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EU promises more support for democratisation in the Arab world

“More for more” is the order of the day, regulating EU support for democratising Arab countries

Dina Ezzat, Saturday 28 May 2011
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(Photo: Reuters)
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More money and more market access is coming between Egypt and the European Union, according to statements made yesterday in Cairo by the head of the European Commission Office in Egypt, Marc Franco.

The more Egypt democratises and pursues transparency, the more it should expect support, both political and economic, from its northern neighbours in Europe, Franco said.

“More for more” is the theme that the European Union is planning to apply to democratising Arab countries, especially Egypt and Tunisia.

On Tuesday, Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that on top of the 5.7 billion Euros already allocated to assist southern neighbours of the EU for the next two years, additional funding of 1.24 billion Euros is being earmarked for the same purpose. More money, in the form of investments and loans, will be coming from the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

“With so much of our neighbourhood in the process of democratic change, this review is more important than ever. It is vital that we in the EU make a comprehensive offer to our neighbours and build lasting partnerships,” Ashton said.

According to Franco, a stable march towards democratisation and good governance was lacking in Egypt under ousted president Mubarak, while the country was making decent economic progress. This negative outlook on the democratisation front is bound to change with the end of the Mubarak regime, Franco suggested.

Despite the current slow-down of economic performance, Franco refuses alarmist scenarios. “Hopefully it will pick up during the next half of the year,” he said.

Franco doesn’t expect major changes on the economic policy front from the caretaker government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, since such changes would be outside its mandate, according to Franco. He is satisfied that Sharaf is doing everything possible to “stabilise confidence” and “get businessmen back”.

More reassuring economic measures, Franco said, would be required of the next government, to encourage foreign investment in Egypt. The sooner and smoother the transitional period is navigated, Franco argued, the faster investment would come back to Egypt.

Overall, Franco expresses confidence in the administration of the transitional period. “Basically, it is going in the right direction, with the exception of some hiccups (like the burning of the churches in Imbaba) which affect not just tourists but investors as well.”

Franco is unwilling to comment on the possibility of an Islamist government taking over, and what this might mean for Egypt’s economic outlook. He is, however, clear in saying that future European assistance to Egypt will be conditioned on democracy. “So more democracy and more respect for human rights would mean more assistance,” he said.

According to a paper issued by the European Commission on Egypt’s implementation of required commitments in exchange for the benefits of the European Neighbourhood Policy last year, a wide range of demands on women’s rights, the rights of non-Muslim citizens, including Copts, the operation of an efficient system of justice and combating human trafficking should be met by authorities.

Meanwhile, Franco said that the European Union would be offering, upon request, its expertise in conducting fair and free elections to concerned Egyptian NGOs and observers, if the Egyptian government agrees.

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