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20th Apr 2019

Foreign ministers wrangle over cartoon row text

EU foreign ministers on Monday (27 February) changed the wording of a statement on the Danish cartoon row at the insistence of Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot, who wanted to avoid the suggestion of an EU apology towards the Muslim world.

Meeting in Brussels, the ministers issued a fresh statement on the violence that recently erupted in some muslim countries following the publication by Danish paper Jyllands-Posten of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhamed.

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  • Bernard Bot - "freedom of speech has remained upright" (Photo: Dutch EU Presidency)

The statement in its first paragraph says that "The [EU] council acknowledges and regrets that these cartoons were considered offensive and distressing by Muslims across the world."

An earlier version of the paragraph, contested by the Dutch, said that the EU regretted "that these cartoons caused offence."

"I put the first paragraph under discussion and this has been adapted so that freedom of speech has remained upright," Mr Bot told reporters.

"It is now clear that we do not make an apology for the cartoons," said a senior Dutch diplomat.

The Dutch foreign minister also recently lodged a protest with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana objecting to allegedly apologetic remarks Mr Solana made towards muslim countries over the affair.

\"Regret\" - \"Apology\"?

The Netherlands' stance was echoed by the Czech delegation, which was unhappy about any use of the word "regret".

The Czechs gave up only after stronger formulations further in the text were adopted.

Jack Straw, the UK foreign minister, reassured colleagues that the word "regret" in English does not mean "to make an apology" in the text adopted by ministers, Mr Bot said.

Meanwhile, diplomats said that Spain took the other extreme, pushing for a conciliatory tone in the council conclusions.

Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero initiated the "Alliance of Civilisations" project last summer, co-sponsored by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Poland was also in favour of a more conciliatory tone, with a Polish diplomat saying Warsaw is "pleased" the word "regret" made it to the final conclusions. The diplomat pointed out that the Polish government itself had used stronger language to chastise Polish media which reproduced the images in recent weeks.

Denmark happy

Per Stig Moller, the Danish foreign minister, said he was "pleased" with the declaration and the "unanimity" that EU member states had demonstrated in supporting Denmark.

Copenhagen is said to have been unhappy with the strong words coming from The Hague over the cartoon issue.

Instead, Mr Moller indicated support for the "Alliance of Civilisations" idea, pledging €200,000 for the scheme under a UN-managed fund.

Denmark will also be hosting a conference on "stereotypes" in, amongst others, schoolbooks and media, the Danish minister added, naming the portrayal of muslims as terrorists as one example.

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