On Thursday February 25 the European Parliament passed a vote on the proposal of setting an embargo on weapons trade with Saudi-Arabia in view of the conflict in Yemen. We managed to speak to Green MEP Bodil Valero, who was been very active on the topic, to get additional insight on the issue.
What can the implications be since this vote passed Parliament?
This historic decision sends a very strong signal to the member states, to Saudi Arabia and to the world: that arms exports to states who violate international or human rights law is unacceptable. It is about policy coherence: the EU cannot credibly advocate human rights with one hand and sell weapons to countries at war with the other.
Between 2006 and 2011 the import of arms all over the Middle-East has expanded substantially, on general this averages at an increase of 35%. Notably, Saudi-Arabia’s import has increased with 275% for example. What do you think is the cause of this increase?
It is connected to the general insecurity and instability of the region, which of course was affected negatively by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the same time Europe has been spending less on defence, which has made the European defence industry look for buyers abroad. Saudi Arabia for example lacks a defence industry of their own, so they have spent their money on imports from the EU and US instead.
The blocking of weapon trade with Saudi-Arabia may be an effective tool, but what else do you think is necessary to actually put a stop to the conflict in Yemen?
First of all, we need the world to recognize the conflict, so that we can build up pressure for a political solution. The cost for the Saudi coalition to keep bombing Yemen needs to be increased. Sanctions could be one way of doing this.
In the Green resolution we stress the need for an inclusive political solution. I believe UN-led peace negotiations is the best way forward for that. We need to get behind the UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to initiate such talks.
Apart from that I think all violations of international and humanitarian law - from the targeting of civilians to the naval blockade of Yemen. that keeps food and other resources from the population - only worsens the chance for peace. These practices must end immediately.
What is the EU’s role in helping to put a stop in the conflict?
The EU is the largest economy in the world. We can use our economic muscles and our political influence to try to stop the violence and build a political solution.
The US is still the largest exporter of weapons in the world. Do you think this vote could influence their position on this topic?
Hopefully, yes. There is a split in Washington on the US relation with Saudi Arabia. As Obama is revising the relationship with Iran, more and more people are now problematizing what the Saudis are doing in terms of destabilizing the region and supporting extremist ideologies.
Has the decision of the Swedish government to stop their weapons export to Saudi-Arabia changed anything in the matter?
I think it has. Sweden never stopped its exports, but all parties agreed to stricter national rules on arms export, that would make it much harder to export to countries like Saudi Arabia.
What we Greens succeeded with in Sweden was to raise awareness and use the pressure from public opinion in order to end the arms agreement with Saudi Arabia. The fact that an EU country dared to stand up against Saudi Arabia, changed the conversation internationally, and now we see other countries such as Germany and perhaps even the UK shifting their policy on Saudi Arabia. The European parliament demanding an arms embargo is another extremely important step in the right direction.
What has been the Greens’ role in pushing through this amendment?
We have lobbied hard and managed to get the other party groups in parliament with us. My EFA colleague Alyn Smith has done an amazing job in this regard. Our online petition of Avaaz.org got more than 740 000 signatures supporting the arms embargo.
What are, according to you, the next steps that should be pushed for on arms control?
Most of all we need stricter compliance to the rules. The EU common position on arms exports is being violated time and again without consequences. There needs to be greater political pressure and some kind of sanction mechanism so that braking the rules has a cost, in terms of political goodwill and real money for member states.