• The EU spent €2.6bn on the neighbourhood states last year (Photo: Globovision)

EU neighbours: instability, corruption, authoritarianism

27.03.14 @ 18:11

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Most countries round the EU’s southern and eastern rim are seeing an increase of instability, authoritarianism, and corruption, according to European Commission reports published on Thursday (27 March).

The commissioner in charge of trying to make things better, Stefan Fuele, said in a statement that “popular aspirations for a better life and for enjoying basic human rights and fundamental freedoms remain strong”.

He noted the EU spent €2.6 billion on "neighbourhood policy" states last year, and has earmarked €15.4 billion for 2014 to 2020.

But he added that “reform cannot be imposed from outside”.

The situation is stable in Morocco, where Fuele’s top recommendation is to accelerate changes to the constitution.

But travelling east, problems begin with elections in Algeria on 17 April, where 77-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika aims to retain power in a country which has seen “no visible progress” on EU-demanded electoral reforms and where lack of respect for basic civil liberties "has not changed significantly".

Further east again, Libya is falling apart.

The commission report says “tribal and local skirmishes continue, politically instigated violence is a daily reality, and clashes between military brigades outside of the control of the state are a frequent occurrence.” The de facto secession of the Benghazi region has seen oil output drop from 1.5 million barrels a day to 250,000.

Lack of border control has also seen Libya become “the main transit country in the Mediterranean for economic migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers” to Europe.

The commission report does not say it, but the German government recently told its MPs things are so bad, the EU border control mission, Eubam Libya, has just one third of personnel in place and is thinking of moving to Malta.

Tunisia is a pocket of relative normality.

But Egypt is fast-turning into a basket case. The commission report glosses over the army’s coup d’etat and its killing of more than 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood protesters in 2013 as “politically a very challenging year.” But it documents the accompanying crackdown on civil society and media.

It also gives weight to Fuele’s remark that EU reforms “cannot be imposed from outside.”

The report noted that his colleague, foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, visited Cairo “several times”. But despite her visits, the crackdown continued. Egypt this week sentenced more than 500 Muslim Brotherhood prisoners to death. Ashton published a complaint.

Moving on to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Fuele’s team said Israel’s unchecked settlement building, impunity for settler violence against Palestinians, detentions of Palestinians, and its almost total isolation of Gaza mean “tension has increased.”

Israel’s two neighbours - Jordan and Lebanon - are struggling to cope with a “steady and continuous wave of refugees from Syria.”

There are 584,600 UN-registered refugees in Jordan (media say 1.2 million in total), which is beginning to run out of water, and 974,400 in Lebanon, which is seeing increased sectarian violence.

The EU also puts a price on the cost of the Syrian civil war.

In the latest data available, its overall exports dropped by 52 percent in 2012 and its EU exports dropped by 91 percent.

Mainland Europe

Hopping to mainland Europe, the commission praised Georgia for its pro-EU reforms, but warned it to “ensure that criminal prosecutions are conducted in a transparent and impartial manner, [and] free of political motivation.”

The EU is aiming to sign an association pact with Georgia in June despite the fact it is partitioned by Russia.

But someone in Georgia is happy to play into Russia’s hands: The day after the EU announced the June date, Georgia summoned its former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, to answer prosecutors’ questions on a string of criminal cases.

He skipped the meeting, due on 27 March, saying EU friends had told him not to risk jail and, by extension, harming EU-Georgia ties.

The reports also take Armenia (rampant corruption) and Azerbaijan (authoritarianism) to task.

Last year, Armenia binned its EU association hopes due to Russian threats over its frozen conflict with Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan by itself binned an EU “strategic” agreement by rejecting EU requests to include a promise on human rights.

For anyone hoping that more than 20 years of EU and US diplomacy on Nagorno-Karabakh has helped, the EU report added: “An upsurge of violence along the line of contact was nevertheless witnessed early 2014.”

Elsewhere, the EU’s top demand for Moldova, also partitioned by Russia but hoping to sign an EU pact in June, was to “intensify the fight against corruption at all levels.”

With speculation mounting that Russia will invade Moldova’s breakaway Transniestria region to encircle Ukraine, the EU report added: “Little development can be reported with regard to the Transnistrian conflict.”

The reports add nothing new on Ukraine.

They also note the situation in Belarus remains grim: “232 persons and 25 entities remain subject to EU sanctions, as not all political prisoners have been released, no released prisoner has been rehabilitated, and the respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles has not improved.”

Russia and Turkey are not covered by the neighbourhood policy.

But the Ukraine crisis has revealed a bottomless chasm between Moscow and Brussels, which is currently preparing for economic warfare against Russia in case of a full-scale Ukraine invasion.

The slide toward autocracy and instability in Turkey - the only country in the region with EU accession hopes - also continued on Thursday when PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan blocked YouTube in the run-up to local and presidential elections.

The ban comes a few days after he blocked Twitter and two weeks after two more people died in clashes between protesters and police.