EU calls for end to ‘bitterness’ with Muslim world
28 February 2006
BRUSSELS – The European Union on Monday said it was time for an end to “bitterness” between Europe and Islamic countries over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
“We must concentrate on the next steps and future activities to reduce tensions and become more aware of what unites us rather than what divides us,” Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik told reporters.
Both sides must make a “real effort to put some of the bitterness behind us,” Plassnik underlined. Austria is current president of the 25-nation EU.
Diplomats said a statement on the issue released by EU foreign ministers was the result of a compromise between governments like Britain which wanted more conciliatory language towards Muslim countries and others, including the Netherlands, which insisted the bloc must not be seen to be apologising on the issue.
The final statement voiced “deep concern at the events that followed the publication of cartoons” and said EU governments “acknowledged and regretted” that the caricatures were considered offensive and distressing by Muslims across the world.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the 25-nation bloc strongly supported freedom of the press and the freedom of expression but added: “We regret that other people’s religious feelings have been hurt.”
The EU was ready to start “a new discourse of cultures” with the Muslim world as soon as possible, Steinmeier said. But he insisted that people who believed their religious feelings had been hurt must not turn to violent actions.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said dialogue between the West and Islam was the only way to tackle the crisis.
The new EU drive focuses on improving relations with Muslim governments but also underlines the need for better contacts between the two sides’ media, youth groups and non-governmental organizations.
The EU statement underlined the EU’s desire to “actively promote dialogue, mutual understanding and respect” with Muslim countries.
This will be done through the existing Euro-Mediterranean dialogue which links the EU to several North African and Middle East nations but also through the network of Asia Europe Meetings (ASEM).
The bloc has also thrown its weight behind a Turkish-Spanish initiative for an “Alliance of Civilizations.” Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul is expected to focus on the proposal at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Salzburg next month.
Contacts with the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) will be strengthened. Diplomats said the EU was also not opposed to United Nations involvement in the bridge-building exercise.
The statement said that “free media are indispensable to a free and open society” but added: “Freedoms, however, come with responsibilities.”
EU foreign ministers asked Muslim governments to compensate European authorities for damage caused to their embassies on their territory and said that boycotts against EU states are not acceptable.
Subject: German news