Select Committee on European Scrutiny Third Report



Common Position on Burma.

Legal base: Article 15 EU; unanimity
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: EM and Minister's letter of 11 October 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
Adopted in Council: 8-9 October 2001 General Affairs Council
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


17.1  The EU adopted a Common Position on Burma/Myanmar on 28 October 1996, expressing concern at the absence of progress towards democratisation and continuing human rights violations there. The Common Position has been extended every six months since then.

17.2  On 8 October, the General Affairs Council (GAC) agreed to a further extension, but modified the Common Position to bring it into line with United Nations obligations to allow visas to be issued to Burmese Ministers so that they can attend UN conferences and meetings at UN bodies in Member States, despite being on the visa ban list. The draft includes a reference to continuing "severe and systematic violations of human rights" in Burma.

17.3  The Council also agreed a package of positive measures on Burma, outside the Common Position. These were recorded in the Council Conclusions and include:

    —  public confirmation that the EU will respond sympathetically to a UN call for assistance to combat HIV/AIDS;

    —  an invitation in principle for the Burmese Foreign Minister to attend the next EU/ASEAN meeting in Europe;

    —  a willingness to send an EU Troika to Rangoon later this year;

    —  concern that approval should be given to an application by Burma to joint the International Hydrographic Organisation; and

    —  a commitment to discuss with Burma the process of qualifying for HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) assistance.

17.4  The Conclusions note that the EU "has long urged the restoration of democracy, the pursuit of national reconciliation and the protection of human rights in Burma/Myanmar in the interest of all the peoples of the country". However, the Council was "cautiously encouraged by the improvement in the political climate there". It expresses strong support for the efforts of the UN Special Envoy to promote national reconciliation and calls for the process of liberating political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to be accelerated.

The Government's view

17.5  In a letter dated 11 October, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Ben Bradshaw) comments:

    "While encouraged by the political progress that has been achieved in the last six months in Burma, EU Foreign Ministers believed that substantive progress needed to be made before consideration could be given to suspending or renewing the core elements of the Common Position. The Common Position was therefore renewed, essentially unchanged, for a further six months.

    "But in recognition of the progress made to date and in expectation of further positive developments, EU Ministers announced a modest package of positive measures, outside the Common Position, in the Council Conclusions. The intention was to encourage the Burmese regime to allow the discussions with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to move on to substantive issues. This is a crucial time in the evolving political situation in Burma and EU Ministers wanted to make clear that they stand ready to play a full role in helping bring about national reconciliation, respect for human rights and a return to democracy in Burma."

17.6  In a further comment, in his Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister says that since the Common Position was last renewed in April 2001:

    "the political process in Burma has continued to inch forward. Over 170 political prisoners have been released and over 20 offices of the National League for Democracy have reopened. But the process remains fragile and reversible and we await evidence of substantive progress. The time is therefore not yet right to consider suspending or removing core elements of the EU Common Position. But sufficient progress has been achieved to warrant a proportionate positive response from the EU. The package of measures designed to help add momentum to the political process in Burma. The EU is able to take these measures in recognition of the progress so far and in expectation that this will continue. Should the political process in Burma stall or collapse, EU policy would once again harden."

17.7  The Minister says that, unfortunately, EU officials were working on the text of the Common Position and the Council Conclusions right up to the GAC, which meant that it was not possible to send us an advance text for scrutiny. He regrets that the urgency of the situation, and the importance of maintaining the Common Position, meant that the Government had to agree the decision to renew it before parliamentary scrutiny could be completed. A decision needed to be taken on 8 October, as this was the last General Affairs Council before the expiry of the Burma Common Position on 29 October.


17.8  We thank the Minister for his letter and accept that, in this case, it was necessary to agree to the Common Position before we had an opportunity to scrutinise it. We are grateful for his informative comments on the views of the Council in reaching their decision to extend the Common Position and to announce in their Conclusions a package of positive measures to assist Burma/Myanmar.

17.9  We now clear this document.

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Prepared 12 November 2001