The European Commission reiterated, on 7 January, its full support for Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who is under fire from Congolese authorities for his remarks to the European Parliament, on 16 December 2009.

During a debate in the Development Committee, De Gucht stressed the violence that is prevalent in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He refused to consider a timeframe for the withdrawal of the blue helmets in spite of Kinshasa's request and also drew MEPs' attention to the "huge mess the DRC has become, a country where almost everything needs to be redone, starting with the reconstruction of the state, whose absence is at the heart of the problem". He also questioned the effectiveness of aid "if you do not have an appropriate interlocutor in the political arena".

The EU executive declined to confirm rumours that the commissioner has since been declared an "undesirable person on Congolese territory" by DRC authorities, but noted that it agreed with the commissioner. "Mr De Gucht was not speaking in his personal capacity but on behalf of the College of Commissioners, with the support of Jose Manuel Barroso," confirmed a spokesman, on 7 January. Interviewed by Belgium's Radio 1, De Gucht said he also had the support of Catherine Ashton, high representative for EU foreign policy, whom he consulted before speaking to the EP.

The commissioner's very frank position was backed by the European...

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