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Briefing on the EU’s stance

EU observer in Côte d'Ivoire
(Monica Mark/IRIN)

IRIN has produced a series of briefings exploring the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire triggered by contested elections in November 2010.

With both Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara laying claim to the presidency, the bitter political divisions in the country have led to worsening violence. While regional and international bodies have repeatedly called on Gbagbo to step down, neither sanctions nor mediation initiatives have come close to breaking the deadlock. Gbagbo and Ouattara head rival administrations, both trying to maximize their resources and isolate the other party. IRIN’s series of revised briefings takes a look at the handling of the crisis by the UN, regional bodies the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), western governments, and the European Union (EU), while also looking at the economic, human rights and humanitarian consequences of the breakdown.

EU backs Ouattara and wants Gbagbo out

While ECOWAS and the AU have struggled to maintain a united front on Côte d’Ivoire, the EU has continued to push for Ouattara’s recognition and Gbagbo’s isolation, expanding its list of targets for sanctions, but leaving considerable confusion about their implications.

EU stands by election results announced by CEI

Close to two months after the second round of voting in Côte d’Ivoire, the Mission d' Observation Electorale de l'Union Européenne (MOE UE) released its report on the elections in Brussels on 25 January. In normal circumstances, the report should have been put out in Abidjan, but security considerations made this impossible. Also, as the head of the 120-member observer mission, Romanian MP Christian Preda pointed out: “There is a technical problem: We need visas, we cannot ask for visas to a president we no longer recognize.”

The report, backed up by Preda at a Brussels press conference, emphatically endorsed the results issued by the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) and certified by UN Special Representative J. Y. Choi. Preda was strongly critical of the role played by the Constitutional Council arguing that its decision to annul the elections was ill-considered. Preda suggested that suggestions from Gbagbo and others that there had been widespread electoral malpractice in the north were largely false, arguing that there had been more intimidation in the west. On the basis of visits to 1,000 out of the 20,000 polling stations (5 percent), Preda concluded that irregularities had been at worst minor and there had been no evidence of widespread fraud. “The only person that saw fraud was the president who refused to leave,” Preda argued. “And he saw the fraud after the results. The only fraud that happened was to oblige the Constitutional Council to do an illegal act.” Preda said observers had faced intimidation from both sides, sometimes in the form of death threats, which he said observers had come to take seriously, particularly in Yamoussoukro. Preda confirmed that the observers had left Côte d’Ivoire ahead of schedule, largely because of the climate of intimidation.

Preda said it was important to focus on the EU’s findings and learn lessons from the electoral process. "Our clear verdict about the fairness of the elections can prevent a president from keeping the power”, he said.

Singing from the same hymn-sheet

Weeks before the MOE UE report, the EU had already come out firmly for Ouattara. Early statements echoed those made by the UN, AU, ECOWAS and the USA, and continue to do so. For example, two months into the crisis, the European Council’s conclusions from its meeting on 31 January more or less duplicated those of the Security Council in Resolution 1967, adopted two weeks earlier. The EU firmly backed the AU and ECOWAS, while deploring violence, human rights violations, the continuing blockade of the Golf Hotel, attempts to undermine UNOCI and the use of media to incite hatred. The EU also made it clear that backing Ouattara meant isolating Gbagbo. “The EU calls on all civilian and military actors to recognize the authority of the democratically elected president and his government and reiterates that it will only consider legitimate those institutions and bodies who place themselves under his authority.”

Having hinted early on at sanctions in the event of Gbagbo refusing to step down, the EU issued a list of 19 targeted individuals on 22 December. The list included both Laurent and Simone Gbagbo, several key members of Gbagbo’s inner circle, pro-Gbagbo militia leaders, and several prominent media figures.

While those targeted dismissed the travel bans and financial penalties as unjust and irrelevant, the European Council issued an expanded list with 59 names on it, many of the new additions coming from the unrecognized administration, accused of “obstruction of the peace and reconciliation processes and refusal to accept the result of the presidential election through participation in the illegitimate government of Mr Laurent Gbagbo”.

Following the money

With mediation efforts failing to make much headway and military solutions being kept as a reserve option, EU sanctions look to be increasingly in line with the economic tactics being pushed by Ouattara and Soro. This means penalizing all those seen to be giving succour to an illegal administration, whether they are providing financial support or simply providing normal services in what Ouattara’s supporters see as extremely abnormal circumstances.

The sanctions list issued on 14 January featured 85 individuals and 11 institutions. This time, those targeted included the heads of key state corporations and the organizations they fronted, both charged with “helping to fund the illegitimate government of Mr Laurent Gbagbo”. They included the National Petroleum Operations Company of Côte d’Ivoire (PETROCI) and its director, Fadika Kassoum; the Coffee and Cocoa Trade Management Committee (CGFCC) and its chairman, Gilbert Anoh N’Guessan; and the port authorities of Abidjan and San Pedro in the southwest. Several banks featured, with another two added on another list issued on 31 January. This time the EU targeted Philippe Henry Dacoury-Table, already gone from his post as governor of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO); Denis N'Gbé, the BCEAO’s national director; and Ibrahim Ezzedine, a Lebanese businessman with a major stake in Côte d’Ivoire’s rice business.

Reactions to sanctions

Economic operators sanctioned have reacted bitterly. Interviewed in the Ivoirian press, Lebanese businessman and “Social and Economic Adviser” Roland Gagher said he had already initiated legal action against the EU, warning that those looking to introduce sanctions “believing they are asphyxiating Gbagbo are really asphyxiating workers”.

''Members continue to report that the uncertainty in relation to the sanctions is forcing not only a halt to exports but also a slowdown and in some cases a cessation of activity in the internal market which will hit the farmers hardest''

Named earlier, the director-general of the Autonomous Port of Abidjan (PAA), Marcel Gossio, was even more scathing. Speaking to economic operators, Gossio observed: “We find it difficult to understand the attacks on our port, attacks which seem to result in a dangerous mixing together of an economic entity with the political crisis the country is going through.” Gossio said the EU’s decision to freeze the PAA’s accounts and ban ships registered in Europe from visiting the port would only penalize the business community.

But the content of the sanctions, particularly their wording and the scope for misinterpretation has caused concern and confusion among economic operators outside Africa.

For example, in a joint statement issued on 4 February, the London-based Federation of Cocoa Commerce (FCC) and the European Cocoa Association (ECA) in Brussels said they had requested clarification on the implications of sanctions from the EU, but were still waiting. “Members continue to report that the uncertainty in relation to the sanctions is forcing not only a halt to exports but also a slowdown and in some cases a cessation of activity in the internal market which will hit the farmers hardest,” the FCC and ECA noted. “Although the EU imposed financial sanctions on certain individuals and entities, these targeted measures have, therefore, amounted to a de facto export ban on cocoa beans and cocoa products from Côte d’Ivoire.”

There is similar confusion over shipping sanctions. US law firm Reed Smith put out a circular to clients on 21 January, offering an interpretation of the EU measures. Reed Smith noted there was “now almost a complete prohibition on making funds and economic resources available to the sanctioned parties”, including port authorities and petrol companies, but warning there were no clear guidelines on contracts signed before the sanctions came into operation. While suggesting that a ship calling in at Abidjan and San Pedro (capital of the Bas-Sassandra Region in southwestern Côte d’Ivoire and the country’s second port) might be seen as going off-limits, Reed Smith acknowledged different accounts of how the EU measures were being acted on, “it being reported both that there is a complete prohibition on `EU vessels’ calling at Ivory Coast ports and that it remains business as usual.”

Sources: European Parliament, Official Journal of European Union, AFP, Soir Info (Côte d’Ivoire), Federation of Cocoa Commerce, European Cocoa Association, Reed Smith website


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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