Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Robert Mugabe has been banned from the EU since 2002
Portugal is planning to invite Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to a European Union summit in December - but is hoping that he will not attend. Mr Mugabe and other Zimbabwean leaders are banned from the EU, but plans to hold an EU-Africa summit in Lisbon could collapse unless he is asked.
The plan to send an invitation has been branded a "disgrace" by British MEPs.
But Portugal says the EU has paid a price for failing to hold a summit with Africa for the last seven years.
Lisbon regards the summit as one of the key priorities of its six-month presidency of the European Union, which began on Sunday.
British Conservative MEP Neil Parish said the invitation was a "disgrace" and should be revoked.
Portugal says having proper relations with Africa is a priority for the European Union
BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell
Read Mark's thoughts in full
"The Portuguese presidency is sending out a terrible signal that we are prepared to do business with dictators."
Labour MEP Glenys Kinnock said it was "unacceptable" that Mr Mugabe and his entourage would be "given an opportunity to come to Europe to gloat and strut".
She said the EU-Africa summit was intended to promote policies on good governance, human rights, democracy and strategies to tackle African poverty.
"Mugabe knows little and cares even less about these priorities, as the suffering of the Zimbabwean people amply demonstrates," she added.
BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell says Mr Mugabe has not yet been invited to the summit - but nor has anyone else.
But Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates told journalists it was "an error" that for seven years "a diplomatic problem" had prevented vital dialogue.
A senior diplomat said Portugal would "not be disappointed" if Mr Mugabe didnot turn up.
The EU travel ban was imposed on Mr Mugabe and more than 90 senior members of his ruling Zanu-PF party in 2002, after what the EU said was a rigged election.
However, Mr Mugabe was allowed to visit France for a Franco-African summit the following year.
The African Union is reported to be insisting that the Zimbabwean leader should receive the same courtesy as all other African leaders, if the EU-Africa summit is to go ahead.
The vice-chairman of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, Hannes Swoboda, said the idea was that the African Union would formally invite Mr Mugabe.
But he added: "We hope he will be clever enough not to come, and that other African Union countries will help us to achieve that objective."