Tuesday, 21 February 2012
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Jonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
Question 80: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the current status of the Euro-Med investigation; and if he will clarify if there has been a breach of Article 2 of the EU-Israel Euro Mediterranean Association Agreement concerning the parties’ human rights obligations. [9617/12]
Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
I understand the Deputy’s question refers to the consideration by the former Joint Committee on European Affairs (JCEA) of the situation in Gaza and whether it constituted a breach of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, in particular Article 2 concerning the parties’ human rights obligations. The Government regards Association Agreements, such as that which exists with Israel, as a central part of the EU’s policy of seeking to remove barriers to trade and to develop trade with all of our partner countries, in the Mediterranean or elsewhere. They are framework agreements regulating and structuring contacts and co-operation between the EU and our partners across the full range of policy areas. This formal structure is the way in which the European Union organises its relations with all of its southern neighbours with the exception of Syria and Libya.
Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, and similar Articles in Association Agreements with other partners in the region, place human rights firmly as an essential element of the relationship established under the Agreement. The EU has insisted on putting this framework in place, despite the reluctance on the part of some partners to accept human rights clauses as part of these agreements. Many of our southern neighbours would prefer ad hoc co-operation without the formal structured relationship or dialogue on human rights issues established by Association Agreements. The provision on human rights in Association Agreements enables the EU to formally raise our concerns about human rights issues in the political dialogue established by the Agreement, and helps to negate any counter-argument that these are domestic issues in which we should have no interest.
Association Agreements and the human rights provisions they contain recognise that the EU does have ongoing human rights concerns with our partner countries, and establishes political processes to discuss and if possible resolve these concerns. It would be counterproductive, therefore, to assert that the existence of human rights concerns constitutes a breach of the Agreement. The likely result would be that none of the EU’s neighbours would accept the inclusion of such a clause in any Association Agreement.
The EU-Israel Association Agreement itself makes no provision for suspension. Instead, it provides in Article 75 that either party may raise a problem with the operation of the agreement at the annual association council, where the parties will work to resolve it. In other words, this is a political process, not a legal one.