Germany sent message to its European partners this Monday. Berlin thinks that a measure of pressure against Saudi Arabia as the suspension of arms sales will only take effect if the European countries act in unison in response to the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on day 2 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. “Only if all the European countries agree will it have an effect on the Riyadh Government,” German Economic Minister Peter Altmaier told the public television ZDF in the morning.
Spain has avoided adopting the most critical European line with Riyadh while from Brussels they only agree on a conviction and the demand for an investigation.
“It is a purely national decision”, said from the department of Federica Mogherini, high representative of Foreign Policy of the EU, in reference to the suspension of arms sales. The German Economy Minister considered, however: “It will not have positive consequences if only we are the ones that stop exporting and other countries are covering that gap”.
On Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia due to the disappearance of Saudi journalist Khashoggi, a critic of crown prince Mohamed bin Salman, and the alleged involvement of Riyadh in his death. “Arms exports cannot happen under the current circumstances,” Merkel said at an election for regional elections on Sunday.
Altmaier reiterated yesterday that his government has agreed ” that it will not approve new arms contracts at the moment because we want to know what happened “.
Berlin has raised a determined voice in the international context, in favor of reprisals against Riyadh, hoping that others will follow its example.
At the same time, it is about to see how those words become reality within the German borders. Because as he hastened to denounce the opposition on Monday, in recent months the Berlin Executive has continued to approve sales to Riyadh, despite having pledged not to do so. In addition, it is not clear what will happen to the contracts already signed and pending execution, which in principle would go ahead.
“It is not the first time that they fail to comply with the promise of not exporting and may fail to comply with it again,” warns Omid Nouripour, who is responsible for foreign policy at the Los Verdes parliamentary group. “It is not just about suspending future sales, but also about canceling projects that have already been approved,” he adds. “The case of Jamal Khashoggi is just the tip of the iceberg in a country responsible for the war in Yemen and that is responsible for continued violations of human rights,” says Nouripour.
In a response to a parliamentary question earlier this month, the government explained that they are carrying out “a restrictive export policy” in which they analyze case by case sales. The breakdown of the figures indicates that Saudi Arabia is the second country to which the highest arms sales were approved between January and September 2018, after Algeria. In total, the German government approved sales totaling 416.4 million euros.
The internal political pressure for the German government to remain firm in its announcement of suspension will intensify. The Greens, the emerging political force that according to the polls already surpasses the Social Democracy (SPD), have made this issue a banner. The debate also arises at the door of regional elections, those of Hesse, in which the conservative party of Merkel and its partner in the government of grand coalition, the SPD, could suffer new losses of votes.
Both parties had already committed in March to stop the sale of arms to countries active in the war in Yemen. So it appears in a clause in the so-called coalition contract that the big German parties signed in March and that serves as the government program of the current Executive. This prohibits the export of arms “to countries involved in the war in Yemen.” They extend the ban to “joint European projects” and advocate “developing a common position of the EU” on this issue.
The pressure had also come in recent days to Joe Kaeser, head of Siemens, not to go to the so-called Davos del Desierto, which is held in Saudi Arabia, after numerous politicians and investors canceled their attendance last week. This Monday, Kaeser informed that he will not attend the economic meeting.
The announcement of Germany to paralyze future arms sales to Saudi Arabia has called into question the main European partners and has brought to light the deep division over possible reprisals against the Arab country. The European Commission has ensured that “consultations are held at all levels and in all contexts,” but has turned away from the Berlin proposal.
Since 1998, the European Union has established a code of conduct on arms exports, converted in 2008 into a common position. This position provides for the denial of sale licenses when there is a clear risk that the weapons will be used to commit human rights violations. human rights or international humanitarian standards. And Saudi Arabia has been the object of denials of licenses, especially in the wake of the war in Yemen.
Riad has become an essential client for the arms industry. Its imports increased 225% between 2013 and 2017. And although the United States takes the bulk, the United Kingdom and France are the second and third suppliers, respectively. The two countries have refused, for now, to support the German proposal.
Spain only accounts for 3% of Saudi Arabian imports. But the kingdom has become “the fourth foreign client by volume of business in the period 2008-2016,” says Alberto Bueno, a researcher at the University of Granada, in an analysis for Public Agenda. The jump, explains Bueno, has been spectacular since 2013 because a decade ago Saudi Arabia occupied the 61st place among the clients of the Spanish armament industry.
The political temperature is expected to continue rising in the coming hours. The European Parliament will hold a debate on Tuesday on “the murder of Khashoggi”, according to the title agreed by the parliamentary groups. And on Thursday it is expected to vote a joint resolution of condemnation, which could obtain the support of the main parliamentary groups. However, there seems to be resistance to requesting an arms embargo.
The draft resolution of the socialist group, promoted by the Spanish MEP Elena Valenciano along with two other MEPs, condemns the “alleged murder of the State” and calls, among other things, sanctions against the Saudis involved in the case and the suspension of membership from Saudi Arabia to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. But the sale of weapons is not mentioned.