Thursday, February 16, 2006

ION Update: 02/16/06

A discreet visit to Brussels
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1168 11/02/2006

At his request, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia has had a meeting at a secret location in Brussels with the European Commissioner for Development, Louis Michel.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia went to Brussels on 4 February, on a surprise visit to the European Commissioner for Development, Louis Michel. Their meeting was held at a secret location in the Belgian capital in order to avoid demonstrations by opponents to the regime. Also present at the meeting were the Ethiopian Ambassador to Brussels Berhane Gebre-Christos and the leader of the European Union (EU) delegation to Addis Ababa, Tim Clarke. Meles Zenawi’s visit to Brussels was not listed in the European Commissioner’s diary. In fact, the Ethiopian Prime Minister came at the last minute in the hope of obtaining a resumption of European aid (461 million euros for the period 2002-2007), particularly in funds for the Ethiopian budget.

However, the Ethiopian opposition got wind of this meeting before it took place. On 3 February, the European Commissioner’s electronic inbox was flooded with e-mails denouncing the repression of opponents in Ethiopia. A delegation from the Joint Civic and Political Task Force of Ethiopians in Europe even went to Michel’s home to hand him a letter signed by its representatives Gebeyaw Nigussie, Dadimos Haile and Abebe Bogale, which included a reminder of the resolution adopted on 15 December 2005 by the European Parliament. This text called for the immediate and unconditional freeing of political prisoners, for a commission to be set up to investigate violations of human rights and to investigate frauds committed during the May 2005 election and also for sanctions to be taken against members of the Addis Ababa regime.

The message would appear to have got through, because Michel told the Ethiopian Prime Minister that the present situation suited no-one and that any resumption of political dialogue with the EU supposed that the Ethiopian opposition would be treated in a manner customary in a democratic State. Louis Michel also made a plea for the freeing of political prisoners. “We did not want to discuss aid. It is not on the agenda. We will discuss it when political dialogue has resumed” the European Commissioner’s spokesman told The Indian Ocean Newsletter. However, the European Commission felt Meles Zenawi’s wanting to discuss his country’s situation with it to be “positive”. The European Commission even considers that it is the sole international institution with which Meles Zenawi still wants to keep a discussion channel open. It hopes to obtain from him a road map for bringing the situation in his country back to normality.

ACP-EU assembly mission cancelled at the last minute
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1168 11/02/2006

A mission that was to have gone to Eritrea and then on to Ethiopia, was cancelled on 3 February 2006, just two days before it was scheduled to leave for Asmara. This mission should have been led by the Co-Presidents of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA), Glenys Kinnock from the United Kingdom and Georges Rawiri from Gabon. The reason for the sudden cancellation was that President Isayas Afeworki refused to receive the delegation. On the Eritrean side, the explanation is that the government of Asmara has nothing in particular against the JPA, but that over the last four years all of the visits by foreign delegations have produced nothing positive concerning the border dispute with Ethiopia and they have constituted a “waste of resources”. However, last week Eritrea decided to close its embassy in Brussels “for financial reasons” and transfer the corresponding jurisdiction concerning relations with the European Union (EU) to its embassy in The Netherlands. This illustrates the nature of Eritrean feeling about the European Union. The government of Asmara considers that the EU has not applied enough pressure on the government of Ethiopia to oblige it to accept the border defined by the International Court of Justice. Meanwhile, relations between the European Parliament and Ethiopia fare hardly any better. The same 3 February, the Ethiopian Ambassador Berhane Gebre-Christos informed the European Parliament that the Ethiopian portion of the mission had been cancelled. This time, the pretext given was the last minute announcement by the ACP countries, on 2 February, that they would not be sending anyone to take part in the JPA delegation to Ethiopia due to “financial difficulties” in their group. Although Ms Kinnock stated that she intended to go to Addis Ababa in any case, the Ethiopian officials informed the European Parliament that without the presence of representatives from the ACP countries, the mission had lost all of its “joint” character and therefore “no longer had any point”. The view widely held inside the circles of the Ethiopian opposition and the European Parliament, is that Addis Ababa had taken this decision in reprisal to the preliminary report on the 2005 elections written by the mission of European observers led by the Portuguese Socialist MEP Ana Gomes.