European Commission president has two items on agenda in Cairo: fair elections and economic aid

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 5 Jul 2011

With no formal invitation from the Egyptian side for election observers, the European Commission president is due in Cairo 14 July to discuss economic assistance and fair elections

European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, (Reuters).

Jose Manuel Barrosso, president of the European Commission is expected in Cairo on 14 July for a two-day visit during which he is to discuss European economic assistance to Egypt during the transitional phase and beyond, according to a Brussels-based European official.

Francisco Gaztelu Mezquiriz of the EU Middle East Division told a group of Egyptian journalists in Brussels yesterday that Barosso’s two-day visit comes as part of a European engagement with Egypt to help it manage the transitional phase and prepare for fair, transparent and truly pluralistic elections.

Barrosso is scheduled to meet top Egyptian officials from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Egyptian government – including Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and Foreign Minister Mohamed El-Orabi.

Along with discussing economic assistance, Barrosso, according to Mezquiriz, will emphasise European willingness to provide Egypt with assistance for electoral preparations and monitoring.

"The request for observing the elections, however, has to come from the Egyptian authorities and until now [Monday, 4 July] we have received nothing," Mezquiriz added.

According to the European official, if Egypt is still planning to hold elections in by September the sooner the request is made, the better. "For elections observation to be prepared a request has to come forward in the next couple of weeks," Mezquiriz said. He clarified, though that if only the initiation of the electoral process occurs by end of September, then the request could come a little later.

Mezquiriz suggested that it would be rather encouraging if Egypt invites observes – not necessarily those of the EU – because it would be a clear sign of commitment to conduct free and fair elections. But he stopped short of saying that the position of the Egyptian authorities would be perceived negatively if observers are not invited.

"We understand that everything is in the making and ... things do not come overnight," Mezquiriz stated. He added, "I believe that these coming elections will be mostly free and fair." 

According to Malgorzata Wasilewska, head of the EU Division for Democracy Support and Elections the Tunisian authorities had sent a request for experts and observers back in February, when elections were still scheduled for July (they are now postponed to October).

"We are on standby for Egypt and we ideally have to send an exploratory mission four months before the elections day and if the invitation comes now it would be challenging, but we will still be willing to send our teams," Wasilewska said.

She added, "I understand from [European officials] who haven to Egypt that Egyptian officials responded positively to suggestions for Egypt to send an invitation…Maybe there has been a second thought…  I very much hope we would get an invitation."

According to the EU rules, a memorandum of understanding should be signed with the Egyptian authorities if an EU elections observation mission is to manifest itself. The memorandum would allow for observers to move freely and to meet with officials, politicians, candidates and voters.

Meanwhile, Mezquiriz said that the EU will be sending experts to provide practical and technical assistance for Egyptian government to help reform the security system and to provide Egyptian civil society with the techniques required for national observation of elections.

 In any case, according to Wasilewska, "Domestic observers can cover the nation better than foreign observers and they have access to places where international observers would get."

A typical observation process starts from day one and includes observation of preparations and campaigning procedures. Accordingly, if the launch of elections would start on 30 September, as has been suggested in Cairo, then the EU observers would need to start arriving in Egypt shortly.

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