Sofia observers for larger EU role in Mideast, N. Africa

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SOFIA: The EU should assume a bigger role in the democratic transitions in North Africa and the Middle East, politicians and experts said Thursday, pointing to eastern Europe’s post-communist experience.

“In most countries there is a feeling now that what the European Union is offering is not sufficient. I think it is true,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told a conference in Sofia.

The two-day panel, to be addressed Friday by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, brought together more than 150 government officials, analysts and journalists from across eastern Europe, as well as activists who took part in the upheavals in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia.

Martonyi urged the bloc to “reconsider and revisit its neighborhood and Mediterranean policy”, to offer expertise and also money and market access to countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

After 20 years of post-communist transition to democracy, eastern Europe could help with constitutional reforms, organizing free elections and setting up democratic institutions, political parties and free media, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov added.

“It is our deep conviction that Europe cannot stand idly by but should be committed to supporting the democratic processes in our southern neighbors,” he said.

North Africa and the Middle East could also learn from eastern Europe’s mistakes in the fight against corruption and judiciary reform, Borisov added.

At the same time, Europe must also respect human rights, Council of Europe chief Thorbjorn Jagland insisted, as thousands of migrants have fled North Africa, sparking anger in Italy and France.

“I am worried that the situation may evolve into a migration crisis,” Jagland warned.

While he did not question “the right and responsibility of all European governments” to regulate immigration, “Europe’s response must be in line with international human rights and humanitarian standards”

“We cannot expect these countries to apply human rights standards if we do not apply them ourselves,” he added.


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