Jozias van Aartsen, the leader of the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD) which is the coalition partner of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s Christian-Democrat Party (CDA) in the Dutch government, is angry with Javier Solana. Mr van Aartsen demands that the Dutch Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs both reprimand Mr Solana. The latter, a Spanish Socialist who is the EU Foreign Policy Coordinator, recently signed a common statement with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary-General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The EU-UN-OIC statement said: “We understand the deep hurt and widespread indignation felt in the Muslim world. The freedom of the press, which entails responsibility and discretion, should respect the beliefs and tenets of all religions.”
Mr van Aartsen wants the Dutch government to criticize Mr Solana and speak out firmly in defence of freedom of speech. He also said that he is no longer certain that Turkey deserves EU membership. So far the VVD leader has always backed the admission of Turkey to the EU. Geert Wilders, one of the party’s most popular politicians, even left the VVD and started his own party because he was dissatisfied with Mr van Aartsen’s pro-Turkish position. Today, however, the VVD leader questioned whether Turkey should be allowed into the EU, given the reaction of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Danish cartoons. Mr Erdogan had called the cartoons “insulting” and demanded that legal action be taken against the cartoonists and the publishers.
“If this is the way he thinks and if he is going to give us lessons, then it will be very difficult for Turkey to join the EU,” the VVD leader says in an interview with the Dutch weekly Elsevier. He also criticized the visits this week of Ben Bot, the Dutch Foreign Minister, to Saudi-Arabia and Qatar. Mr van Aartsen does not see the point of visiting these countries at the moment.
Meanwhile, Mr Solana continues his appeasement visit to the Middle East. On Wednesday he met Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. The EU Foreign Policy Coordinator told the press that they discussed measures to ensure that “religious symbols can be protected.” He said: “Such steps could materialise through various mechanisms, maybe inside the new human rights commission created in the UN.”
In Strassburg, where the members of the European Parliament convened in plenary session, diverging positions could be heard. Hans-Gert Poettering, the German leader of the Christian-Democrats, said that the protests in the Muslim world had not been spontaneous. “They were organised by repressive regimes months after the publication of the cartoons.” Mr Poettering said Muslim papers had in the past published “hundreds of cartoons making a mockery of our world,” and underlined that “tolerance is no one-way-street, but has to go in both directions.”
European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, who attended Wednesday's debate, said: “The commission condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the violence perpetrated against our office in Gaza, and against the missions of the member states, in particular those of Denmark.” He added that “a boycott of Danish goods is by definition a boycott of European goods.”
The Socialist MEP and former Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen [not to be confused with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the present Prime Minister] said that the cartoons “lack respect for and knowledge of Islam.” Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the leader of the European Greens, criticized Denmark and Germany for their lack of respect for Islam. Hans Winkler, the Secretary of State for European Affairs in Austria, the current chairman of the EU Council, said that freedom of the press is not absolute and that “religious feelings should not be offended.” Mr Winkler also said Turkey could play an important role in establishing “a positive dialogue with Islam.” Austria is now defending Turkey's EU admission, while it opposed it in the past.