A priority of the Irish Presidency is to increase the European Union's focus on African issues. In pursuit of this, we have organised a series of high-level meetings during our Presidency, including with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, South Africa and Nigeria. During such meetings we will impress upon our interlocutors our concern at the current situation in Zimbabwe.
The European Union remains profoundly concerned about the political situation in Zimbabwe. Political violence and intimidation of dissidents continue. This was evident recently in the authorities' treatment of the National Constitutional Assembly, NCA, protesters in Harare on 4 February 2004. The right to freedom of expression and the freedom of the mass media are under attack, which can be seen in the Zimbabwe Government's harassment of theDaily News, Zimbabwe's only independent newspaper. Ireland condemns utterly the abuses being carried out by state forces and other groups affiliated to the governing party and the lack of accountability on the part of the Government of Zimbabwe in these matters.
As long as the current problem persists, I do not envisage engagement with the Zimbabwean Government. At the same time, Ireland, given its Presidency of the European Union, is open to dialogue with the Government of Zimbabwe as and when it can demonstrate material progress in the areas defined under the Union's established benchmarks. These centre on democratic norms, the rule of law, respect for human rights and personal freedoms. Real and verifiable progress on the benchmarks would lead to the re-engagement of the European Union with the Government of Zimbabwe.
The Union will continue to monitor the situation in Zimbabwe and to review the issue with our African partners.