• Indian office workers wait for news in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks (Photo: wikipedia)

MEP attacks EU consular reaction in Mumbai

08.12.08 @ 17:19

  1. By Philippa Runner

BRUSSELS - EU citizens need legally-binding rules on consular protection abroad after the Mumbai terrorist strike exposed flaws in the current set-up, a senior Spanish MEP has said, accusing a German official of "shameful" conduct in India.

"We need to make it compulsory for consuls to behave in a certain manner in situations of crisis," Spanish Liberal MEP Ignasi Guardans - who was leading a European Parliament trade delegation to Mumbai when armed groups attacked the city on 26 November - told EUobserver.

"European citizens need to know that when they need the European Union, they have 27 consular services at their disposal in case of emergency, so that they can be as proud of being European citizens as Americans are [of being US citizens]."

The Spanish deputy was sheltering near the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai with a group of other MEPs and assistants on the night of the attacks, when the German consul general arrived on the scene.

"He came and he picked up only the Germans, saying that memorable sentence which I will never forget 'I can take only the Germans' and then he left, taking only his fellow citizens and leaving everyone else," Mr Guardans said.

Germany and France also mistreated a dual-nationality parliamentary aide, with France at first refusing to issue her "laissez-passer" documents needed to leave the country and Germany asking her to go to its consulate to fill out forms despite an ongoing state of emergency, the Spanish deputy added.

In the aftermath of the attacks, France failed to give laissez-passer documents to other delegation members, causing people to scramble for help from their national consulates. France and Spain also gave misleading information about special planes sent from Europe to take the parliamentarians home.

"The attitude of the German consul was shameful, and I use the word in its full sense. The attitude of the French authorities was at the very least extremely bureaucratic," Mr Guardans said.

Letter of the law

Article 20 of the EU treaty says that "every citizen of the union shall ... be entitled to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any member state, on the same conditions as nationals of that member state." But there are no legal rules on implementing the principle, despite EU efforts to make more detailed arrangements after the 2004 tsunami in Asia.

An EU official told this website that if Mr Guardans' accusation is correct, the German official violated the EU treaty and should be reprimanded by the German foreign ministry.

Germany disputes the Spanish deputy's take on events, however. "The criticism that he [Mr Guardans] made is to be categorically rejected. The consul general did all he could to help the Germans and all the others involved," a German foreign ministry spokesman said.

The French EU presidency has also defended its actions, saying that Paris mobilised and co-ordinated responses by all the EU consulates on the scene, with European officials working in chaotic conditions to get all EU citizens home.

French presidency spokeswoman Marine de Carne added that officials sometimes have to make tough calls in emergency situations and to manage the expectations of their own nationals on top of EU treaty requirements.

Women and children first

"If some people are more shocked or injured than others, then you might have to choose to take them first. You have to react on the spot," she said. "Of course, if you are a French citizen and you go to the French embassy, then you expect to be taken care of."

Mr Guardans plans to brief EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot next week on his ideas for legally-binding protocols for EU consular officials and to speak out on the Mumbai events at the December or January plenary session in Strasbourg.

"It is ridiculous that each consul gets to decide on his or her own how to proceed. They need very clear instructions," he said, adding that the legal initiative is "a perfect topic to bring to the [European Parliament] elections" in June 2009 to get Europeans more interested in the vote.

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