The European Parliament has signaled that Pakistan’s duty-free market access is linked with “rapid implementation” of international commitments on human and minority rights, leading them to adopt two resolutions that would put that access in jeopardy if Pakistan fails to adhere.
In an interview with a local news outlet, European Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala said the two resolutions were a “signal” to the Pakistani government that there was no guarantee that the GSP Plus scheme will continue without further implementation of the UN conventions.
“We would like to see a bit more rapid implementation of the laws, particularly anti-torture law, sexual violence, and protection of women and children rights,” she added.
Heidi also underscored the challenges that Pakistan may face in case of expulsion of the French ambassador to Islamabad. She said that “Islamophobia in Europe was an exaggeration”.
Heidi is also a rapporteur on the GSP Regulations and responsible for negotiating with different political groups and applicant countries.
The European Parliament has passed two resolutions in the past over six months to review Pakistan’s GSP Plus status, which will expire in 2023, if not withdrawn earlier.
The EU remains Pakistan’s largest export destination where over €3 billion worth of goods were exported in the first half of the current year, up by 11%.
Pakistan had won the GSP plus status in 2014 that is expiring in two years. The bloc of 27 nations has also unveiled a new proposal for the 2024-33 period.
The abuse of the blasphemy law and protection of civic rights triggered the European Parliament resolutions, Heidi said while explaining the background of the resolutions. The 27 UN conventions oblige the Pakistani government to also respect minority rights, she added.
Very soon there will be a European Commission Monitoring Mission in Pakistan that has a long list of questions to be asked from the government about implementation of these laws, the European Parliament vice president said.
Heidi said that continuation of the GSP Plus is not guaranteed because it will depend on how rights have been guaranteed not only on paper but also how these are enforced.
The government has to be serious about it and chairing a few meetings by the prime minister is a very positive sign, she noted. The National Human Rights Commission will play a role in observing that fundamental rights are ensured, she added.
Heidi acknowledged a new national action plan for business and human rights and said this is what Pakistan should be prepared for. The EU adopted it 10 years ago and Pakistan is the second country in Asia that has adopted a national action plan.
Nicola Procaccini, who headed the delegation, also said that to make EU-Pakistan relations stronger “we need something from our interlocutor and in this case we have asked Pakistan to focus on minority rights and respect media freedom”.
To a question about attacks on journalists in the country, Procaccini said that “it was impossible to understand the situation on the ground in two days but we heard some concerns from the media”.
“This is obviously a problem for us. For the European Union freedom of media is one of the basic pillars of the rule of the law. We do not know the exact situation but we are worried about the situation,” he added.
While responding to questions about Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) demand about expulsion of French ambassador, Heidi said that “the EU member states are fully in solidarity with each other and such drastic demand by people is clearly negative and is excessive reaction to what may have happened”.
The government has the responsibility to cool down these groups that are quite vocal, she added.
“I am not saying that everything in Europe is perfect but I think it is exaggerated to say that Europe is full of Islamophobia”. There are 23 million Muslims living in Europe.
The demand for expulsion of the French ambassador is not a positive signal and it is part of the bigger picture.
To a question whether any political decision about the status of an ambassador had any connection with UN conventions, Heidi observed, “Of course there is a link but it is not the direct link”.
“It gives a certain reflection of the atmosphere in Pakistan, which can be quite quickly heated and the government is very much responsible for this kind of situation to be cooled down and find solutions,” she added.
“Certainly, we hope that the government is not subordinating itself to excessive demands by the radical groups.”