EU Governments Condemn Burma Coup

February 1, 2021 Updated: February 1, 2021

BRUSSELS—European Union governments condemned the military’s seizure of power in Burma on Monday and demanded the immediate release of people arrested in raids across the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi attends an award ceremony to receive her 1990 Sakharov Prize at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on Oct. 22, 2013. (Vincent Kessler/Reuters)

From tiny Luxembourg to European powers France and Germany, leaders and foreign ministers reacted swiftly in statements and on Twitter to criticize the coup, expressing grave concern but avoiding any details of a possible response.

“We call for the immediate release of all those detained and to reestablish the democratic process,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive arm, also released statements condemning the coup.

Myanmar police vehicles
Burmese police vehicles drive near the City Hall in Yangon, Burma, on Feb. 1, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

Borrell said that “democracy must prevail,” and Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said: “Military under civilian control is a key democratic principle.”

Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes said EU governments would now discuss their next steps, but no ministers offered any possible reprisals.

The EU is Burma’s third-biggest trading partner and has given the country special trade preferences, which could potentially be removed, although such a process would likely not be immediate.

In 2018, the EU imposed sanctions against Burmese generals over killings of Rohingya Muslims. The EU also has an arms embargo on the Southeast Asian country.

Few government statements directly named elected Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was among those detained, reflecting what the EU says is her failure to denounce a military campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Burma.

Suu Kyi, who was awarded the European Parliament’s human rights prize in 1990, was suspended from attending any more EU human rights prize events in September last year.

By Kate Abnett and Robin Emmott