Last Updated: Wed Jul 27, 2011 17:01 pm (KSA) 14:01 pm (GMT)

Martin Jay: Syria-European Union relations…and other entirely pointless exercises to fill vacant afternoons

Syrian opposition leader, Haitham Al-Maleh, who appealed to the chamber to help “overthrow” the Syrian regime. (File Photo)
Syrian opposition leader, Haitham Al-Maleh, who appealed to the chamber to help “overthrow” the Syrian regime. (File Photo)

I understand that most hallucinogenic drugs are freely available in the Belgian capital Brussels, if one dares to venture to the dark side of the center of town where its Moroccan community hangs out. No, I’m not saying that this community has the exclusivity on narcotics -- before you exocet me with a torrent of ant-British abuse about Englishmen in Marrakesh and child abuse etc., etc. The reference to drugs and Brussels is an obvious one though – at least when talking about Syria’s opposition-in-waiting and its embryonic diplomatic relations with the European Union. Because, unless everyone’s off their heads on illegal chemicals, how do you explain the recent visit to the European Parliament (EP) of the Syrian opposition leader (yes, they have one), Haitham Al-Maleh, who appealed to the chamber to help “overthrow” the Syrian regime? No, I’m not making it up. The News of the World did not commission this piece. This actually happened.

One wonders just how futile things are in Syria if an opposition party-in-waiting can’t come up with a better strategy than appealing to a community of over 700 wanna-be Europe-wide politicians who didn’t quite make the grade in their own countries...and who are camped in the EP (the only such institution in the world which has no powers to propose legislation) drawing their 250 Euro a day. Yes, that’s right, 250 Euro a day. When you’ve stopped choking on your cornflakes, here’s what the MEPs actually get that money for. It’s for attending. It’s an attendance allowance.

Apparently, the EU project has such little confidence in itself that it structured a payment system for its own members, which rewards them handsomely just for turning up.

But what kind of mambo ganja can our dude Al-Maleh be skinning up to think that the European Union has any effective clout in the tenuous game of international politics? Does he really think that Brussels is going to overthrow the brutal Al Assad regime? The EU has no experience whatsoever in international relations other that humanitarian relief (at which I admit it is quite good). But international politics? Could it resolve its own disputes? Cyprus? Naaghh. Too tricky. Former Yugoslavia? Are you having a laugh? Basque terrorism? Now you’re being ridiculous.

So what’s it supposed to do against our man Bashar of Damascus? Airlift tons of angry press releases to drop on the heads of the murderers that our local tyrant employs for the daily slaughter of peaceful protesters?

But wait. Didn’t the EU just appoint a new, super-dooper, all bells ‘n’ whistles Foreign Affairs Tsar? Ah yes, that would be Baroness Cathy Ashton, a former sycophant of Tony Blair whose ministerial jobs in the UK Labour government were so “junior” that Wikipedia can’t even be, well, persuaded, to list them and whose personality is so lackluster that she makes watching paint dry appear like an extreme sport.

This woman is so devoid of any talent or charisma that the poor lamb’s first stab at flexing her muscles as EU Foreign Guru of something or other was in Haiti, in the wake of the earthquake. According to my sources in Brussels, her officials dispatched a quick mail to those on the ground asking if her department could be of use to the poor people of the island and when could our Cathy jet in and do her thing? The reply was perhaps an omen of how far this firebrand of international politics is going to go while riding the EU gravy train: “No thanks…it’s better that she doesn’t come as it will probably make things worse.” Or words to that effect.

But you have to hand it to her for nerve. She managed to keep her head up when a UK Foreign Office memo was accidentally leaked stating grave concerns about her lack of experience for the new weighty responsibility she was about to undertake. “You’re s--t, but you’re all we’ve got and it’s probably a good thing that you won’t achieve bugger all in the new post, as the UK doesn’t want the EU to meddle in foreign affairs,” it read.
It didn’t actually. I just made that bit up. It actually read that the job should have gone to a former head of state or foreign minister, at least. This gives you an idea of how seriously London and Brussels view the plan (along with other mad ones) of taking on the world with a “EU External Action Service.” Trust me, you don’t even want to go there. But it seems Syria’s opposition leader does want to go there...

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, he headed toward MEPs just up the road from Cathy’s new multi-million-Euro office. There, Haitham Al-Maleh made an impassioned plea to the EU to help overthrow the existing Syrian regime. He said that the Syrian authorities had used torture against children as young as 12 and had also rounded up defenseless men from their homes, then shot them.

But just hang on a sec. We need to clarify something here, as in “EuroDisney” things aren’t as you might expect. Al-Maleh addressed – don’t laugh – the foreign affairs committee in the EP - a useless posse of freeloaders who love to travel first-class and waste European taxpayers’ money on motorcades, pomp and ceremony while indulging in off-the-shelf yaddah-yaddah with [insert name of tyrant here who is latest recipient of EU aid].

Why is he telling these people these things, as if he’s bringing them news? Shouldn’t these clowns already know this stuff? Don’t their F-cup assistants know how to use Google?

Anyway, he told this committee: “My people face a very bad situation at present. The authorities are shooting and killing totally innocent people and this has got to stop…This is a regime which does not respect the rule of law, and the EU and wider international community must act now.” Throughout the entire speech, Al-Maleh managed to keep a straight face. Even the MEPs didn’t giggle. It was amazing. But there’s more… Apparently, our man’s humor knows no bounds and, determined to get a really good laugh from foreign affairs MEPs, he continued: “This regime has lost the right to rule. It is a dictatorship and is finished…I am asking the EU, through my address to the parliament today, to help the people in Syria rid themselves of this regime. This will be good for both Syria and the EU.”

But maybe the EP and EU are really that good. Earlier, Al-Maleh - who was recently released from jail after being held for 17 months in detention – had met parliament president Jerzy Buzek and, after the meeting, the Polish MEP gushed: “The calls that I and the European Parliament have issued to demand his immediate release from Syrian prison have been answered. There is no doubt that a dialogue at the tip of a gun is not a true dialogue.”

“With tens of hundreds of innocent civilians dead, with continued repressions and military force directed against ordinary people, the Syrian regime has lost all legitimacy,” added Buzek.

Wow! Go, Jerzy, go! And tune in tomorrow to learn how the EP’s own health committee finds a cure for cancer with some yoghurt cartons and German MEP Elmar Brok’s glass eye.

Line of heroin anyone?

(Martin Jay is a veteran foreign correspondent who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for most major international TV networks. He can be reached at for insults, general comments and racist bed-wetting from those who don’t have the intellectual bandwidth to even understand what an “opinion” or “blog” article is supposed to be.)

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