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29th May 2022

Analysis

How Left and Right divide - then unite - on EU arms deals

  • The conflict in Yemen has seen various arms embargo calls (Photo: Tropilux)

The voting records of certain right and leftwing factions of the European Parliament demonstrate support of the defence industry - but for different reasons.

On Thursday (11 March), almost the entire centre-right European People's Party (EPP) group voted in favour of weaker export controls on European surveillance tech to the small Gulf state of Bahrain.

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  • Polish MEP Anna Fotyga, formerly a foreign minister, tabled the amendment, which then received the support of every EPP member, bar three (Photo: Wikimedia)

The vote was part of a larger demand to condemn Bahrain's abusive treatment of human rights defenders, as well as its active death penalty.

The proposal sought "to halt all" transfer of weapons, surveillance and intelligence equipment that could be used against rights defenders by the Gulf state.

But the conservative ECR instead pushed for an amendment that softened the demand and removed any direct reference to halt such transfers.

Polish MEP Anna Fotyga tabled the amendment, which then received the support of every EPP member, save three.

Although the amendment failed, it shows a consistent defence of the European weapons industry by some factions of the European Parliament.

Fotyga was once Poland's minister of foreign affairs.

As an MEP, she has made similar attempts to weaken calls for further restrictions on European weapons in the past.

In February, a resolution on Yemen called on all member states to halt the export of arms to all members of the Saudi-led coalition.

But Fotyga introduced an amendment to weaken that as well, which then received wide-spread support among the EPP as well as most liberals.

Last summer, another resolution sought to curtail European arms exports to the Saudis. It linked the proposed embargo to Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist murdered in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Some 100 centre-right MEPs voted against it, including Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski - whose wife had once sat as a board member on the newspaper itself.

Yes to arms embargoes, no to job losses

While the conservatives and EPP try to impede restrictions on exports, others defend the jobs the arms industry creates.

That approach is often made by The Left group in the parliament - which supports strong arms embargoes so long as workers do not lose wages.

They too introduced an amendment on Yemen, demanding EU states ensure that any ban on weapons fuelling the conflict "does not result in job losses or in lost revenue for workers".

The amendment was tabled by Belgian leftwing MEP Marc Botenga.

His former political leader is Nico Cue, a retired Belgian trade union leader, who spent 22 years working at FN Herstal and was the Left's candidate to become European Commission president.

FN Herstal is a leading firearms manufacturer 100-percent owned by the socialist-led Belgian regional Walloon government.

Investigative portal Bellingcat in early 2019 found Saudi forces using FN Herstal manufactured guns in their brutal war in Yemen.

Another investigation into Belgian arms in Yemen spotted Belgian weapons and FN munitions at Saudi outposts in Yemeni territory.

Spanish leftwing Miguel Urbán Crespo proposed a similar measure in a resolution on Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabia.

He too demanded "that no jobs will be lost as a result of the implementation of the embargo."

This article was updated on 12 March 2021 at 11:22 to note that the Walloon government is a socialist led coalition of socialists, greens and liberals. It also noted that Cue was the Left's candidate to become European Commission president.

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