The EU does not lack any opportunity to give the world and in particular to its former colonies moral lessons. In the name of the “values and principles” – which it pretends to defend and promote – it assumes the right to bring to the states of the planet assorted assessments and judgments, according to the cases, and impose punitive sanctions selectively.
But in between speech and reality, the difference is the same as between day and night.
Europe presents herself as a beacon of humanism. But where is this humanism when the Mediterranean has become a cemetery for thousands of migrants? We cannot help ourselves but compare the behaviour of the European governments of today with that of Europe in 1938 that met in the Evian Conference and refused to open their doors to the Jews who were expelled in massive numbers by Hitler’s Germany, as the “solution to the Jewish problem”. We know the tragic consequences of this refusal. Did you say humanism?
Is humanism and hypocrisy compatible? This is a relevant question, because in Europe, we pretend to ignore the reasons why tens of thousands of Africans are fleeing their continent. It must be known that the EU has imposed on African governments its neoliberal ideology through free trade agreements, called hypocritically “Economic Partnership Agreements”.
These agreements weaken the sovereignty of states, impose the privatization of public services and allow transnational European firms to exploit the resources and the peoples of Africa. The maniacs of the European Commission, true fanatics of free and unfettered competition (in particular by social and environmental legislation) are the real ones responsible for the looting of Africa and causing poverty in the continent.
At the time of the Roman Republic, a proverb said “Beware of the Greeks, even when they make gifts”. The countries of the South, and among them Cambodia, can say today, “Beware of the Europeans, especially when they speak of partnership”.
“Do what I say and not what I do” seems to be a basic principle of European humanism. There are two examples that involve Cambodia. In 1979, the French ambassador to the UN, Jacques Leprette, condemned the Vietnamese army’s liberation of Cambodia from Pol Pot’s terror with these words: “The idea that the existence of a detestable regime could provide a foundation for external intervention and legitimize its overthrow by force is extremely dangerous”. But a few months later, French paratroopers carried out Operation Barracuda which overthrew the head of state of the Central Africa Republic who had stopped pleasing Paris.
The other example is more recent. In 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague gave its non-binding ruling on the question of territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea. Then British Prime Minister of David Cameron, published a statement strongly dictating all the countries concerned, including Cambodia, to respect this judgment. Nonetheless in 2015, the same David Cameron disregarded the ruling of the Court of Arbitration when it ruled for Mauritius against Britain. Britain, said the court, had violated the Law of the Sea by unilaterally establishing a Marine Protected Area in the Chagos Islands. The British government disregarded the ruling and the Marine Protected Area remains in place today.
Where is the consistency? Do Europeans believe that the rest of the world is not a witness and aware of their hypocrisy?
There is an obligation to respect international law, as claimed by European political leaders and EU Commissioners. But this obligation does not apply equally to all governments of the planet. Governments buying arms from European firms and those selling oil or other strategic natural resources to Europe are not obliged to respect international law. And also protected is the Israel government, even though they systematically violate international law.
European governments have granted the right to interfere in some cases, but invoke respect for national sovereignty in others. There is silence on the crimes committed here but condemnation when the same crimes are committed elsewhere. This difference in behaviour is solely dictated by interests; never by moral or ethical considerations. Double standard is the basic rule for the foreign relations of the EU and European governments. How can we take them seriously when they talk about “the respect of international law”?
Cambodia is one of the victims of this double standard policy. The EU inscribes “political pluralism” among its values. And the EU wants to punish Cambodia because ‘opposition’ Cambodian politicians could not participate in the July 2018 elections. The EU therefore considers that political pluralism no longer exists in Cambodia, even though there were 20 political parties competing freely and independently. And the EU refuses to acknowledge that these banned opposition politicians have seriously violated the law.
The EU protects political friends. Not more, not less. The partisan motivations of the EU are quite clear. When the EU supports countries where a single-party system exists, it forgets its demand for pluralism. Pluralism is forgotten when the partner is a military dictatorship and buys weapons in large quantities from European firms or sells petroleum or other strategic resources to Europe. Now who said, “Values and principles”?
Thomas Fowler is a Phnom Penh-based Cambodia watcher.