TALLINN - Responding to statements made about the leadership of the European Parliament planning to control the controversial foreign visits of its MEPs, Estonian MEP Yana Toom said that her visits have been transparent and added that there is no reason to limit them.
"I want to prevent questions by saying that my foreign visits have been completely transparent and clear and I have never acted as a representative of the parliament in situations in which I have no jurisdiction to do so," the Center Party MEP said on social media.
The political magazine Politico said on Tuesday that leaders of the European Parliament are preparing a change of rules, which would help control the visits of MEPs to politically sensitive countries and regions, which could send out misleading messages about the policies of the European Union, one example of it being Toom's visits to Syria.
"As for the whole idea, I think that a ban would be absurd -- I am not employed by [President of the European Parliament] Antonio Tajani or by any other distinguished member of the parliament. If the problem lies in transparency, then I am all for every visit -- in addition to reporting -- to also be broadcast in the media," Toom said.
Politico brought as an example of confusing and diplomatically problematic visits the visit of MEP Frank Engel to Nagorno Karabakh in February, which caused the outrage of Azerbaijan as even though the region is mainly inhabited by Armenians and under the control of Armenia, it is officially part of Azerbaijan. Politico also referred to Romanian MEP Laurentiu Rebega's visit to Crimea in April 2016, which brought along protests by the leadership of Ukraine as Kiev believe the visit harmed the policies of the EU towards the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
Toom, Latvian MEP Tatyana Zhdanoka and Spanish MEP Javier Couso Permuy visited Syria and met with the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in July 2016, which set off a wave of criticism from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, who described the visit as "inappropriate." Toom is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). The European Union considers al-Assad to be a war criminal with whom no official meetings will be held.
Toom has visited Syria and met with al-Assad thrice -- in March 2017, December 2016 and July 2016.