Europe in a policy sea-change Wednesday offered more funds for more reforms to fledgling democracies in its backyard, spawned by the Arab Spring or lying on its eastern flank.
Slammed in the past for propping up despots and turning a blind eye to rights abuses, the European Union offered a "top-to-toe" revamp of its neighbourhood policy, linking aid, better trade, and even visas, to political and economic reform.
Despite the belt-tightening at work across the 27-state bloc, the EU is offering to pump in an extra 1.2 billion euros in the next two years -- on top of 5.7 billion euros already budgeted.
Hailing winds of change, enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele said the EU "needs to respond with determination and ambition" but warned support in the future would be linked to key benchmarks ranging from free elections to the fight against corruption and reform of law enforcement and security.
"This is not a one size fits all approach," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "Those countries who choose to move faster will be able to draw greater resources."
Europe's 16 neighbours include some where aid to regimes has been suspended though support to civil society continues -- notably Belarus, Libya and Syria.
Others listed as EU neighbours are Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egupt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Moldova, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Tunisia and Ukraine.
"The EU will uphold its policy of curtailing relations with governments engaged in violations of human rights and democracy standards," says a 40-page document outlining the policy U-turn, titled "A New Response to a Changing Neigbourhood".
European help will come in a variety of ways, from direct aid for development projects to trade deals offering preferential access to EU markets, or finance from the European Investment Bank (EIB).
EIB lending to the southern Mediterranean is to increase by one billion euros while the EBRD, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development set up to bolster former Soviet states, will extend operations to the Arab world, starting with Egypt.
The root aim of the new-look EU policy is to promote what the bloc describes as "deep democracy."
It is "the kind that lasts because the right to vote is accompanied by rights to exercise free speech, form competing political parties, receive impartial justice from independent judges, security from accountable police and army forces, access to a competent and non-corrupt civil service."
Under the new policy, the EU will track progress and "where reform has not taken place, the EU will reconsider or even reduce funding."
Revolts in Tunisia and Egypt caught the EU napping earlier this year despite billions in aid and a slew of trade deals struck during 15 years of a Euro-Mediterranean partnership.
Critics slammed the EU for regarding despots as bulwarks against extremism, and failing to enforce the very values founding the union.
"Europe bowed before these dictators, it paid no heed to repression," said Alain Deletroz, an analyst at the International Crisis Group.
"Europe is bidding to open a new chapter carrying a heavy burden from the past."
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said the almost seven billion euros of support meant more than money.
"It is a tangible expression of our commitment to reforms in the partner countries," he said. "It shows we are serious in our desire to help those who aspire to political freedom and a better future.
"We all share one future. If we promote democracy and development, we foster stability and avoid instability," he added.