Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Europe sets its terms

European officials want to see clear commitments from Egypt on democratisation and the building of political consensus before delivering aid to the country, writes Al-Sayed Amin Shalabi

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt is crucial to the European Union. Not only is it a Mediterranean country with an exceptional geographical and demographic importance, but anything that happens in Egypt also affects the entire region and thus has a bearing on Europe’s peace and security. It is no wonder that the EU has always wanted to keep close ties with Egypt.

The EU is Egypt’s foremost trading partner, its largest provider of tourism, its second-largest provider of foreign investment, and its second-largest aid donor.

Egypt and the EU signed their first cooperation agreement in 1977, and in 2001 they upgraded relations to a partnership agreement.

Egypt also participated in the Euro-Mediterranean Conference that led to the signing of the Barcelona Declaration in 1995. Although EU officials were occasionally critical of the undemocratic practices of the former Mubarak regime in Egypt, they were invariably cordial to the former president himself, whom former French president Nicolas Sarkozy once described as a “sage”.

The wave of revolutions that swept the Arab world from January 2011 was greeted with enthusiasm by EU officials, who considered it to be a long-awaited step towards democracy. Italy, France and the UK also intervened militarily in Libya to help the revolutionaries win the fight against the regime led by former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. In Syria, while the EU has fallen short of intervening militarily it has taken sides in favour of the anti-regime forces.

Recognising the need for close ties with Europe, Egypt’s new President Mohamed Morsi has paid visits to Belgium, which hosts the EU’s headquarters, and Germany, one of the EU’s most powerful nations. But the recent political disturbances in Egypt, triggered by disagreements about the constitution, opposition to the president’s constitutional declaration, and the feud between the president and the judiciary, has made Europe rethink its position on the country.

Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, has voiced alarm over developments in Egypt, saying that the country needs to reform its politics and mend its flailing economy. Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, has gone further by calling for a freeze on economic and political cooperation with Egypt and denouncing the country’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood as a radical movement that uses religion for political purposes.

However, meetings between EU and Egyptian officials have continued, with a working group of ministers and parliamentarians, led by Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr and the EU foreign affairs representative, meeting on 12 November last year and Egyptian and European businessmen also getting together to discuss tourism and investment.

Yet, the EU has been reluctant to offer economic assistance to Egypt. The Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger has said that financial assistance to Egypt is conditional on progress in democratisation, “which hasn’t happened yet”.

Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders has said that the situation in Egypt is deteriorating and that the EU must calibrate its position accordingly. During a visit to Cairo on 7 February, Bernardino Leon, EU special representative for the southern Mediterranean region, said that five billion euros the EU had promised to Egypt would be delivered either “this year or the following one”.

Clearly, the EU is making its assistance to Egypt conditional on the country’s ability to build reliable political institutions and public consensus. The phrase “more for more”, now sometimes heard on the lips of EU officials when discussing Egypt, is a sign that Europe will only do more for Egypt if the latter is willing to mend its ways.

Those who have recently conferred with EU officials say that European negotiators have stressed that they want to see clear commitments from Egypt before deciding on any aid programmes.

In short, if Egypt fails to meet the EU’s expectations it should expect no help from the EU with its economic problems. Yet, there is nothing new in that. In May 2011, G8 officials meeting in France promised Egypt and Tunisia a total of 20 billion euros in aid. But not one euro of this money has so far been delivered to Egypt.

 

The writer is managing director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

 

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