EU Lawmakers Want Solidarity on Cartoon Row

Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Thursday, February 09, 2006

EU Lawmakers Want Solidarity on Cartoon Row

( - The agenda of the European Parliament's next monthly session is being amended to allow for a discussion on freedom of expression and religion. The E.U. is seeking a unified position on the diplomatic and trade dispute prompted by the Mohammed cartoon controversy.

Some lawmakers are concerned that the E.U.'s top institutions have not taken a sufficiently clear and unified stance on the controversy.

Muslims voicing unhappiness about a Danish newspaper's publication last September of 12 cartoons depicting their prophet have launched a crippling boycott of Danish products in the Middle East. The diplomatic missions of Denmark and several other E.U. countries have been attacked and European citizens threatened.

The dispute widened last week when media in other European countries reprinted the pictures, but Denmark is still bearing the brunt, and some Danes feel E.U. solidarity has been lacking.

"This is a wider European problem and not just a Danish problem," the country's business daily, Borsen, quoted Danish member of the European Parliament (MEP) Holger Nielsen as saying.

"I think it is strange the E.U. has been so absent in this discussion."

"It would be useful if the E.U. clearly and in a united way entered the fray," said Lars Erslev Andersen, a Danish expert on the Middle East.

Earlier, Danish foreign minister Per Stig Moller said Denmark could not tackle the crisis alone.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the E.U., said it was "important that we speak with one voice on this issue in the European Union."

Some MEPs are hoping for a resolution at next week's meeting that emphasizes support for Denmark and the importance of free speech.

Wilfried Martens, head of the largest bloc in the European Parliament, the European People's Party, in a statement spelled out the importance to European democracies of free expression.

"It is not imaginable that we would limit the freedom of press and introduce some kind of censorship on religious issues," he said. "If we would indeed do this, Europe would make a big step back in the freedom of our societies.

"We would start to question the values which enlightenment has brought to us and I don't know where this would end."

Meanwhile, the E.U.'s foreign policy chief Javier Solana put his name to a joint statement with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, condemning the publication of " insulting caricatures" of Mohammed.

"We believe freedom of the press entails responsibility and discretion, and should respect the beliefs and tenets of all religions."

The trio also condemned the violent attacks against diplomatic missions, saying "aggression against life and property can only damage the image of a peaceful Islam."

The OIC and another bloc at the U.N. the Arab League, hope to get a resolution passed banning attacks on religious beliefs, and backed by threats of sanctions.

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