European Union hypocrisy over Egyptian regime – the discrepancy between generous EU funding and demands for democratisation

1. It is clearly not possible to deny that the European Union has historically been cooperating with autocratic rulers in the Middle East. Regimes such as that of Mubarak’s in Egypt have enjoyed the EU’s financial support over the past 30 years. On 11 February, following several days of protests and violence, Hosni Mubarak stepped down. In a joint statement Van Rompuy and Barroso and Ashton welcomed Mubarak’s decision to stand down, calling for “an orderly and irreversible transition towards democracy and for free and fair elections” and reiterated the EU’s willingness “to help with all its instruments.” Moreover, they pointed out “The preservation of regional peace and stability should remain our shared priority.”

2. It is crucial to ask if the EU has ever had a proper strategy on the region. The European Union has supplied extraordinary amounts of funding without any sufficient democratic measures attached. As if there were any doubts,it is now crystal clear that the EU neighbourhood policy is not working, the Barcelona Process as well as the Union for theMediterranean has failed. It has been said that from now on any EU aid “to the democratic transformation processes” shall have strong conditions attachedand insisted upon. However, it is important to question whether the EU can really demand reforms from its southern neighbours, given its previous record. In the meantime, taxpayers’ money has already been spent in projects that provided little in the way of democratic progress.

3. EU diplomatic relations with Egypt go back to the 1960s– and since then the EU has continued to develop a privileged relation with the country. The European- Egyptian partnership started in 1977, even before Mubarak came to power, and since then until 2004 a Co-operation Agreement governed their bilateral relations. Such agreement provided for economic co-operation and established provisions for non-reciprocal trade liberalisation and market access. The EU is now the largest trade partner of Egypt.

4. Within the framework of the Co-operation Agreement, from 1977 to 1995 four financial Protocols have provided EC funding for programmes and projects in Egypt for a total amount of €1.463 billion Euros.

5. In 1995, the Barcelona Process started–the Euro- Mediterranean partnership between the EU and Southern Mediterranean countries, intended to establish political, economic and social cooperation. In fact, the aim of the Barcelona Processwas to build “a space of dialogue, peace, security and shared prosperity”. However the project has not achieved the expected results.

6. Within the framework of the Barcelona process, EUEgypt relations embarked on a new phase. The EU is one of Egypt’s main donors.Funding to Egypt has mainly been channelled through the MEDA programme as well as through the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). Under the first MEDA phase (1996- 1999) Egypt benefited from financial support of 686 million Euros.

7. Relations between the EU and Egypt are now governed by a legally binding treaty – an Association Agreement, which was signed in June 2001 and entered into force in June 2004. It includes provisions related to the three pillars of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, i.e. political dialogue, trade and economic integration, and social and cultural co-operation. The aim is to promote political stability, economic development and regional cooperation.

8. As it is the case with other Association Agreements between the EU and its Mediterranean partners, the Egypt Association Agreement stresses the importance of the principles of the United Nations Charter, particularly the observance of human rights, democratic principles and economic freedom. The adherence to human rights and democratic principles is, therefore, an essential element of the Agreement. The Association Agreement established several institutional frameworks to follow its implementation, particularly the Association Council.

9. Between 2000 and 2006, Egypt received 594 million Eurosin funding from theMEDA II programme.Moreover, Egypt received €5 million from the European Initiative for Human Rights and Democracy, under which the European Commissionfunds NGOs. With the intention to upgrade the institutional capacity of the Egyptian administration, in 2005, the EU and Egypt signed the “Support to the Association Agreement” programme whereby Egypt has received another €25 million.

10. In the meantime, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was developed – and the European Neighbourhood Partnership Instrument (ENPI) replaced MEDA since 2007.Within the framework of the ENP, Egypt and the EU agreed to further develop and enhance their relationship, emphasising close cooperation on democratic reform, economic modernization, social reform, and migration issues.

11. In March 2007, the EU-Egypt Association Council adopted the EU-Egypt Action Plan under the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which set out the agenda for the EU-Egypt cooperation for the next 3-5 years,within the scope of the Association Agreement and in line with Egypt’s reform agenda.The implementation of the AP was supposed to be regularly assessed by sub-committees established by the Association Council.

12. The EU-Egypt ENP Action Plan has been seen as “a key element in reinforcing EU–Egypt relations, underpinning political, economic and social reform in Egypt.” According to the European Commission “Fulfilmentof the commitments of the AP contributes to deepening and broadening EU-Egypt relations through closer co-operation in areas of mutual interest and through frequent political dialogue.”However, the EU has been deepening and broadening its relations with Egypt and allocating more funds, even though AP’s commitments have not been fulfilledby Egypt, particularly in the field of human rights and democratic reforms. On the 2007-2010 Egypt’s Strategy Paper, the Commission noted “Following the commitments made in the 2002-2007 National Development Plan, hopes about democratisation were raised by the promises of politicalreform announced by President Mubarak during his 2005 Presidential campaign” but “the first-ever multi-candidate Presidential elections suffered from serious restrictions and, since then, progress on delivering the promised reforms has been slow.”

13. The Action Plan proposed several reforms intend to tackle several issues such as: low participation in political life, the exclusion of certain political parties, lack of recognition of civil and political rights, centralisation of powers, continuation of the emergency law, lack of independence of the judiciary as well as of the media. The Action Plan called, therefore, for enhanced political dialogue and support for Egypt’s political and judicial reforms.

14. The funding instrument to support the implementation of the Action Plan is the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument. The European Commission earmarked a €558 million financial assistance package for Egypt for 2007 to 2010, in order to support three priorities: political reform and good governance, competitiveness and productivity of the economy, socio-economic sustainability of the development process. These priorities were decided jointly with the Egyptian authorities and the funds are channelled through government bodies. According to the Commission “This demonstrates the EU’s commitment to support Egypt in its national priorities and reforms.”

15. The Commission has allocated around €39 million for “Supporting reforms in the areas of democracy, human rights, good governance and justice” for 2007–2010, which corresponds to 7 per cent of the total amount allocated to Egypt for this period. The Commission has developed three programs to support the Egyptian Government’s “efforts” in this area: Support for political development, decentralisation and promotion of good governance(€12 million), Promotion and protection of human rights (€17 million) and Support for modernisation of administration of justice and enhancement of security (€10 million to support the Ministry of Justice).

16. According to the EU-Egypt Association Council, which met last April “Progress in the strengthening of EU-Egypt relations in the last year has been significant and wideranging.” It was stressed, “The EU reiterates that enhanced relations are to be based on the full implementation of the Action Plan. In this context, further progress in areas related tohuman rights and democracywill be fundamental.” The Egypt Strategy paper underwent a mid-term review in 2009 where it was concluded that the “overall progress on implementation of reforms in Egypt can so far be summarised as limited but encouraging, with a stronger commitment to economic reforms, increasingly to social reforms, and to a lesser extent to political reforms.”

17. For the period 2011-2013, the bilateral ENPI budget allocation for Egypt has been proposed at €449.29 million, which represents an average of €149.76 million per annum. According to the Commission “This is in line with Egypt’s commitment to advancing the implementation of the AP, as well as its demonstrated capacity to effectively absorb ENPI funds.” As it has happened with the previous programme, the allocation of funds is divided between the three priorities: Supporting Egypt’s reforms in the areas of democracy, human rights, good governance and justice (11.1%), Developing the competitiveness and productivity of the Egyptian economy (42.2%), and Ensuring the sustainability of the development process with effective social, economic and environmental policies and better management of natural resources (46.7%).

18. The European Commission has earmarked €50 millionsfor supporting reforms in the areas of democracy, human rights, good governance and justice. However, it is important to mention that, according to the Commission the programmes funded during2007-2010 “have not yet produced definitive results.” Brussels will continue to fund the same three subpriorities during 2011-2013: Support for political development, decentralisation and promotion of good Governance (€5 million), Promotion and protection of human rights (€15 million), Support for modernisation of administration of justice (€10 million), and Upgrading of regulatory, institutional and legislative environment (€20 million).

19. Attention must also be paid Egypt’s active participation in the Euro med ministerial conferences in various fields. The Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA) was established in December 2003 by decision of the Ministerial Conference of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Its first Bureau comprised the Presidents of the Egyptian People’s Assembly, the European Parliament, the Tunisian Chamber of Deputies and the Greek Parliament.The EMPA firstsession was held in Cairo, in March 2005. Moreover, Egypt has played an important role for the creation of the Union for the Mediterranean. The Union for the Mediterranean was officially launched at the Paris summit in July 2008. It was decided that it has co- Presidency from the EU (EU presidency and the European Commission in the external representation ofthe EU) and one from a Mediterranean country (chosen by consensus for a non-renewable period of two years). The copresidency applies to summits, annual Foreign Ministers’ meetings, sectoral Ministerial meetings, senior officials and Joint Permanent Committee meetings. Unsurprisingly, HosniMubaraktogether withNicolas Sarkozytook on the role of Co-President of the Union for the Mediterranean.

20. EUMember States may have different interests in Egypt but all of them have interest in an Egypt free from political troubles. Obviously, there are concerns over what regime will emerge in Egypt, what impact it might have on Middle East peace process as well as how committed it would be to the peace treaty with Israel.

21. The European Council in its recent declaration stressed that “The basis for the EU’s relationship with Egypt must be the principles set out in the Association Agreement and the commitments made.” Moreover, the EU leaders “emphasised that the citizens’ democratic aspirations should be addressed through dialogue and political reform with full respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms, and through free and fair elections.”

22.When the Barcelona Process started in 1995 and the EU started signing Association Agreements it made the adherence to human rights and democratic principles an essential element of such agreements. The EU attached fundamental conditions such as human rights and governance reforms to its support for projects and funding. This has failed.The EU has introduced several explicit conditionality elements into its policy towards Egypt, which have been incoherently applied. The Egyptian government has never fulfilledits commitments to political reform. The European Commission reports have mentioned the slow progress and the reluctance of the Egyptian government to commit to serious political reforms, there was little progress with regards to democracy, human rights and the independence of the judiciary. The EU and its provision of funds therefore had a worryingly minimal impact on Egyptian political reforms. The conditioning economic aid to political reform has been, therefore, unsatisfactory. It seems that the EU has made conditionality negotiable.

23. The EU focal point on Egypt has not been political reform but economic cooperation, security and stability in the region. In fact, Egypt has a major role in the Middle East Peace Process and in promoting stability of the region. The EU’s border monitoring presence at Rafah has also been facilitated by Egypt. However, as John Bolton has said “But everyone will remember that we treated the autocratic Mubarak like a used Kleenex, at a potentially huge cost to us, Israel, friendly Arab regimes and other “allies” globally.”

24. According to the Foreign Affairs Council’s conclusions from 21 February “on Developments in the Southern Neighbourhood”, “The Council is committed to a new partnership involving more effective support to those countries in the Southern Neighbourhood which are pursuing political and economic reforms…” The Council is also “committed to respond to democratic transformation processes with specific political initiatives and support packages, building on existing and relevant programmes.” Moreover, it reiterated “the need for a comprehensive approach across all fields of EU engagement building upon the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean with a view to lending more effective support reflecting partners’ commitment for reform.”

25. But one could ask has the EU ever had a proper strategy on the region? As if there were any doubts,it is now crystal clear that the EU neighbourhood policy is not working, the Barcelona Process as well as the Union for the Mediterranean has failed. It has been said that from now on any EU aid “to the democratic transformation processes” shall have strong conditions attachedand insisted upon. However, there is no proper basis upon which the Government can assume that the EU can really demand reforms from its southern neighbours. The previous record of the European Union is deeply unsatisfactory. In the meantime taxpayers’ money has already been spent on projects that provided very little in the way of democratic rewards.

One thought on “European Union hypocrisy over Egyptian regime – the discrepancy between generous EU funding and demands for democratisation

  1. Jonas Hansen

    Very interesting article; I’m currently writing a master thesis on the very same subject, using Egypt and Morocco as case countries.
    Jonas Hansen, grad student
    Roskilde University
    Denmark
    Institute for Globalisation and Global Studies

    Reply

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