The foreign ministers of the European Union called for “more emphasis on Public Finance Management and the fight against corruption” to be included in negotiations for a new Action Plan for the EU’s cooperation with Egypt relating to governance.
The meeting was chaired by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton who presented a report on her recent visit to Egypt.
The ministers, who make up the Foreign Affairs Council, discussed a report by the European Court of Auditors on the EU’s support for Governance in Egypt, which was originally published on 18 June 2013.
The Council concluded that at the recommendation by the court, the EU should place importance on “Public Finance Management and the fight against corruption in the negotiations for a new Action Plan.” The Council added: “In particular in relation to guaranteeing budgetary transparency and fully independent external auditing.”
The Council also agreed on the “importance of continued Assessment of EU support to Egypt in line with the Court’s recommendations, in order to ensure that this assistance is fully effective.” Part of this support, as stipulated in the EU-Egypt Action Plan, included “a number of human rights and democracy issues.” On this aspect of EU support for Egypt, the Council concluded “promoting deep and sustainable democracy, inclusive economic development and strengthened relations between the EU and partner countries remains very relevant to Egypt.”
In June, the time of the original report, the EU auditors described the EU’s support for governance in Egypt as “well intentioned, but ineffective” and stressed that “the main human rights programme was largely unsuccessful.” Karel Pinxten, the member of the Court responsible for the report said: “The ‘softly softly’ approach has not worked.” He called for a new, “more focused approach which will produce meaningful results.”
In its conclusions, the Council pointed out: “The effectiveness of EU actions also depends on the local and regional political environment and comes in combination with the authorities’ commitment in the area.” The Council expressed its appreciation for the EU’s efforts “to establish and maintain a dialogue and cooperation on the difficult issues of governance, democracy, and human rights, including rights for women and minorities.” They also expressed satisfaction for the increased engagement with civil society in Egypt.
Ahead of the meeting, some of the participants expressed differing views on the situation in Egypt. Ashton’s comments echoed the hope for Egypt’s future that she expressed at the end of her recent visit to Cairo. In Luxembourg she said: “It’s very obvious to me that Egypt is able to reach that inclusive society. It’s part of the culture of the nation.” She added that while she is concerned about “some aspects of what’s happening now” she still believes that “it is possible for the country to move to election that will bring back what the people who went to Tahrir square two years ago wanted, which is a democratic, peaceful and secure country.”
In August, the Foreign Affairs Council suspended several export licenses relating to any equipment that could be “used for internal repression” in Egypt. In response to a question as to whether or not this decision could be reversed, British Foreign Secretary said: “It would be early to change the measures we decided on in August. In any case, we support democratic transition in Egypt.” He hoped that the interim government in Egypt would continue with the roadmap and that it was necessary to keep the situation in Egypt under review.
Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt responded to a similar question: “I fail to see any improvement in the situation in Egypt. What I see is rather an even more worrying picture of confrontation on both sides… and not the sort of outreach to transparent and inclusive political process we called for.”
The Council also discussed the situation in Libya, the Syrian conflict and the ministers also hosted Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.