adopt on 8 April a report by Glyn Ford (PES, UK) on trade and economic relations with ASEAN. It is expected to argue in favour of signing a free trade agreement provided that the agreement meets certain conditions on sustainable development, anti-counterfeiting measures and human rights. However, the draft report contends that, owing to the current situation in Burma, this country should not be included in the agreement.
Call to release Aung San Suu Kyi
Referring to Burma's referendum in May on a new constitution, Mr Ribeiro e Castro told the hearing "we must lay down conditions for this referendum, including a call for the release of political prisoners and Aung San Suu Kyi" the leader of the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party, who was awarded the EP's Sakharov Prize in 1990.
"Should international observers be sent to the referendum?" asked Mr Schmidt, who also thought it was risky for the EU to endorse an election that might meet international standards but would in fact prevent the opposition from standing, as had happened in Iran.