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What future role for the EU in Iraq?

22 January 2004

The Bertelsmann Foundation has convened a European task force on Iraq, whose main aim is to assess a possible EU involvement in the political reconstruction of that country. The task force's first meeting, organised in cooperation with the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies of the European University Institute (RSCAS-EUI) and Aspen Institute Italia, took place in Florence on 22-23 January 2004. The idea is to organise a few other meetings until June 2004, when a final report will be presented. In addition to individual participation, the Institute has offered its collaboration to the organisation of future meetings.
The EU-Iraq task force's first meeting, which was attended by experts, academics and diplomats from EU member states, dealt with the internal situation in Iraq and its possible future development. References to other regional crisis, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or issues, such as the definition of a new policy for the wider Middle East region, were scarce.
The debate showed that participants were agreed on a number of points, whilst other issues were more controversial.
I. Amongst the points of agreement, first of all, participants endorsed the main principles that should be defended by the European Union in Iraq. Giacomo Luciani, co-Director, RSCAS-EUI, presented those principles in an introductory paper for the meeting:
Iraq's unity must be preserved. No partitioning or redefinition of boundaries is acceptable. <br />Iraq must be governed democratically.<br />The future Iraqi constitution must be based on decentralisation of power in order to accommodate the country's diversity. <br />Iraq must be at peace with its neighbours and renounce the use of military force to resolve international disputes. <br />Second, it was also agreed that the EU should follow an incremental approach. At present, the EU can only offer technical assistance and cooperation (thus implementing the Commission's aid package of €200m). Following a political agreement between the Coalition Provisional Authority and the local parties, it will be clearer what role the international community, including the United Nations and the EU, can play in Iraq. At that point in time, the EU would be ready to provide more substantial help, such as training and assistance in the organisation of elections. Once the situation has been stabilised, the EU will be able to establish permanent cooperation with Iraq.
Third, in the current circumstances, it is important that all Iraq's neighbours exert the utmost self-restraint. The EU and its member states are well placed to contribute to persuading those actors that the right course of action is respect for the Iraqi internal political process and territorial integrity.
Finally, the United Nations should have a relevant role in the political process leading to a new regime. However, while all participants accepted in principle this idea, its practical execution was subject to debate.
II. On the other hand, amongst the controversial issues, without any doubt the most passionately debated was the design of the transition plan to democracy and independence. Several options seem possible: (a) caucus election system, as the scheme adopted on 15 November 2003 foresees, (b) general elections, as requested by the Shia groups, (c) enlargement of the Iraqi Governing Council, from 25 to 125 members. There was no agreement as to which method was the most appropriate.
At the time of reaching a constitutional pact, two different interests seem to clash: the political and military tutelage that the occupying powers want to keep, and the sense of ownership of the whole political process that the Iraqi people would like to have. Moreover, bearing in mind both the present security situation and the disintegration of the Iraqi society, it is very hard to tell who is representing the `Iraqi people' before elections have taken place. An additional problem is that there is no much time to negotiate a constitutional pact, since a predetermined timetable must be respected.
Another debated issue was the composition of the new institution that will replace the Coalition Provisional Authority since July 2004. The role of the United States, of some European countries and the United Nations was discussed. One participant proposed that the Quartet formula could be reproduced in Iraq, as the body in charge of supervising political developments.
Finally, the general sentiment was that an early disengagement of the occupying powers would lead to a chaotic situation, civil strife and possible fragmentation of the country. Some participants, however, suggested that the foreign presence was the main destabilising factor. According to this view, the Iraqis would be better off if they had to negotiate their respective political claims between them.