As part of our Monday Talks series, we have conducted an interview with Mr. Pavel Telička, Vice President of the European Parliament, to discuss the situations of several important countries including Iran, Israel, Turkey and Russia.
Ebubekir Isik: Dear Mr. Vice President Telička, thank you for having us today to discuss a number of crucial matters with respect to a number of key countries.
Let me kick off with Iran. Indeed, there is a tremendous difference in terms of the way two sides of the Atlantic are approaching Iran. On the one side, you have President Trump who is extremely determined for further sanctions against Iran. On the other hand, you have the European Union who thinks that this should not be the way to deal with Iran particularly over the nuclear deal. So why do you think it is in the EU’s interest to preserve the Iran nuclear deal?
Pavel Telička: Well, first of all, I consider that unfortunate. I think that the US and the European Union are the closest allies on a vast majority of a vast range of issues including relations vis-a-vis Iran. I would even say that on the basics we don’t differ, but we do see set divergence in recent months. I would say that the Trump administration has taken a certain decision without really engaging into in-depth thorough discussions with the European Union; so more or less a unilateral approach after some consultations.
On the other hand, we still have politicians in Member States but also on an EU level pretending as if the situation in Iran is improving and the situation in Iran is not improving at all. I think that we see Iran among the two highest, in terms of executions. We see this also happening to young people, a basic abuse of human rights. We see speeches that are threatening, dark and scary.
So, I think that we first should see an EU and a USA engaging into in-depth dialogue and being really consistent in its policy. That, of course, then means also on the nuclear deal, we can have second thoughts about it, but that was struck, and I think that the nuclear deal does give a certain leverage and does also open up certain opportunities vis-a-vis Iran.
So, I would say that maybe the two partners are deviating, and I think that we should be mending the fence between them and trying to find, let’s say a mainstream view. That having been said, I don’t see a reason why we should be any more moderate on the assessment of the situation in Iran. I think it is really frightening. It is unacceptable, and I think that I would also expect Vice-President Mogherini and the EU to be tougher on Iran than it has been so far.
Ebubekir Isik: Mr. Vice President let me ask you something specific. How would you comment on the recent stance of the EU-E3? (E3 referring to Germany France UK), which aims to set up Special Purpose Vehicle Mechanisms (SPV) in order to maintain trade with Iran and support the country vis-a-vis the US sanctions. What is your take on that?
Pavel Telička: Well, it is related to what I just said a minute ago, and I think that I left aside whether the position of the U.S is entirely relevant, partly relevant or less relevant. But I think that in today’s world, if you really want to have a leverage, if you really want to have an influence and if you want to push let’s say situations like the one in Iran in a certain direction, you don’t go unilateral. That applies to the US, that will apply to the EU, to anyone. I think that multilateralism should be the basis and I think that the U.S in this respect are going quite far without sufficiently also reflecting that there are certain realities, real politics in the European Union and also certain interests.
Now having said that, I’m not sure that at the moment the time is right to say, ‘okay this is to a large extent about the EU’s economic interest in Iran and we are going to do A, B or C’. So once again I would say that the situation in Iran, the US sanctions, the positions, I mean a trade and economic interest; these are things that should be debated between the two, primarily and try to see how we can mend the fences. So, I would say that that is the first step, and maybe we will go in the direction of a special mechanism.
But I just feel that the message that we are sending out – whether it’s the US or the EU – showing that we are somehow divided; I think we are already losing weight vis-a-vis Iran, and I’m not saying whether it’s the Americans or the EU. I would be tougher. I can see that there are certain economic interests that need to be discussed. The Americans have to reflect on that, but I think that there are still a few steps to be taken before something like that would be set up.
If I understand correctly, I think it was to be on the agenda of the Council. Yet, I haven’t seen it on the agenda. So, I need to inquire if there are some second thoughts or I’m sure that there are also different views in the Council, but I think that it that has to be still elaborated on and in a somewhat broader perspective.
Definitely for me, relations with Iran are based on the nuclear deal. We should maintain that. However, for me, the relations in Iran are not primarily about economic or trade interests. I think that we cannot be selling out on our values and I believe that all the democratic forces in Iran, the opposition human rights defenders and so on, we can’t give up on them.
Ebubekir Isik: Mr. Vice-President, I’d like to continue now with Israel. There are many pundits and reliable human rights organizations all around the world arguing that the overall human rights situation in Israel is going towards the wrong direction. What is your take? Do you think that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a major impact on the overall situation of human rights in Israel?
Pavel Telička: That’s difficult, I would say to judge for someone and I need to confess here, that I have never visited Israel, its neighboring countries, nor Gaza. In fact, in the past I wanted to do so. I was invited to Israel, but I always said, ‘I want to go to see to see Gaza as well’. I want to have the complex picture. So, you know, it’s easy to come to some kind of assessment without thorough knowledge and you know that the Parliament and the EU in fact are divided to some extent in assessing the situation. The shortcut answer would be that yes, I think that there is a spill over effect.
I think that there is a certain impact. I definitely would not say that there are not acts and activities of the Israeli government that do not deserve a critical stand from the EU. I think that I can say that I’ve said that openly to my Israeli colleagues – on a number of issues and on a number of occasions – that I will maintain that position. Still, we need to thoroughly analyse in a complex way what the situation is, and I leave aside the fact that Israel is the only full-fledged democracy. They’re are basically confronting organizations, entities and States which still see as their main objective the destruction of Israel.
Ebubekir Isik: Mr Vice President, you are one of the few members of this house who were first to react to the attempted coup in Turkey back in 2016. Literally, 10 days after the coup attempt, you brought this sensitive matter to the attention of the High Representative Federica Mogherini with a question where you underlined and I quote now: ‘’Right after the failed coup, around 60 000 people were arrested, sacked or suspended from their jobs, mainly in the state apparatus (the police, the judicial system, the army and education) but also in the media….It is clear that the situation in Turkey is of great concern.’’ Referring to these words, which are yours, how different, or similar, is the situation of human rights in Turkey today, more than two years after the attempted coup?
Pavel Telička: Well I can first say, that you have a better memory or better findings than I have. I have already forgotten that question but you’re absolutely right, you know what bringing that back to my attention.
Well, I’ll be very blunt. Amongst others, I was also the Czech chief negotiator of accession. And, in that capacity even years after I finished that work, I was invited several times to Turkey. I was a strong supporter of Turkish membership and in fact when I was Commissioner in 2004, we had the debate on the report on Turkey on the base of which then, the negotiation was started. Only four commissioners spoke in that meeting and I was one of them. It was two on two. Two were in favour; I was one of them because the Turks had complied with the conditions from the Helsinki summit and if you want to be credible then you comply with your promises.
That is what happened, but since then a lot has happened in Turkey. I mean, not just with the coup d’état but the overall situation with Turkey which is deteriorating in a number of respects, definitely in the state of democracy and human rights. I think that while it is of course, in Turkey’s own hands how it will deal with activities which do breach (and there is evidence of breaching its constitutional or legal order, that is for sure) but that it goes well beyond that, I think nobody can doubt that.
For me, the question of Turkey is a question of a country that is an important, if not a strategic part in the EU, with whom we have very close relations. We should have very close relations, a lot in common and an ally in many respects. But they are a country in which the situation has deteriorated significantly and a country, in my opinion, which no longer complies with the Copenhagen criteria; the criteria that were established at the European Council in Copenhagen during the Danish presidency for starting accession negotiations.
So, I’ve said now for some time, that the accession negotiations with Turkey should not be frozen but should be terminated. We should be looking for a different quality of relations, definitely to build on the current customs union agreement and we can progress on that. We can also facilitate in the lives of many segments of the Turkish society whether its researchers, scientists, students, citizens, small and medium-sized enterprises, large companies. Let’s do more, let’s do it better! But, let’s face it that Turkey, in my opinion, no longer complies with the criteria and we should not pursue the negotiations. We should not be fooling ourselves and we should not be fooling the Turks. We should go for a higher quality of relations that we have today but short of membership.
Ebubekir Isik: Mr. Vice President, let’s talk now about Russia. Do you think that the EU should continue to align with the US vis-à-vis the sanctions against Russia? In that regard, do you think that EU will continue to find unanimity in the Council of the European Union, in terms of renewing the sanctions against Russia?
Pavel Telička: I have a very fresh experience, I just replaced President Tajani a few days ago at the G20 parliamentarian summit. I must say that I heard an incredible speech by the first Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Mr. Melnikov and it made me just feel that we are back in the old times of the Cold War. I mean the lessons that we have learned about; how we should be respecting international law, how we should not interfere in internal relations of other countries- meaning Russia, what the citizens of Russia want and that the sanctions basically are illegitimate etc.
Well, it’s not the European Union that annexed a part of a third country. It’s not the European Union that has supported or even not just supported but in fact provoked military activities on the territory of a different state. It’s not the European Union that supported acts which led to the assassination of some people on the territory of the European Union or let’s say a third party. So, we know what international law means, we comply with it, we are firm on that for sure. And if we see a country which is not doing that, then it is legitimate for us to come with targeted sanctions on those that are responsible, this has nothing to do with Russians.
For us, the Russian nation is a great nation, a nation that also sacrificed a lot and is a nation that really contributed incredibly not just in the 20th century. We are not targeting them, but we have concrete people that are responsible for the acts and activities that I’ve mentioned, and the sanctions work! Otherwise, why on earth would Mr. Melnikov or on numerous other occasions the Russians be coming out and saying that we should abandon the sanctions?
So, I’m definitely one of those that are fully, let’s say, ‘in harmony’ with the US. I would even say that it is the U.S that we are in harmony with. I think that this is something that we agree on – us and the US. It works, and I think that we should maintain it (Russian Sanctions).
What would be the message to the Ukrainians? What would be the message to civic society? What would be the message to our people that we would finally be without a change or a positive trend on the issues that I’ve mentioned in Russia? We would just give up! That would be just a green card (light?) for what in the future? Yesterday, it was Ukraine, what could it be tomorrow?
So yes, I think that we should stick to them. We should be firm. We should at the same time come with let’s say a whole strategy vis-a-vis Russian entities. Why not facilitate the exchange in interaction with Russian researchers, scientists and students? I mean we can do much more – small and medium-sized businesses. We can do much more, maybe also visa liberalisation for the citizens based on certain conditions.
We can do all that, but we should not compromise on issues which are highly relevant and where we have concrete people responsible for concrete, I would say even criminal activities. So, whether the council will be unanimous, I can’t say but I think that we’ve got a strong majority in this Parliament on that issue. I hope that we will maintain that majority and I hope that we will not be selling out, not just on our values but also on those that lost their lives; innocent people where we’ve got concrete presence and entities in Russia identified to be responsible.
Ebubekir Isik: Last but not least, we are heading towards the European elections in May 2019. Do you think that the European Union should be concerned about potential Russian interference in the upcoming European elections, perhaps through the way of a misinformation campaign?
Pavel Telička: Yes, I think that here I would be fair to the Russians. I wouldn’t say that this is something that has to be attributed to Russians. I think that we’ve got a serious problem here; that is, you know, all the fake news around, all the trolls and the technology that can be used. It is the whole question of cybersecurity. I’m one of the rapporteurs on the Cybersecurity Act and I really went quite deep on the issue and there is a serious issue. It is an issue that can be related to elections and tomorrow it can be a serious issue related to the safety and security of our citizens and I think that we need to be serious about that. The fact is that there are more than just rumours, sometimes it’s Russians, sometimes it’s somebody else, you know, we’ve got Cambridge Analytica. However, we are looking at it so far from the point of view of data protection which is highly relevant. But what are the political responsibilities and, well, how far are we in investigating?
So, I would not be blaming someone without evidence, but we need to investigate and if we have findings, then they should be held responsible. On the basis of that, we should act, and we should improve our resilience to that. So, it is a serious issue, it could eventually affect the European elections and as a member of the European Parliament, I will want to make sure that we will be as resilient as we can, but it’s a tough call.
Ebubekir Isik: Mr. Telicka, thank you so much for this insightful exchange and thank you so much for your hospitality.