On 6 March 2019, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) has participated to the conference “The Middle East and the EU: New Realities, New Policies” hosted by the Egmont Institute. Throughout the session, different speakers have addressed the geopolitical changes in the MENA Region which have brought about instability and turmoil in the area.
Ms. Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, has delivered a key-note speech. After reiterating that Middle East and North Africa are “a very difficult context”, she emphasised the duty to invest in cooperation to fulfil a collective interest. Hope is blossoming where the worst scenarios are envisioned. For instance, Ms. Mogherini mentioned the Stockholm Agreement as a strong tool to “achieve peace” in Yemen. At the same time, she pointed out that “peace cannot be imposed from the outside” and that in the region “Europe needs to continue to engage.” The recent EU-LAS Summit represented a unique opportunity to discuss human rights issues with the officials of the Arab world. Cooperation was the keyword of Ms. Mogherini’s speech. By stating the need to “plant seeds for a more cooperative region”, Europe is to foster a common foreign policy from which the whole world community would benefit.
This final point of Ms. Mogherini’s speech was reiterated by the other panellists of the conference. Marc Schade-Poulsen, Executive Director at EuroMed Rights, stressed the fact that the European Union must strengthen its human rights discourse and guarantee stronger conditionality, for “there is a touch of human rights when the EU acts outside its borders.” Fernando Gentilini, European External Action Service (EEAS) Managing Director for the Middle East and North Africa, has confirmed this argument, he asserted that “human rights are always on the EU agenda” and called for a further engagement in the Middle East, a region in which regime vulnerability and geographical fragmentation have become unquestionable issues to tackle. In this regard, Eduard Soler i Lecha and Nathalie Tocci, scientific coordinator of MENARA and Director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) respectively, have described how disparities and regional rivalries have exacerbated instability throughout the region.
ECDHR welcomes the outcome of this conference. ECDHR acknowledges the crucial and constant work made by the European Union in the Middle Eastern region. Notwithstanding, we regret that no panellist mentioned specific human rights issues that occur in the Gulf Region. Therefore, we call upon the European Union to address them more vigorously.