News Analysis Trade

Threat from Euro meddlers

European Parliament

Last month, the European Parliament threatened to withdraw the Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP+), a trade agreement by which two thirds of Philippine product categories are shipped to European Union (EU) countries tariff free. Currently, 6,274 Filipino-made products carry zero duty under this arrangement.

Were it to make good its threat this could cause problems for Philippine exports to the EU which last year were valued at US$6.62 billion. Products likely hardest hit would be coconut oil – a primary export – and tuna; though only around 20% of all Filipino exports to Europe would be affected.

But to our knowledge, withdrawing GSP+ – by which beneficiary nations are bound by 27 conventions including human rights – has never in the context of the Philippines been discussed in the European Parliament. There’s been plenty of invective from there; recently it said that it had urged the European Commission “to use all available instruments to persuade the Philippines to put an end to extrajudicial killings [EJKs] related to the anti-drug campaign including, in the absence of any substantive improvements in the next few months, procedural steps with a view to the possible removal of GSP+ preferences”.

The latest threat, however, was made by European Trade Commissioner and top Eurocrat, Cecilia Malmström (photo), while talking to the media at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations event in Pasay City, Metro Manila last month. It seems to have been more ‘off-the-cuff’ than part of some ongoing parliamentary debate back in Brussels. So far, trade sanctions against the Philippines – which is what this would amount to – have never appeared on Europe’s parliamentary agenda.

This then is the EU Parliament doing what it likes to do – insinuate itself into the affairs of other countries as if by doing so it bolsters its credentials as a world power. This isn’t the first time that the EU has stuck its unwelcome foot into Philippine waters. Last month it passed a resolution calling for the immediate release of alleged illegal-drugs profiteer, the now custodially accommodated Senator Leila De Lima, and has criticised members of the Philippine Senate for removing four of De Lima’s fellow Liberal Party senators from their committee chairs in February. It’s also demanded an independent inquiry into EJKs.

Dig a little deeper, however, and what we find is that Mz Malmström, just happens to be a leading light in Sweden’s progressive Liberals. This political party is a member of Liberal International a broad alliance of national liberal movements pledged to spread liberalism globally – or as it describes itself, it’s “the world federation of liberal and progressive democratic political parties”.

The Philippine Liberal Party – the leadership of which Malmström will be well acquainted with –   is also affiliated to Liberal International which was one of the sponsors of a sideshow event at the 60th United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs’ annual meeting held last month in Vienna, Austria.

Entitled ”Human Rights Challenge: Responding to Extrajudicial Killings in the Drug War,” Vice President Leni Robredo was the star turn. She appeared there via a six-minute video in which she made repeated derogatory innuendos concerning President Rodrigo Duterte’s alleged complicity in the EJKs, and embarrassed the nation into the bargain. The video was then uploaded to Liberal International affiliate-member websites around the world.

What Malmström and her cohorts in the EU Parliament are hoping to achieve by their threats is to bring Duterte to heel – and specifically over three issues: EJKs, linked by Liberals everywhere to the president’s War on Drugs, and Congressional moves to reinstate the death penalty and lower the judicial age of criminal responsibility to nine.

Mz Malmström states “We are concerned” – though by “We” presumably she means the Liberal group in the European Parliament and no doubt her Liberal chums in the Philippines. She didn’t elucidate.

In other words, it would seem, the Trade Commissioner is attempting to weaponise GSP+ to get a political result – using an existing trade agreement between the EU and the Philippines to influence the domestic policy of a country that’s just about as far away from Europe as it’s possible to get.

Of course, there were protests to Malmström’s remarks from members of Philippine Congress, from the Department of Foreign Affairs – and, through his spokesman, from President Duterte himself.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said that the EU Parliament had “crossed the line”; Chief presidential legal adviser, Salvador Panelo, basically told it to mind its own business; Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella’s response was: “… we urge the European Parliament to reconsider its decision as we remind everyone, including international bodies, to allow us to deal with our domestic challenges without unwarranted foreign interference”.

Despite all that, however, the European Parliament – true to style – has refused to give further clarity on the issue, despite being asked to do so. Thus the threat – although little more than a veiled one – remains hanging over the Philippine export sector like a sword of Damocles.

Of course it’s absolutely outrageous that a Brussels’ autocrat can threaten a sovereign state because she doesn’t approve of the way it handles its internal affairs; but that’s the arrogance of the EU all over. This pure-bred political beast – the working definition of totalitarian rule – has fed on the states of Europe for decades. Now it seeks to graze further afield – not in Europe but in Asia.

But while we believe it’s very unlikely that the EU Parliament will carry through on this issue, there’s absolutely no question that it’s determined to stamp its ‘authority’ on Duterte’s domestic policies one way or another. It doesn’t just think it has the right; it believes it has the obligation – that’s the mindset of “liberal and progressive democratic political parties” everywhere. And of course as we all know by now, upholding the tenets of democracy is only important to Liberals if they happen to have been the party elected. And in the Philippines they weren’t.

When the European Economic Community (EEC), the first forerunner of the EU, was set up in 1957 its sales pitch was ‘economic union’ – a single or internal market that provided for the free movement of goods and service, capital and people. It was an attractive proposition and over the next couple of decades its membership swelled. Trade was the carrot that they all wanted a bite of. Then the word ‘Economic’ was dropped and the EEC became the EC (or European Community). The message was simple; the objective was political union, meaning in fact, political conformity.

Well, here we go again, Malmström and her EU Parliament pals are using that same old trade lure again – the carrot that conceals the barbs that would haul those it does business with into political subservience to its ideology. This is the foreshadow – if it gets its way – of One World Government. Have no doubt about this, the EU’s ambitions are – and always have been – global.

Duterte, however, will not be railroaded by a bunch of faceless European bureaucrats. He stood up to former US president Barack Obama for doing precisely this; interfering in his country’s internal management. He’s certainly more than a match for the suits in Brussels and he’ll never compromise his country’s sovereignty and independence to fall in line with an imperious, repressive and undemocratic abomination like the EU.