On the occasion of World Water Day, how important is water for cooperation between the EU and Egypt?
Water has been the biggest sector of cooperation between the European Union (EU) and Egypt, and we have been working with Egypt for over 10 years to develop water enhancement strategies, maintenance and systems. EU-funded and joint Egyptian-EU projects have helped in the creation of thousands of job opportunities in the country.
The EU has provided Egypt with more than €550 million in grants since 2007 to help it overcome its water challenges. The EU has also leveraged concessional funds of nearly €3 billion to Egypt since 2007, thanks to European financial institutions.
Our work has included developing new sources of water. For example, about 6,000 Roman wells were rehabilitated in the Matrouh governorate for agricultural purposes.
We have also supported 12 water treatment plants and there are currently two big plants under construction funded by the EU and the French Development Agency (AFD), one of which, the biggest water treatment plant in Africa, is being built in Alexandria.
There are EU funded projects for water distribution networks to make water usage more efficient, and rehabilitating drainage systems and canals, including a project in Upper Egypt’s Luxor governorate in collaboration with the World Food Programme, where canals are being fixed and water pumping stations changed to work with solar energy, which will help increase crop yields.
On desalination, we have supported a big research project with the research centre in Borg Al-Arab on ways to desalinate water using solar energy.
Water is a very important sector for us and we have a good cooperation with all the relevant ministries in Egypt. It is also important to note that creating awareness of water scarcity and how to use water efficiently is very important, especially among school and university students.
We launched Horizon Europe, which is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation, with a focus on tackling climate change, which will help achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We invite Egyptian research institutions, facilities and universities to take part in this big European research programme.
What is the state of cooperation on trade and investment?
Trade between the EU and Egypt has grown steadily in recent years. Total bilateral trade reached €30 billion in 2022, and we saw an increase in mutual trade even during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Egypt has become an important exporter of organic vegetables and fruits, chemicals, natural gas and minerals to the EU. There was a bit of a slowdown compared to the pace of bilateral trade increase prior to the pandemic, recorded mainly in the services sector, including tourism which was affected heavily by the pandemic, but this year tourism is back to higher levels.
We witnessed a slowdown in investment during the pandemic: it reached about €38 billion in stocks before the pandemic and then dropped to €18 billion. Investment figures are predicted to go up and reach pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023.
We are working to encourage more European investment in Egypt by organising an investment conference later this year. The idea for the conference came after President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced that it is good for foreign investors to explain what is needed for them to invest or increase investment in Egypt, and what could make the country more attractive.
The other element of the conference is to bring business people together and establish direct relations. The last time such a conference took place was about 10 years ago.
Is there specific cooperation for food security?
The Russian war in Ukraine, which is a breach of international laws and has shaken the multilateral security structures built since 1945 to help preserve international stability, has affected many countries, including Egypt, and prices of many food products have risen as a result.
The EU has setup food facilities in different parts of the world, including Egypt, to help address food security.
The EU has established a fund for North Africa worth €225 million, from which Egypt will get about 100 million to help meet its wheat and grain needs. Projects include enhancing grain storage capacity for farmers in several governorates across Egypt, in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Supply.
Last week we signed an agreement with Egypt on projects that will help enhance agricultural productivity, in light of climate change, through new technologies and procedures that assist in creating heat-resistant seeds.
Another aspect of this agreement includes providing agricultural machinery to small farmers.
How is the cooperation between the EU and Egypt advancing in the energy sector?
Energy is another area in which the relationship between the EU and Egypt has strengthened over the last year.
We signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) whereby Israeli gas is liquefied in Egypt’s liquefaction plants and exported to the EU. We have seen an increase of 47 per cent of LNG exports coming from Egypt to the EU.
There is a need to diversify energy sources and the type of energy used in Europe, mainly renewable energy like wind, solar and geothermal energy, to reduce dependency on Russian gas.
There are a whole range of renewable energy initiatives underway, including EU support for a wind farm in the Gulf of Suez with a production capacity of 250 megawatts, and an MoU on green hydrogen was signed with Egypt during COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh last November, furthering our partnership on green hydrogen. The MoU entails a number of activities including production, consumption and trade of green hydrogen and its derivatives, as well as the importance of looking into research and marketing of energy products like hydrogen.
Executive Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans made it clear when he was in Egypt witnessing the signing of the MoU that Europe will be able to produce about 40 per cent of its hydrogen needs by 2030 and the rest needs to be imported from countries like Egypt. The EU is supportive of the development of green hydrogen in Egypt given the country’s potential for producing electricity using solar and wind power.
We are also working with Egypt on updating its strategic energy strategy, and the EU is ready to continue providing technical assistance and funding for renewable energy projects here.
Linking the Egyptian and Greek electricity grids is another important project, currently in the technical and economic feasibility study phase. The aim is to establish an electrical wiring interconnection system between Egypt and Europe via Greece. This 2,000 megawatt project will allow Greece to buy electricity from Egypt and export surplus capacity to other EU member states.
The EU and Egypt have been stepping up cooperation on migration. How can illegal migration be tackled?
The EU and Egypt have a shared interest in stopping illegal trafficking and the smuggling of migrants through different ways, including awareness campaigns. My view is that the strongest antidote to trafficking is to open legal pathways.
Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President of the European Commission and European Commissioner for Promoting the European Way of Life, visited Egypt this week in order to increase cooperation between the EU and Egypt in areas such as skills, education and mobility, and to discuss concrete steps at the political and operational level to address the shared challenges of migration management.
We are working with EU member states and international institutions to open legal pathways for migration. Egypt has signed a number of agreements with EU member states supporting seasonal workers which help provide thousands of job opportunities, and to provide technical vocational training programmes.
We are also supporting Egypt shoulder the burden of accommodating refugees, including helping with access to healthcare and housing.
What is the significance of the political dialogue between Egypt and the EU scheduled for May?
The upcoming political dialogue is an important opportunity to talk about developments in the region and Egypt’s role in Africa and the Middle East. In many aspects, the EU shares the same views as Egypt on how to move forward and settle key issues. In the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, for example, we both believe in the two-state solution, and we welcome the latest meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh as an effort to reduce tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians and discover ways to move forward.
We are also planning to organise a business forum between Egypt and the pan-European body, with negotiations currently being held in Cairo and Brussels about how to bring together businessmen from both sides.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly