President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday expressed optimism that the EU would grant Taiwan visa-exemption status by the end of this year despite reservations expressed by two Members of the European Parliament (MEP) a day earlier who warned that Taiwan’s failure to abolish the death penalty could yet cost the country its long-desired visa waiver.
While meeting with Nicholas Winterton, a Conservative member of the British Parliament, at the Presidential Office yesterday, Ma expressed confidence that the rest of the EU would follow in the footsteps of Britain and Ireland last year and grant Taiwan visa-exempt status.
“The measure has helped Britain attract more tourists from Taiwan and bolster bilateral ties. Now, the EU is ready to make the same decision,” Ma said.
However, in a joint interview with Taiwanese journalists on Thursday, European Parliament Vice Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Human Rights Laima Liucija Andrikiene said: “There is no direct relationship between abolition of the death penalty and the visa waiver [program], [but] there could be indirect consequences and implications.”
Andrikiene was referring to the possibility that supporters of China or “those who are not very friendly to Taiwan” might take advantage of the issue to publicly speak against Taipei during the EU’s upcoming deliberations, possibly later this month or next month, on whether to grant Taiwan the exemption.
Andrikiene’s remark echoed Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Shen Lyu-shun’s (沈呂巡) comment made during a Foreign and National Defense Committee meeting on Thursday last week when he told the committee that approval of visa-free access to Schengen countries could be delayed if Taiwan starts executing death row inmates again.
Taiwan has not carried out the death penalty since 2005, but is likely to do so later this year as the issue was recently catapulted into the spotlight by former justice minister Wang Ching-feng’s (王清峰) refusal to sign execution orders for the 44 prisoners on death row.
Her decision sparked outrage from the families of victims and society in general, which prompted her to resign last month. Her successor, Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫), has said he has no problem signing execution orders once all the required procedures have been completed.
Andrikiene, who also serves as vice chairperson on the European Parliament-Taiwan Friendship Group, said that the EU understands abolition of the death penalty is a “hot and very sensitive” issue, but has a very strong position on the issue.
“All EU member states, including my country Lithuania, have abolished the death penalty,” she said, adding that she had voiced her concerns during the meeting with Ma on Wednesday.
Adrikiene said it usually takes six months for the EU to complete the process of granting visa waiver status, but supporters of Taiwan were hoping to speed up the process in a bid to present the exemption as a “birthday present” for Taipei when the Republic of China celebrates its centennial next year.
“Imagine members of the European Parliament saying ‘they are a good country but they still have the death penalty and we stand against this,’” she said. “For some people who have very strong views on human rights and the death penalty, this will be a minus.”
Bastiaan Belder, an MEP from the Netherlands, said there could be a link between the capital punishment and visa issues because “what they expect of you is quite clear.”
When asked if she hoped Taiwan would set an example for other Asian nations by abolishing capital punishment, Andrikiene said: “Why not? You’ve been an example in many fields.”
On the issue of Taiwan’s plan to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China, Belder said the EU is convinced that the proposed pact would be beneficial to all sides, including the EU.
“But you should have in mind that the PRC [People’s Republic of China] has also its goal, of course, the ultimate political goal,” he said.
Belder said Ma assured him during Wednesday’s meeting that the future of the nation will be determined by the will of the people.
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