ECFR: How the EU can support reform in Burma
Burma is reforming. After being released from house arrest in November 2010, the leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, is expected to be elected as a member of parliament in a by-election on 1 April. But although this is a momentous event, it risks diverting attention away from important issues that have not yet been resolved. Some European Union member states are now calling for a “big bang” approach – that is, immediately lifting sanctions.
This approach is based on the assumption that reforms so far undertaken are “irreversible”, as the Burmese government claims. But there are political, legal, historical and practical reasons why the EU should remain cautious. The EU should therefore respond to Burma’s changes not by a full and unconditional lifting of sanctions but by taking a gradual and measured approach, which would make clear that the key to full normalisation will be verifiable and irreversible reforms rather than mere promises of them. The EU should use benchmarks and conditionality to ensure that the Burmese government follow up on human rights issues and make further progress on reform. The EU should lead its companies in a race to the top by ensuring that European companies in Burma adhere to binding standards of corporate social responsibility and accountability.