"What I understood from my talks with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf is that Egypt could have European presence during the elections," said Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission.
Speaking to Ahram Online at the Cairo Opera House on Thursday afternoon following a speech he delivered under the title of ‘Partners in freedom – the EU response to the Arab Spring’, Barroso was not very firm in his choice of words over the possible EU monitoring of the next parliamentary elections nor in denying previous statements made by Marc Franco, the EU representative in Cairo who had earlier in the month suggested that Egypt is not planning to invite EU observers.
"Field MarshalTantawi and Prime Minister Sharaf said to me that EU presence during the elections was welcome and I said to them that it is not at all our intention to lecture or take the place of Egyptians in handling the elections but that we are here in the spirit of partnership," Barroso said. He added that the EU is confident of the commitment of the Egyptian authorities to pursue honest elections and the purpose that the EU wants to be in Egypt for "as we have been in other countries is to lend our support, especially with these founding elections through which Egypt will move from one system to another."
Barroso, nevertheless, was offered no clear commitment about the intention of Egypt to send an official request to the EU headquarters in Brussels to request the presence of observers and he did not seem to have pressed his interlocutors in Cairo on the matter. "All I said is that if you invite a group of EU experts and observers we will very happy to be here and to provide the help you may wish to have."
For the president of the European Commission, the presence of European observers in the parliamentary elections in Egypt "will be a good way of cooperation and it is up to the Egyptians to decide the formula of our cooperation."
Barroso declined to say that if a request was not forwarded from Cairo to Brussels, who would determine the amount of assistance that the EU would provide.
In a speech he delivered to a pre-selected audience of senior officials, diplomats and intellectuals, Barroso spoke of specific programmes of European assistance to Egypt, in line with the country’s priorities, including "institution building and the fight of corruption, the support of civil society and development assistance."
Meanwhile, speaking to Ahram Online, Barroso added that part of the defining concept of increased EU assistance to Egypt is an expanded commitment of Egyptian authorities now and, in the future, not just to conduct transparent elections but also to show respect and equal treatment to all citizens – including women and Copts.
Barroso particularly stressed the issue of women's rights and insisted that "there is no cultural explanation that a society could use to justify denying women their rights." He added that in his conversation with Egyptian officials he stressed the concepts of human rights for all citizens.
When he returns to Brussels, Barroso said, he would impress upon European governments to "be more present in Egypt" – both politically and economically. This does not mean, he said, that the Europeans are planning to impose a style of democracy "because there are many ways of practicing democracy."
The visit of Barraso included in addition to top officials a group of civil society representatives and to offer European friendship and help during the transitional phase.