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Debates
Wednesday, 23 May 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12. Guinea-Bissau (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the statement by the Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Guinea-Bissau.

 
  
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  Nicolai Wammen, President-in-Office of the Council, on behalf of the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. – Mr President, I am pleased to have the opportunity today, on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Ashton, to discuss the situation in Guinea-Bissau, and I welcome the attention that the European Parliament is giving to it.

The current crisis in Guinea-Bissau clearly reveals once more an attempt by the military to get involved in civilian affairs and gain control of the political affairs of the country. The country remains one of the poorest in the world, ravaged by drug trafficking, and its problems directly affect Europe through the drug trade. The way to a solution is to persuade the military to step aside and to reform the army. Only then can the country be ruled by civilians legitimated by free and fair elections.

The EU strongly condemned the military coup in Guinea-Bissau on 12 April 2012. We called for the immediate re-establishment of the legitimate government and for the completion of the presidential elections in compliance with the law.

We welcome the adoption on 18 May of UNSC Resolution 2048/2012 on Guinea-Bissau, imposing individual sanctions on coup leaders and demanding the immediate restoration of the constitutional order, including a democratic electoral process, the return of the military to barracks and their withdrawal from political affairs. The UN Security Council also underlined that those responsible for the human rights violations must be held accountable, and that any lasting solution to instability in Guinea-Bissau should ensure that those responsible for politically-motivated assassinations, other serious crimes and breaches of constitutional order are brought to justice.

We reiterate our strong condemnation of the coup, and encourage all stakeholders to work within the framework of Security Council Resolution 2048 with a view to agreeing on an inclusive road map with agreed benchmarks and a calendar for the return to constitutional order, the implementation of security sector reform, fighting against impunity, combating drug trafficking and the removal of any army grip on power. We stand ready to actively support mediation efforts in the current crisis towards the identification of an inclusive transitional arrangement.

We renew our call for the immediate release of all illegally detained persons and for the immediate suspension of the Military Command’s prohibition on persons, including members of the former government, leaving the country.

The EU has already adopted sanctions against six members of the Military Command and is ready to extend the list to other persons, military and political, who are de facto governing the country and may be responsible for human rights violations and abuses, including arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment during detention and violent repression of peaceful demonstrations, as well as looting and mismanagement of public funds. We already suspended most of our aid last year, and the primary condition for its resumption is local agreement to reform the security sector.

We are also concerned about the deteriorating human situation and the constant risk of violence. Moreover, we are concerned about the possibility of arrangements that would allow the current leaders of the armed forces to continue to threaten or control the civil powers.

Democratic stability in Guinea-Bissau requires the removal of the threat represented by the armed forces, and the reform of the security sector remains an urgent necessity. Those responsible for anti-constitutional behaviour or crimes must be held to account; any agreement must be inclusive and democratic; the military must not be allowed, in any case, to dictate who does or does not participate in politics. We are monitoring the latest political and security-related developments in this light.

The international community needs to stand united. In this regard, the High Representative has encouraged ECOWAS and the AU to bring the concerned partners of the international community together to mobilise coherent political and financial support for the road map for a return to constitutional order and security sector reform. To this end, a contact group of the international community could usefully be launched.

 
  
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  Paulo Rangel, on behalf of the PPE Group.(PT) Mr President, Mr Wammen, I would like to begin by saying that it is regrettable that Baroness Ashton, the Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative, is not present at a debate of this importance. In any case, it is a pleasure to work once again with the President-in-Office of the Council, who has made a statement here that I would like to review in full.

In the first place, I would like to extend some words of comfort and solidarity to the people of Guinea-Bissau, which has been systematically slaughtered due to democratic and political instability, and to serious insecurity. As though the poverty surrounding them were not enough, they have been constantly hit by these evils.

Moreover, I would like to add that, during its Presidency, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) has been following this issue from the very beginning. It is therefore regrettable that it has taken Parliament a month to manage to hold a debate on this matter. This is due to the invisibility of the Guinean people and the issue of Guinea-Bissau. The reason for this invisibility is that, unlike other issues of similar severity, the economic interests of the major EU, US and global powers are not at stake here, so they do not feel compelled to discuss the situation of the Guinean people.

However, I would say that, if an external reason is needed and if the poverty and political instability in this country is not enough for us to urge global humanitarian and political action, at the very least, the drug trafficking situation ravaging Guinea-Bissau, with a direct impact on the peoples of Europe and the US, should be reason enough for us to engage with this situation.

That is why I am asking the EU to take a more robust stance. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2048/2012 and the decisions by the EU, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) and the African Union are undoubtedly positive, although those of the Economic Community of West African States are perhaps not. However, resolutions are not enough: action is needed. We must be firm and more effective when it comes to states that have the capacity to intervene in Guinea-Bissau. We are obliged to take such action. I also believe that at this moment, the EU is responding well in terms of its principles, but it is not providing an adequate response in terms of practical tools for operating on the ground. I would like to ask the Council and the Commission for such tools.

 
  
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  Ana Gomes, on behalf of the S&D Group.(PT) Mr President, I shall begin by expressing my solidarity with the people of Guinea-Bissau, who set such an example to the world, me included, in their fight against colonial oppression. The EU has made an error in withdrawing aid and, in particular, in recalling its mission to support the reform of the security sector, which was put in place in response to the political killings in 2010. That was the time to increase the scale and mandate of that mission, as some of us suggested. As the President-in-Office of the Council has said, there is a need to send the military back to the barracks in Guinea-Bissau and ensure that they are clearly subject to civil democratic power. If not, Guinea-Bissau will not be able to restore constitutional order or security for its citizens and the region as a whole, neither will it be able to strengthen its state and social structures in order to prevent itself from being exploited by drug-trafficking networks or other types of organised crime.

To this end, the EU must ensure the practical – not merely rhetorical – implementation of Resolution 2048/2012 of the United Nations Security Council, which identifies the leaders of the coup d’état and imposes sanctions on them. The resolution also demands the restoration of the legitimate authorities, namely, the government headed by Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior, who has been forced to leave the country, and interim President Raimundo Pereira.

In doing so, the EU must first issue a serious and unequivocal warning to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and all of its members that are partners of the EU under the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), as these countries are legally bound by the democratic obligations and respect for human rights enshrined in the Cotonou Agreement. This warning should make clear that it is unacceptable that ECOWAS should endorse conditions in Guinea-Bissau and Mali that are providing succour for the leaders of the coup d’état and allowing them to make a false transition that is clearly in violation of the democratic constitutional order.

The EU cannot continue neglecting Guinea-Bissau, which is also one of our ACP partners. It is vital that the EU improve its links with more regional stakeholders under the auspices of the UN, ECOWAS, the African Union and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), in order to implement a rescue operation for a country on the verge of becoming another failed state, ravaged by extreme poverty, poor governance and the disruption of its human and natural resources. Military support for the return of the legitimate prime minister should also be provided.

Following this, we need a concerted policy involving immediate protection for the people of Guinea-Bissau from an imminent humanitarian disaster, and subsequently providing support for a programme of action against the causes of the problems undermining the country and Guinean society, from poverty to under-development and the lack of governance.

The interests of the EU itself are also at stake, as the security of Guinea-Bissau has an impact on our own security, given that it is located in a region where drug trafficking is linked to the terrorism of Boko Haram and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

 
  
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  Rui Tavares, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(PT) Mr President, a month ago, our High Representative, Baroness Ashton, was here, and I voiced my regret, indeed my protest, at the fact that she was very quick to defend the oil company Repsol, while saying nothing about Guinea-Bissau. Back then, she promised me that she would take the appropriate measures, and that she would be attentive to the plight of Guinea-Bissau. One month later, we see that Baroness Ashton is not present at this debate on Guinea-Bissau. This is regrettable, and once again confirms what my fellow Member, Mr Rangel, has already described as the invisibility of the problem of Guinea-Bissau, which owes much to the region in which it is located. Above all, we are faced with a people that does not want a failed state, has done everything to prevent it, and has to contend with two forces constantly seeking to make the country a failed state: the military and drug trafficking. Indeed, these two forces are interconnected. Much more can be done for Guinea-Bissau, and the country’s problems can be solved.

The deposed President and Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau are now in Portugal seeking support in order to make the military give up power and ensure the resumption of the democratic process. The United Nations resolutions, in particular Resolution 2048, are correct in their analysis of what needs to be done. I also fully subscribe to what our own European External Action Service has said in this debate. Actions, not words, are the only way to tackle this problem. Why is the EU not doing more, for instance, by requesting a high-level bilateral meeting with the Economic Community of West African States, which has taken an attitude of acceptance, thereby legitimising a coup d’état, accepting the installation of a transitional president and a series of measures that are simply unacceptable?

The only acceptable solution is to implement the UN resolution and to send a stabilisation and peacekeeping force, with the consent of the Guinean people. This would allow the legitimate rulers of the country to return, and would provide the EU with an opportunity to try to remedy some of its mistakes, in particular, by withdrawing its mission to Guinea-Bissau, which was in place precisely in order to help the transition and the civilisation, in the strict sense of the word, of the military forces within the country. Without such efforts, Guinea-Bissau will never know the peace, stability and prosperity that it needs and desires so desperately, and for which its people have been working so hard.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, ever since independence from Portugal in the 1970s after a bloody war, the small, impoverished West African country of Guinea-Bissau has remained in a state of almost constant conflict between the civilian and military authorities, with a spate of political assassinations.

My group, the ECR, condemns the latest actions of the military last month, when a coup derailed the presidential elections and installed a military junta. The regional organisation ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) must be commended for its robust leadership in responding to this crisis. A combination of security-building measures, involving 600 regional peacekeeping troops, and hard-hitting pragmatic negotiations with threats of economic sanctions, has reportedly now broken the deadlock, and hopefully stabilised the country.

I have heard reports recently that the military junta is stepping down and handing power back to a civilian and interim government, with the prospect of free and fair elections taking place in the future. This state of affairs, if it is true, is to be welcomed. The EU should demand that the interim government make significant reform of the political system its top priority.

We must not forget that a stable, law-abiding, democratic Guinea-Bissau is very much in the West’s interests. The country is, sadly, a key intermediary for drug shipments between South America – mainly the Colombian cocaine cartels – and Europe. Therefore, to continue the fight against illegal drugs, which blight the lives of so many of our citizens and fuel organised criminality, the international community must continue to observe closely and apply pressure, particularly economic pressure, on Guinea-Bissau to act responsibly and appropriately and cease to be a failed state or, worse still, a ‘narco state’.

The country must, with the support of the African Union, the United Nations and the EU, move forward with determination to ensure democratic and civil rights for all its citizens. I would like to agree with my colleague, Rui Tavares, and ask why – as Baroness Ashton cannot, unfortunately, be here – Nick Westcott, the EEAS managing director for Africa and a regional expert, could not have been here in her place to listen to this debate.

 
  
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  Diogo Feio (PPE).(PT) Mr President, the debate that we are having here today concerns what happened on 12 April 2012, when a group of soldiers seized power in the Republic of Guinea-Bissau by force, detained the Prime Minister and President, and transferred power to a national council that has no legitimate democratic representation whatsoever.

Guinea-Bissau is a state in grave danger: it is extremely fragile, and it needs support in order to be able to move towards legality and legitimacy. There have been protests by the international community, but most of them have not even been heard, and they have had absolutely no effect on the rebels. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a situation like this has arisen in Guinea-Bissau, and if we restrict ourselves to merely pointing out the invisibility of the situation, it will certainly not be the last. For this reason, we must make this issue visible, in particular, here in Parliament, and we cannot limit ourselves to speeches. I have had the opportunity to work on a draft resolution within my group. I am aware that other political groups have done the same thing, and it is high time that these texts were voted on, so that Parliament has a very clear voice in this situation, which is extremely serious. We cannot restrict ourselves to speeches. It is time to act, and I call on the High Representative to lead the action on this issue, although she is not here at present.

We must be very clear about the path that needs to be taken, namely, the path of supporting the legitimate and legal authorities of Guinea-Bissau, along with investment in security, defence and combating drug trafficking in the region and the country concerned. This is the path that needs to be taken, and I sincerely hope that the leaders of the Council will reiterate this at the end of this debate, along with pointing out the paths that need to be taken in the future.

 
  
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  Peter Šťastný (PPE). – Mr President, on 12 April, the world received some not very surprising news from the African continent. Since 1998, the military in Guinea-Bissau have managed four coups d’état, all in the name of stability and security. The results are exactly the contrary of the stated goals. The country, the region and the whole continent are less stable and less secure, and prone to more poverty, unrest and violence. This vicious cycle must be stopped and reversed.

Guinea-Bissau needs outside help. The Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union must and should help. Stabilisation of the country must be a priority. Effective rule of law, improved education and social cohesion will stimulate more investment and growth. That is the path all stakeholders must pursue. If Guinea-Bissau’s military really care about their citizens, they should provide a leading role. If not, the international community must impose sufficient pressure to achieve the necessary changes. Baroness Ashton’s statement of 23 April strongly condemning this coup d’état is one of the first steps in the right direction.

 
  
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  Filip Kaczmarek (PPE). (PL) Mr President, coups d’état generally damage the development of low-income countries and make the lives of their inhabitants more difficult. The situation in Guinea-Bissau is distinctive, however, since the coup was carried out just before the second round of presidential elections, and the ruling party’s candidate had won 49% of votes in the first round.

This coup has also had a very adverse effect on major sectors of the economy. The cashew nut trade, which accounts for 80% of Guinea-Bissau’s exports, has suffered the most. Harvesting of cashew nuts began in mid-April, i.e. precisely at the time of the coup. Growers are being offered such low prices that most of them are not yet selling and are instead waiting for market conditions to improve, while anyone who can is trying to reach Senegal in order to sell products there.

This is important because the cashew nut harvest governs the lives of thousands of families in Guinea-Bissau. As a result of the coup, many different institutions, from banks to various investments that are in progress, are not operating normally. Another distinctive feature is that members of the opposition parties are acting in the transitional government, with the approval of the army. In the view of many observers, this shows that there was collusion between the army and the opposition prior to the coup, making a return to democracy very difficult.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, we strongly condemn the military coup d’état in Guinea-Bissau. The way out of the current situation can only be acceptable if it restores and respects the constitutional framework of the country and guarantees that the Guinean people will be able freely to decide their own destiny, without external interference or imposition. This requires the unequivocal recognition of the institutions, authorities and legitimate Guinean representatives at the time of the coup d’état, along with the resumption of the electoral process for the President of the Republic that was under way at that time. There is also a need for unequivocal rejection of any decisions that do not respect these conditions and instead seek to implement and impose the aims of the military coup d’état as a fait accompli. All Guinean citizens detained as a result of the military coup d’état need to be released immediately and unconditionally, and there needs to be a robust denunciation of measures aimed at suppressing and persecuting those who hold positions in sovereign bodies, the leaders and activists of the Africa Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), and the citizens of Guinea-Bissau who have spoken out against the military coup d’état.

This coup d’état and the fact that the situation is being dragged out are not unrelated to disputes between foreign interests that run counter to the interests of the Guinean people. We wish to express our complete solidarity with the Guinean people, and call for urgent measures to be taken in order to meet their needs. The situation in the country has deteriorated alarmingly since the coup d’état and we are receiving repeated requests for help everyday, as the country lacks food, medicines, medical and surgical equipment, drinking water and fuel.

This situation cannot be ignored, in particular, by those who had some hand in the difficult situation in the country, even before the coup d’état. The difficult economic and social situation that the country is experiencing is also a reflection of the failure of IMF and World Bank programmes, as well as EU policies for the region, which have found their way into the so-called economic partnership agreements. What is therefore required is genuine help and cooperation that looks at the problems, difficulties and needs of the country and respects the right of the Guinean people to decide their fate in a free and sovereign way.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, Guinea-Bissau has been affected for many years by instability against a background of corruption, drug trafficking and violence, and the military coup which has disrupted the electoral process has made the situation worse. For the time being, the main priority is to prevent violence. This is why the signing of a national agreement on resolving the political crisis and transferring power to civilians is a positive development. However, the ultimate aim must still be to restore the constitutional regime and initiate a genuine transition to democracy. The solidarity of the international community is vital to this end.

I welcome the unanimous adoption of Resolution 2048 by the UN Security Council. I also applaud the constructive role played by ECOWAS, which has condemned the coup and sent a peacekeeping force last week. I urge the High Representative to continue the close cooperation with the West African regional organisation.

 
  
 

End of the catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Nicolai Wammen, President-in-Office of the Council, on behalf of the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. – Mr President, I thank the honourable Members for their insightful remarks and for the concern which they have expressed about the situation in Guinea-Bissau.

Before answering on behalf of the High Representative, I just want to comment on her whereabouts today. Even the High Representative can be in only one place at a time, and today she is in Baghdad, leading the negotiations with Iran on the issue of its nuclear programme. As for Mr Nick Westcott, the head of the European External Action Service’s African department, he cannot be present here today because he is on a mission to Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

On Guinea-Bissau, your comments confirm that, in line with the principle of respect for democracy and the rule of law, which inspires the external action of the EU, the immediate priorities in Guinea-Bissau should consist of the restoration of constitutional order, the release of all illegally detained persons and the resumption of the democratic electoral process. Exactly how this is to be done remains unclear, and there are still grounds to fear that a compromise may not resolve the underlying issues.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as a key regional leader, should continue its mediation efforts aimed at bringing a speedy end to the unsustainable situation in the country. This has to be done in greater synergy with the UN, the African Union, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries and other international partners in order to ensure that the stabilisation strategy effectively addresses critical issues, including the implementation of security sector reform, the fight against impunity, the fight against drug trafficking and the promotion of social and economic development.

I look forward to the resolution that the House will adopt on this matter.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: RAINER WIELAND
Vice-President

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE), in writing. – Mr President, since the declaration of independence in 1973, Guinea-Bissau has been tormented with political instability. Bearing in mind that the country has witnessed massacres, assassinations, a civil war and a number of military coups, I am disappointed that once again, any hope for political progress has been spoiled by another coup d’état. The ALDE Group endorses the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council meeting condemning the coup. Following the negotiations led by the Economic Community of West African States, the putschists have finally agreed to a 12-month transition to civilian rule. Nevertheless, the targeted sanctions that the EU imposed on the military junta led by General Antonio Indjai should not be lifted before the legitimate government is re-established, the democratic electoral process is completed and constitutional order is restored. The EU must take measures to prevent senior military figures from taking advantage of the situation and increasing and benefiting from drug trafficking during the transition period. We also welcome the deployment of ECOWAS peacekeeping troops and hope that the reported looting and human rights abuses by the military will be brought to an end and that a gradual transition will be allowed to take place without bloodshed.

 
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