A dose of realpolitik
"It's a dose of realpolitik."
That was the Tory MEP, Charles Tannock's description on The World Tonight on Monday of the European Union's decision to relax sanctions on Belarus and Uzbekistan.
The EU Foreign Ministers said there had been improvements in human rights in both countries and so the EU should respond to encourage further change. This is despite what critics of both countries say are backward steps.
In Belarus's case, the recent election saw no opposition MPs elected and a largely negative report from international election observers. In Uzbekistan's case, a prominent journalist, Solizhon Abdurakhmanov, was jailed just this week on charges which human rights group say are trumped up.
Steve Crawshaw of the lobby group, Human Rights Watch, told us the EU is trying "to pretend" human rights are improving in Uzbekistan. Mr Tannock, who is the Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Spokesman for the UK Conservatives in the European Parliament, responded by saying sanctions on both countries had not worked:
"It just drove them to cosy up - in the case of Belarus - to Moscow - in the case of Uzbekistan - to China and Russia - so it's felt that provided they move somewhere towards achieving the goals we (the EU) set them in terms of better human rights and more democracy, openness, more engagement and dialogue, then we need to meet them half-way."
One of the reasons human rights organisations are critical of the EU's stance is because of the reasons originally given for imposing sanctions on countries - ie that sanctions should be used to promote respect for human rights, democracy, the rule of law and good governance - have not seen substantive change in either Belarus or Uzbekistan.
The EU stands accused of cynicism and in his interview Charles Tannock acknowledged that the relaxation of sanctions on these two countries is partly a response to the conflict between Georgia and Russia and the desire to draw Minsk and Tashkent away from Moscow and towards Brussels, though he denied human rights were less important than improving relations with these countries.
Has the EU sacrificed its commitment to the democratic values it says it stands for to self interest, or is it the victim of the inherent difficulties of an "ethical foreign policy" [pdf link] - that when your stated values come into conflict with your self interest, the latter will win out.
It's a question that divides our listeners.