German EPP group member Werner Langen, who chairs the European Parliament's DASE delegation for relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), was speaking at the end of a parliamentary delegation visit to Thailand this week.
The eight-strong delegation voiced its “strong interest” in entering into a strategic partnership with ASEAN, “beyond economic and trade”, as well as “playing an increased role in the region.”
However Langen warned that the European Parliament, would continue to “pay attention” to working conditions in the Thai fishery and food processing industries as well as to the situation of migrant workers, with a particular focus on the fight against human trafficking.
Thailand has been heavily criticised by rights groups about labour conditions in its seafood industry.
Concerns about this have also been raised by British rights worker Andy Hall who on Thursday went on trial in Bangkok for alleged defamation.
Addressing a news conference at the end of the two-day delegation visit, Langen said that parliament had the final say on the two EU trade and partnership agreements with Thailand, so necessary elements including minimum democratic standards and proper care of migrant workers, especially in fisheries, must be upheld.
He said, “If you ask my personal view, I doubt things are on the right track. The tendency remains for the military to intervene whenever its power comes under threat, but I haven't given up hope.”
Thais go to the polls on August 7 to vote on a new constitution which has been condemned by rights groups, including the Brussels based Human Rights Without Frontiers, as undemocratic.
Two years after the EU shelved the prospect of a trade agreement in response to a military coup d'état in 2014, the delegation said that staging a free and fair charter referendum [on the new constitution] could lay the groundwork for the early technical phase of talks to begin.
Langen urged the junta to allow free discussion on the draft charter, saying that free discussion is a prerequisite for political reconciliation.
He added that the delegation was also concerned that the junta might prolong its power and create a climate of intimidation because of the tendency of the military to intervene in Thai politics whenever conflict arises in the country.
However, Langen said that he and his fellow MEPs remained optimistic about Thailand's future, and hoped the country would eventually return to democracy so that negotiations on the Thailand-EU Free Trade Agreement could be resumed.
The delegation also included Belgian Socialist MEP Marc Tarabella, a deputy chair of the DASE delegation, and Italian Socialist member Pier Antonio Panzeri, a member of the Parliament's subcommittee on human rights.
Tarabella said the Thais “must clearly understand the draft charter before going to the polls.”
Asked whether the EU would impose sanctions if the ruling junta failed to return democracy next year as promised, Panzeri said, “As things stand it is not possible to make remarks about possible sanctions. We don’t know what the outcome of the referendum will be.”
Meanwhile, EU member states have added 18 people and one entity to the list of those subject to EU restrictive measures against North Korea.
They follow sanctions already imposed by the United Nations Security Council.
Those listed are mostly high-ranked military officials involved in key bodies responsible for supporting or promoting North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile-related or other weapons of mass destruction-related programmes. Sanctions include travel restrictions and an asset-freeze.
The decision brings the total number of people subject to EU restrictive measures to 66 and the number of entities to 42.