11 October 2002

ZIMBABWE: Controversy strains EU-SADC relations

European Union (EU) diplomats confirm that the planned summit between European and Southern African government delegations, which was to be held in Copenhagen in three weeks, might be cancelled or moved. The EU does not want to invite the Zimbabwean government, which has made Zimbabwe's southern African neighbours ask for the summit to be moved to Mozambique.

The Danish Presidency of the EU is under great pressure. The second half of 2002 - which concurs with this small Scandinavian country's leadership within the Union - needs to be dedicated to several wide-ranging EU reforms. The joining criteria for ten new member countries have to be agreed upon before 31 December, and to finance the EU's expansion, the costly agrarian subsidies have to be redefined. Internal EU conflict seems more likely than a white Christmas in the Nordic city of Copenhagen.

The planned 4-6 November summit in Copenhagen was to unite leader from the EU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), of which Zimbabwe is a member. Several EU countries, notably the Netherlands and the UK are opposed to invite a delegation from Zimbabwe, which ultimately would be address to the country's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stan Mudenge.

The EU has imposed sanctions on Mugabe's' regime, including the ban of certain government members to enter the EU. Minister Mudenge is on this sanctions list. Dan Fredriksen of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains that "as the situation in Zimbabwe has even worsened since the sanctions were imposed, the EU is not too exited about granting an exemption to the Zimbabwean Minister."

Mr Fredriksen however underlines that, so far, "no invitations have sent out," as the discussion within the EU whether to invite Mr Mundenge was ongoing. An exemption "would undermine the EU's sanction regime," Mr Fredriksen says, however admitting that the positions within the EU were different. Other sources have revealed that principally France is pushing to invite a Zimbabwean government delegation.

The Danish diplomat is however contradicted by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which on Wednesday told afrol News that a decision already had been taken not to invite a Zimbabwean delegation. A spokesman of the Ministry said "the position of the EU is not to invite Zimbabwe to the summit due to the sanctions that once were adopted by the 15 [EU countries] against that country."

An EU decision to hold the summit in Copenhagen and not to invite Zimbabwe to an EU-SADC summit would seriously harm EU relations with Southern Africa. Several sources have indicated that other SADC delegations would not jet to Copenhagen if Zimbabwe is not invited.

The SADC however has proposed a way out of the potential diplomatic crisis with the EU. According to Mr Fredriksen, the SADC Secretariat has asked the EU to move the summit to Maputo, Mozambique. Thus, a Zimbabwean delegation would not travel to the EU and no sanctions would be violated. Further, a diplomatic crisis between EU and SADC would be avoided. Mr Fredriksen confirmed that moving the summit to Maputo was "one of the options discussed".

According to an analysis in the Danish daily 'Politiken' - quoting Danish civil servants - the most likely EU decision is to postpone or cancel the summit. 'Politiken' holds it is "doubtful whether the EU's Foreign Ministers can be made flying the long way down to Maputo as the Union is working hard to accomplish the inclusion of the ten candidate countries. The most probable therefore is that the summit between EU and Africa is postponed to next year, when Denmark hands the [EU] Presidency over to Greece."

The controversy over the EU-SADC summit has already raised concerns in Portugal, which is supposed to host a summit between the EU and the African Union (AU) next year. The Portuguese government reportedly promotes the holding of the Copenhagen summit - including a Zimbabwean delegation - fearing they may "have the same problems" as Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs now is experiencing. (afrol News / Southern Africa Contact)

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