Over the past decade, the Greater Mediterranean has experienced significant turmoil. From the second Iraq war in 2003 to the more recent mass uprisings in the southern littoral states of the Mediterranean, various conflicts have unfolded on Europe’s doorstep. Though violent conflict is always undesirable and should be avoided, the region has seen a growing momentum to overthrow autocratic regimes. And from the ashes, the pain and destruction have sprouted the strong aspirations for freedom and democracy.
It is in moments like these that those who cherish peace and democracy should stand up to be counted. There is no better time than now for us to support accountable forms of governance, sustainable political reform and increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The first-ever partnership agreement between the European Union and Iraq, recently approved by the European Parliament in Strasbourg, is a symbol of the European Union’s determination to play an important role in this key moment in history. Like our American counterparts, we believe it is our duty to support Iraq by boosting ties in a range of areas, from trade and investment to development. The non-preferential trade agreement, in force provisionally since Aug. 1, 2012, includes basic trade cooperation rules to help Iraq prepare for eventual World Trade Organization accession.
But the EU agreement with Iraq goes well beyond trade; it promotes human rights and fundamental freedoms and seeks to combat terrorism and the proliferation of weapons, thus helping to strengthen the entire region. Progress with peace, democracy and the rule of law will be assessed on a yearly basis. Regular scrutiny is instrumental to measure progress. Over the next 10 years, the European Union pledges to help Iraq better its regulatory framework from the perspective of its economic and energy sectors. The agreement deals with organized cooperation activities concerning sanitation, education, the fight against poverty, promotion of transparency and efficient governance.
The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Iraq should be a tool to engage in dialogue with this emerging democracy. It is not intended to be in favor of or against Iraqi politics in recent years. If our goal is to effectively promote the principles of democracy and freedom, I think the best way is to be open to dialogue.
In our discussions at the European Parliament, we have called for special attention to be paid to human rights and women’s participation in the post-conflict reconstruction process and at the highest levels of political and economic life. We think that the Iraqi authorities must provide space for the healthy development of an Iraqi civil society that can play a full part in the political process. The same goes for an independent, pluralist and professional media sector.
The fight against weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and drugs trading, along with the protection of rights and fundamental liberties, especially of the ethnic and religious minorities, should be sine qua non for any EU engagement. Iraq is no exception.
The extremely delicate phase in which millions of Iraqis find themselves must remind the European Union of its obligations — it cannot but play a major role in providing the necessary support to the Iraqi authorities to cope with the difficult reconstruction and development of the country. The security and stability of Iraq, as well as overcoming the humanitarian emergency and the protection of fundamental freedoms, are ambitious targets to be met.
The transatlantic values of advancing peace and democracy calls for concerted EU and U.S. efforts towards integrating emerging democracies into the international community. Such agreements are peaceful instruments with which to advance our common peace building agenda.
Mario Mauro is an Italian Member of the European Parliament from the centre-right European People’s Party. He sits on the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and has authored the report on the EU-Iraq Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.