Tuesday, June 14, 2005

"A lot of work to be done"

EU foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, have failed to achieve that fabled consensus on lifting the arms embargo on China. This was supposed to have been decided at this meeting, the last of the Luxembourg Presidency, in order to be put into effect at the end of the month.

For the moment, as Joschka Fischer put it, there was “no consensus” and as the EU Foreign Minister in waiting, Javier Solana said, there was “a lot of work to be done” before another date could be set.

So that’s another mess that is being carried over into the British Presidency, while Prime Minister Blair studiously ignores the EU.

As the ISN Security Watch points out, this marks a shift in policy towards the American and away from the Franco-German point of view. The main problems with lifting the arms embargo have been China’s continuing appalling human rights record and her threatening noises around the Pacific Rim.

However, the report is not entirely accurate. In the first place this decision is taken by consensus and no records are kept. Therefore, the question of veto does not arise, and, in any case, no outsider is likely to know what actually happened at the meeting.

Secondly, Britain has recently been a little wobbly on the issue, with Blair ready to give up on what he considered an inessential issue to achieve … well … that is never quite clear with British negotiators. In Parliamentary replies ministers have been manoeuvring into a position where they could justify the lifting of the embargo.

The Scandinavian countries have made their views publicly known: they did not consider it right that the arms embargo should be lifted until there is a marked improvement in the human rights field. They, presumably, led the opposition with Britain and, possibly, some of the East European countries, not usually mentioned in this connection, but, on the whole more outspoken about Communist tyrannies, following.

Theoretically, if not consensus can be achieved a simple vote can be called but, presumably, with a difficult subject like this, nobody dared to do so. And so the embargo stays, though, presumably, that will not prevent various countries and companies from circumventing it.

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