EU seeks new approach of accountability, partnership

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CAIRO: The European Union is looking into a “new approach” to its relations with its neighbors, based on accountability, partnership not imposition, with funding that would match the speed of reform.

“With so much of our neighborhood in a process of democratic change, this review is more important than ever. It is vital that we in the EU make a comprehensive offer to our neighbors and build lasting partnerships in our neighborhood,” the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Commission Catherine Ashton said in a press statement.

The European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy published on May 25 the annual neighborhood package, consisting of a communication proposing a reviewed European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), 12 country reports on developments in 2010, including one on Egypt.

Even though the report focuses on the period from January to December 2010, it takes into account the events following Jan. 25 considering the impact they are having on Egyptian people and on EU relations with Egypt.

“What we are launching today is a new approach. A partnership between peoples aimed at promoting and supporting the development of deep democracy and economic prosperity in our neighborhood. This is in all our interests,” Ashton said.

“We will make funding available for countries in our neighborhoods to support and match the speed of political and economic reform they wish to make. Our support is based on partnership, not on imposition. It is a relationship based on mutual accountability which cuts both ways where each side will hold the other to account against agreed goals and objectives.”

On the occasion of the launch of the reports, the EU Ambassador to Egypt, Marc Franco, held a roundtable discussing the current situation in Egypt as well as the adoption of a new policy and the new report.

The ENP strategy seeks to strengthen individual and regional relationships between the EU and its neighboring countries through a “more funds for more reform” approach, making more additional funds available but with more mutual accountability, which Franco pointed out that there is “no more one size fits all.”

With regards to the rise, and possible rule of Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, by winning the legislative elections, Franco described it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If everybody says the Muslim Brotherhood is going to win and is going to control the parliament, then they are going to [do so].”

“Rather than spending your time complaining go out and form a party or join a party and make sure that the forces of change move from the square to the parliament. … Now there is a possibility of creating a parliament that will reflect the opinions of the people; this is the beginning of a democratic process, seize that opportunity,” he explained.

The political activity needs to change from protesting about things that you don’t like to going out and telling people what you like and why they have to vote for you, he added.

“I’m not saying that the Square should disappear, because there should always be a critical function in society but there is much bigger necessity for positive input of those forces of change in the party political game,” he said in reference to Tahrir Square which was the epicenter of the 18-days of protests that ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Those who prefer to protest because they don’t want to compromise can’t come later and complain that the Muslim Brotherhood had won the elections, he said.

“If you don’t want to get involved in a political game where you have to make an agreement on a political program you have to work together with people on the list. Stand in the square [but do so] till the end of your days because somebody else is going to win the elections,” he said.

“Stop complaining about somebody else being strong; make yourself strong,” he added.

As for the current provisionary government, Franco said that they can’t change everything, such as budget management, because they “have no time and no vision.”

“They are all doing their best” to keep the government running and working on stabilizing and creating confidence.

Franco said that they are waiting for the government to ask them for electoral assistance, which includes preparing voting lists and organizing the process, and/or electoral monitoring to make sure that it is a free and fair election.

The report states that Egypt remained a key trade partner for the EU in the region. Trade integration advanced in June 2010 with the entry into force of the EU-Egypt agreement on further liberalization of trade in agricultural, processed agricultural products and fish and fishery products. On the other hand, the process of liberalization of trade in services stagnated.

The challenges of implementing a social policy that allows for a more even distribution of the benefits of growth among various social groups and the provision of access to education and health to the nearly 40 percent of the population who live in poverty remain unmet.

On top of the €5.7 billion already allocated for the period 2011-2013, additional funding of €1.24 billion has been transferred from other existing resources and will now be made available in support of the ENP.

Franco explained that the €1.2 billion will go into three main blocks: first, building up democracy, building the rule of law, institution building and reinforcement of civil society. Secondly, creating conditions for economic development that includes various types of projects such as industrial cooperation. Thirdly, promoting people-to-people contact, which entails increasing the number of scholarships, youth projects and university cooperation.

As for possible debt relief to Egypt, Franco said that this is a bilateral issue with EU member states and not with the EU as a whole.

The ambassador explained that a new approach is proposed to strengthen the partnership between the EU and its neighboring countries. It aims at providing greater support to partners engaged in building deep democracy, support effective inclusive economic development and strengthening the two regional dimension of the ENP to work out consistent regional initiatives in areas such as trade, energy, transport or migration and mobility complementing and strengthening our bilateral co-operation.

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