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3rd Jul 2022

French liberal MEPs silent on EU weapons in Yemen

  • Some 80 percent of the population in Yemen is in need of humanitarian aid (Photo: Tropilux)

French and Spanish liberal MEPs have refused to endorse calls to end the sale of European security equipment that fuel conflict in Yemen and demand accountablity for member states that violate EU arms export rules.

The vote on Thursday (11 February) was part of a European Parliament resolution on Yemen, considered to be the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

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Within that call was an appeal for an EU-wide ban on security equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Although it passed, the entire delegation of 23 French MEPs from Renew Europe, save one, abstained from the appeal itself.

Many of them are from president Emmanuel Macron's En Marche party.

And seven out of the nine Spanish liberals also abstained.

Among them was Spanish liberal MEP María Soraya Rodriquez Ramos.

Earlier this week she praised the US administration under president Biden for ending arms sales to the Saudis and UAE given the conflict in Yemen.

"We need to try to obtain a ceasefire and the member states need to stick closely on this ban of sales of weapons," she told MEPs in a plenary.

But her voting record tells another story.

On Thursday, she too abstained when asked to single out EU states for violating arms export rules.

The same abstention applied when asked to endorse "an EU-wide ban on the export, sale, update and maintenance of any form of security equipment" to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The voting records point to an industry that has gripped European governments for decades.

France has sold billions of euros worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia and UAE, often including ongoing maintenance contracts that stretch over years.

"The Eurofighter from Airbus is used to bomb hospitals in Yemen," said German Green MEP Hannah Neuman.

"The French mirage bombers are used by the United Arab Emirates to do exactly the same," she added.

And both planes are equipped with Mk80 bombs manufactured by RWM, the Italian subsidiary of German Rheinmetall.

The French majority state-owned DCI Groupe is also currently training Saudi soldiers on how to best fire rockets into Yemen.

Renew Europe MEPs had also attempted to railroad another paragraph in the resolution.

The paragraph called "on all member states to halt the export of arms to all members of the Saudi-led coalition."

The MEPs had introduced a split vote on the paragraph, a tactic often used to dilute individual sentences in a resolution.

But they blundered on the strategy.

The plenary was asked to first vote to amend the paragraph with tweaks proposed by the Conservatives.

Once the amendment was carried, there was no longer a round for a split vote, leaving the original paragraph largely untouched.

The paragraph also included supporting "decisions of a number of member states to impose arms export bans to Saudi Arabia and the UAE."

Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands have imposed arms-export restrictions to varying degrees on the Saudi-led coalition.

However, a recent investigation found that Belgian armoured vehicles sold to the Saudis were in fact being used in Yemen.

Those weapons were made by FH Herstal, a firearms manufacturer owned by the regional government of Wallonia.

"We see this process everywhere," said Laura Silvia Battaglia, an Italian journalist who had worked on the Belgian investigation.

Meanwhile, the six-year war in Yemen has largely fallen off the radar of international attention until recent announcements by the US administration.

The point was driven by the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.

"The humanitarian and political situation in Yemen deserves more attention. Much more than the one we pay to it," he said earlier this week.

Some 80 percent of the Yemen population are in need of humanitarian assistance and more than four million are displaced.

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Yemen hosts around 130,000 refugees and 12,000 asylum seekers. In a country wrecked by six years of war, many find themselves in dire conditions and unable to leave, says Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the UN refugee agency's representative in Yemen.

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