EU to vote on trade deal with Vietnam in February as human rights issues remain unaddressed

In April 2019, Antonio Tajini, then President of the European Parliament, met with Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, Chairwoman of the National Assembly of Vietnam in Brussels.

The National Assembly - constitutionally recognised as ‘the highest organ of state power’ - is a single chamber body which meets just twice a year. It is, in fact, answerable to the politburo of the Communist Party of Vietnam, as she is on record as admitting.

All senior positions are held by Party members, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan herself is a member of the 12th Politburo of the Communist Party of Vietnam, in which she is ranked second, after General Secretary of the Communist Party Nguyễn Phú Trọng.

In fact, although they dare not say so in public to criticise the state is a crime in Vietnam - ordinary Vietnamese do not recognised the regime as having any legitimacy, as elections are a mere charade.

International organisations - such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - are also universal in their condemnation of Vietnam as a ‘single party state’, and not, therefore, a legitimate democracy.

The future of more than 90 million Vietnamese should not be decided by a small group of Communist Party officials... Vietnam should finally adhere to its international legal commitments and allow an election by its citizens instead of yet another selection by the ruling party.

Brad Adams, Asia director Human Rights Watch.

A ceremony to celebrate Vietnam’s 74th National Day took place at the country’s Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, on September 10th, drawing 300 officials from the EU and Belgium, as well as representatives of local businesses, and the Vietnamese community in the country.

Addressing the event, Vietnamese Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, and head of the Vietnamese Delegation to the EU Vu Anh Quang said Vietnam attaches ‘great importance to developing ties with the EU, and with Belgium in particular’.

Promoting partnership with the EU and its member countries is one of the major pillars of Vietnam’s foreign policy, he said.

The Vietnam-EU relationship has thrived with the conclusion of negotiations on the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the EU-Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) in June this year.

The ambassador welcomed the contributions of the EU to peace, security and development in Southeast Asia, especially EU statements released in August regarding developments in the East Sea.

For his part, Jan Zahradil, a Czech MEP who harboured ambitions to become President of the European Commission in 2019, and who is currently Vice Chairman of the European Parliament’s influential Committee on International Trade (INTA), is also President of the EU-Vietnam Friendship Parliamentarian Group, an instrument often used by repressive regimes to create an image of democratic respectability within the EU institutions.

He stated that the signing of the EVFTA in Hanoi was a key milestone for both sides, and helped make Vietnam’s National Day ceremony happier.


Zahradil also said, as Vice Chairman of INTA, he has followed the negotiations of the EVFTA and found this is ‘the most ambitious deal the EU has signed with a developing country’. Strong words indeed.

The EU-Vietnam Friendship Parliamentarian Group hopes to continue playing an active role during the European side’s approval of the deal, he said.

In November 2016 he was also elected as Chair of the Advisory Council of the Asociace Vietnamců v Evropě a.s. (Association of Vietnamese in Europe (FOVAE)).

Formally registered as an association under Czech law, FOVAE is based in Prague. The government of Vietnam is paying great attention to this association, and its constituent congress was attended by senior representatives.

This is a classic operation, apparently carried out under Regulation No. 45 CT / TW of the Communist Party of Vietnam (2015) in order to integrate the so-called Vietnamese Associations and their members directly into their structures. The Communist Party of Vietnam is clearly seeking to exert its control over the diaspora in Europe.

Zahradil did not declare his involvement with FOVAE in his Original Declaration at the began of the current legislature; European Parliament rules stipulate that MEPs must declare any activity regardless of whether it is ‘remunerated or unremunerated’.

In a revised declaration of December 3rd, however, this relationship is listed. EU Today is aware that there was press interest in this matter at that very time.

EU Today has, in the past, raised questions about the relationships between so-called ‘former’ Communist states and the Union itself.

Controversially, and in addition to his involvement with a variety of Vietnamese interest groups as described above, within this context, Zahradil, is also rapporteur on the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and Investment Protection Agreement (IPA).

Zahradil's brushing off of European Parliament rules when it comes to conflicts of interest raises questions on his neutral role as rapporteur and whether the trade deal will have any real impact on improving labour and human rights.

EUObserver, Dec. 9th 2019.

In the meantime, the Vietnamese government continues to step up its repressions, both internally and externally.

Those who choose to live outside of the influence of the Communist Party of Vietnam can find themselves barred from entry to their homeland, and their relatives harassed.

The smiling image portrayed by Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, and the disinformation about life in Vietnam today, given credibility by such as Jan Zahradil, masks the truth about the lives of millions living under communist repression.

Indeed, this debate should, indeed must, be held in the context of the 16 young Vietnamese citizens who so tragically lost their lives in October 2019 in an attempt to escape the regime that Tajani and Zahradil so ready support, in an attempt to reach the UK.

Possibly the EU’s own anti-disinformation service, described as a ‘flagship’ of the European External Action Service (EEAS), and which in the 2019 financial year saw its budget double to €5million, might shine a light on this, and the European Commission and the EEAS might start asking some very serious questions.

Prior to the vote on the EU-Vietnam trade agreement in February 2020 there are many questions to be asked…..

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