The European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and the Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel have been visiting Sudan’s troubled Darfur region.
As well as assessing what further humanitarian aid is needed, the EU has been urging the Sudanese government to give up its resistance to the deployment of an international UN peacekeeping force in the region.
Louis Michel, told EuroNews what the Europe Union is doing and what it can do further.
Sergio Cantone, Brussels Correspondent, EuroNews: Commissioner, welcome to EuroNews. First, why has this European Commission delegation come here to Darfur right now?
Louis Michel: Initially, obviously to clearly demonstrate the Commission’s engagement and concern about what’s happening here. We are the leading contributor by far, more than 600 million euros for humanitarian aid and paying for the peacekeeping mission being carried out by the African Union. And so we want to really show our disquiet and our concerns.
We have the impression today that the situation is deteriorating again, that all the gains that have been made up till now – and which we put so much effort into – could be lost.
I could perhaps add that the credibility that the Commission has with the government of Sudan puts us in a position where we can explain to them that it’s not possible for things to remain as they are now.
EuroNews: How could you convince Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir to accept United Nations peacekeepers?
Michel: First, President Barroso, in an extremely convincing manner, explained why the European Union and the Commission supports the United Nations resolution.
We also listened, of course, to the Sudanese government’s explanations as to why it refuses to support and accept transferring the duties of the African Union Mission in Sudan, to United Nations peacekeepers.
That led to a truly dynamic exchange of views and also led, to a certain extent, perhaps, to the European side seeing ways in which we can make progress.
We know that this agreement is not going to be renegotiated, therefore what’s needed now is good will and we will do all that we can while exerting a minimum of pressure.
EuroNews: Is the United States policy on Sudan and Darfur too heavy handed?
Michel: Obviously I don’t want to judge the attitude of our US partners – the Americans are our partners.
They are evidently an important part of the international community, as is the Union European, and I believe that our role is to use the good reputation we enjoy with President al-Bashir and the Sudanese, so that they’ll end the status quo and move things forward.
EuroNews: So, is Europe a humanitarian power?
Michel: That’s quite a good way of referring to it, European Union humanitarian power. When you’re a humanitarian power – as I saw during this visit – you’re also a political power; indisputably the political influence of the Commission and the European Union on Sudan’s government, I think that’s a reality – we’re listened to and I think that in some measure the message is getting through as well.
EuroNews: Why should Europeans and the European Union be interested in intervening in Darfur?
Michel: I think that the European Union’s objective is not putting money in to get some benefit from that, having a kind of economic, political agenda, etc., the role of the European Union is to…
EuroNews: No, no, but isn’t it about convincing others to be persuaded to your point of view?
Michel: But to be convinced of the EU’s political influence; one would have to examine conflicts all around the world and see how they would look without the European Union’s humanitarian aid and development aid.
It’s true that we could have more influence, but to have greater influence, we would need the European states to give us more, if you like, leeway to adopt a position that is a bit bolder, a little stronger politically.
This is an region with a concentration of explosive risks, at the same time there is fundamentalism and potential religious and cultural divergences and its tempting for some people to use those divergences for their own internal policy ends, therefore if we don’t have a strategic, political plan, then we’re taking huge risks with the Horn of Africa.
EuroNews: But don’t you think that President al-Bashir’s concern is that once the United Nations has peacekeepers here in Darfur it could become a kind of UN police force and go on to arrest some members of the regime?
Michel: I don’t think I can honestly say that. I think that he’s certainly disappointed that, in his opinion, he’s been badly rewarded for his efforts and the concessions that he’s made for the peace agreement and one gets a bit of an impression that he is suspicious about this United Nations mission and has the impression that this mission could be something intended to destabilise or replace him, which I certainly don’t believe is the case, but it’s not easy to convince him and so we need to work with all the existing elements.
How do we assure him of his sovereignty, how to persuade him to make more concessions, how to make him understand that the status quo can’t continue. And so, I think we have a number of things which will allow us to continue our work.