The EU should have a greater role in bringing North Korea in from the cold, says senior MEP

Written by Martin Banks on 22 November 2018 in News

North Korea see the EU as "a sort of ‘mini-European United Nations’ attached to a free market” but shows is little or no understanding of how the bloc operates says Nirj Deva.

Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

The EU is poorly understood in North Korea, and can and should play a larger role in helping the country to become part of the wider international community. That is the main conclusion of a parliamentary delegation on a fact-finding mission to North Korea, according to British Tory MEP Nirj Deva.

The UK deputy chaired the deputation and included a series of bilateral meetings with North Korean officials. He said this was a chance to discuss “ending the Korean War and securing lasting peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula.”

He said, “Little did we know when we began, how quickly the march towards peace and reconciliation would happen. Following the historic Kim-Trump summit, in Singapore, an act that required enormous political courage from all sides, my colleagues and I felt duty bound to explore how the EU could help facilitate de-escalating tensions and support an evolving peace process.”

One of the striking findings from the trip was how little the North Koreans know about the EU, including “the co-decision process for EU legislation and the Acquis Communautaire.”


He said, “However, the EU is viewed as an honest, fair, interlocutor wielding soft power is based on trade, development and humanitarian goals.”

For the past three and a half years, the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with the Korean Peninsula has undertaken bilateral meetings with North Korean officials.

Deva said, “During my tenure as chair, we have continuously promoted confidence-building measures with the intention of indirectly fostering the practical steps necessary for reducing risks in the region. Ultimately, the objective is to build upon this to transition the Korean peninsula from a state of armistice to a state of peace.

Following a near six-year “hiatus”, the delegation sent a mission to the DPRK last month, restarting the Inter-Parliamentary meetings and marking the first direct engagement between any parliamentary body and the DPRK in this mandate.

“Ultimately, the objective is to build upon this to transition the Korean peninsula from a state of armistice to a state of peace”

Deva said, “Just one year ago, such a mission would have proved impossible, as the world was tensely waiting to see whether war would break out in East Asia between the DPRK and the US, following Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests. However, there a seismic shift in the nature of international engagement with the DPRK in the last year.”

“Our delegation hoped to build upon this recent progress, with the intention of strengthening dialogue between the EU and Korea.”
The mission focussed on meetings with the DPRK authorities, visiting Pyongyang facilities and visiting EU humanitarian projects in the countryside.
Deva said, “Our findings were clear; our opposite numbers interestingly never adopted a complaining tone and at no point blamed the UNSC, the USA or any other actor, of unfair treatment. Indeed, while propaganda monuments and pictures of the Supreme Leaders are disseminated everywhere, there was never any visible hostility, whether verbally, or in terms of statues or other public images, towards South Korea, Japan, USA, the UN or China.”

He continued, “Instead, our counterparts unilaterally insisted that by developing of its nuclear programme, the DPRK has now achieved its security strategy and is now focusing on national prosperity. They pointed out that although sanctions had impacted implementation of their economic plans, the DPRK has developed strong self-reliance. Pride in this, along with national patriotism, were seen as the value system above all other considerations that underpin the regime’s continued existence.”

“The EU is viewed as an honest, fair, interlocutor wielding soft power is based on trade, development and humanitarian goals”

Deva added, “Asked which sanctions they would like to see removed first, the common answer was that this is not the priority; rather we need to first develop “confidence building” measures and increase bilateral contacts rather than remove specific sanctions. With no natural allies and surrounded by historical enemies, the regime is seeking to form fresh relationships with new global players, including the EU.”

“While the UN-voted sanctions, fully implemented by all EU member states, have undoubtedly led to the confidence necessary for this new beginning, opinions differ on their efficacy. Some EU member state diplomats see little or no evidence of any significant impact on the political decisions of the Central Committee. Indeed, they may even reinforce a strong sense of pride, hurting only the most vulnerable whilst the elites have insulated themselves from their effects.”
“Indeed, Pyongyang, home to a privileged two million inhabitants, mostly integral to the regime, was a surprisingly modern and efficiently-run capital, as advanced as any in Southeast Asia.”

Deva said, “The mission, whilst providing a much-needed opportunity for the European Parliament to engage with the DPRK, also contributed to shaping the EU’s profile in the country, which is currently low.”

“Our visit also demonstrated the need to bring clarity and transparency to the peace and denuclearisation process. We are concerned that the discussions, held behind closed doors bilaterally between the US and North Korea, precludes the involvement of other concerned actors like China, Japan and Russia. This inevitably leads to suspicions, misunderstandings and unwitting errors.”

In addition, the American demand for immediate, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation, will not happen until the DPRK is satisfied that they can get something in return.

 “We discussed initiating an international conference, chaired by the EU and involving the six direct protagonists, as well as international development banks like the World Bank.
“The Supreme People Assembly expressed their wish to visit Brussels and, if exceptionally authorised, an incoming IPM could be held during the first part of 2019.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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