EU Ambassador says the ball is in the Egyptian court
CAIRO: The European Union and Egypt have failed to reach agreement on the final text of an action plan for the union s Neighborhood Policy during Tuesday s meeting between Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Abul Gheit and his European counterpart, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, in Luxembourg.
The Action Plan was widely anticipated to be finalized during Abul Gheit s visit. Ferrero-Waldner described the great political will from both sides to reach agreement during her visit last to Egypt in April.
I am very confident that on Jun. 13 there will be a possibility for signature of this policy s Action Plan, Ferrero-Waldner said at the time.
Her conviction is echoed by an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I am surprised to hear that … an agreement on the final text of Action Plan has not occurred, says Mohamed Fathi El-Shazli of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. My impression from listening to Benita Ferrera-Waldner during her last visit to Egypt when she met with the President was that all issues had been agreed upon at the highest levels.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not provide specific reasons for the failure to reach an agreement, although the E.U. Ambassador Klaus Ebermann says that a number of technical issues relating to the Association Agreement between the E.U. and Egypt have held up progress on the Action Plan.
[The Association Agreement] has not yet lived up to expectations because the driving force behind it in technical terms, which is the committee structure … was not yet agreed, says Ebermann, who is also the head of the European Commission s delegation in Egypt.
The Association Agreement, which currently governs relations between the E.U. and Egypt, requires the creation of committees to address a range of economic and political issues including human rights.
There is a question of how to address human rights questions in the committee structure and in the work of the Association Agreement, says Ebermann. It is almost solved, but there was still nuance in terms of presentation, where a new language was put forward by the European side on which the Egyptian Foreign Minister was not ready to pronounce without further consultations on the home front.
Ebermann adds that the issue pertains to implementation rather than principles. It s not a question of if such questions can be addressed but of how, of implementing rules, says Eberman. I would see it as a question of weeks, definitely not of months, because we are almost there, but the ball is in the Egyptian court on that issue.
The main item that remains unresolved for the Action Plan itself is the wording on weapons of mass destruction.
However, El-Shazli denies that there is a significant dispute on this issue, explaining that both Egypt and the E.U. agree that the region should be free of weapons of mass destruction. There is no difference of opinion on this, says El-Shazli.
El-Shazli adds that there are divergent views on how judicial reform should be incorporated into the Action Plan.
The Egyptian side was discussing cooperation for the administration of justice, so that it does not arouse sensitivities of the judiciary, says El-Shazli. But the language used by the European Union [related to] cooperation to increase the independence of the judiciary.
The economic benefits of the Neighborhood Policy were also not clear to the Egyptian side.
The Neighborhood Policy s objective is to spread the values that are common inside the European Union to neighboring countries, on the basis that the security, stability and prosperity of Europeans cannot be assured unless neighboring countries adopt these values, explains El-Shazli. To achieve this, neighboring countries are encouraged to uphold these values in return for financial support and for a greater share of the European market. This greater share is not clear to Egyptian negotiators. What does a greater share mean when we were aiming to establish a free trade area [in the Euro-Mediterranean region]?
Only industrial products from Egypt are currently allowed unrestricted access to European markets, and little progress has been made on the liberalization of trade in services and agricultural goods to date.
We have [in mind] to liberalize the trade of agricultural goods as well as services, including financial services, insurance and so on, says El-Shazli.