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24th Jan 2021

EU to spend billions more on Arab revolutions

The European Commission aims to plough an extra €6.2 billion into EU neighbouring countries over the coming years, with the bulk of new resources to go to Arab revolutionaries.

Neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele and development commissioner Andris Pieblags unveiled the numbers at a briefing in the EU capital on Wednesday (7 December).

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They said Brussels is to spend €61.8 billion in total on foreign policy in the 2014 to 2020 period. The figure includes €23.2 billion on third-world aid, €14.1 billion on helping EU accession candidates such as Turkey and €18.1 billion on promoting reforms in the ring of 16 neighbouring countries stretching from Morocco to Belarus that are not on track to join the bloc.

If agreed by MEPs and member states, the new €18.1 billion budget line represents a big jump from the €12 billion neighbourhood fund covering the past seven years.

Fuele called the shake-up "A direct answer to the revolutionary movements to the south of the European Union ... to ensure the success of the transformation process and to improve social and economic development."

The precise country-by-country split among the 16 remains to be worked out. But a commission official said the "bulk" of new funds will be spent on helping Arab countries such as Egypt, Libya and - potentially - Syria to get back on their feet following unrest.

Arab states will also benefit from three other funds - on worldwide conflict prevention and promotion of human rights - worth €5.5 billion in total.

For his part, Piebalgs noted that development money will in future only go to the "most poor".

The decision means that 19 countries - Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Iran, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Thailand, Venezuela and Uruguay - will no longer qualify for development aid.

Serbia and Ukraine in the cold

Fuele let slip at the press briefing that two of the EU's eastern neighbours, Serbia and Ukraine, are heading for setbacks in EU relations in the coming days.

Asked whether he thinks EU leaders will on Thursday give Serbia EU candidate status, the commissioner answered that Belgrade's recent decision to help end anti-Nato violence in north Kosovo has come too late: "If all these positive developments had come earlier, everybody, including Belgrade, would be feeling more comfortable today."

On the possibility of the EU and Ukraine finalising a new Association Agreement at a summit in Kiev on 19 December, he noted the recent jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is "not appropriate".

"[EU] member states have made it clear that a conducive climate needs to be created for signing [the agreement]," he said.

'Beginning of the end' for Lukashenko

Amid the focus on the Arab Spring, Fuele at a separate event organised in Brussels on Wednesday by the Carnegie Europe foundation promised to pay special attention to helping NGOs and opposition in Belarus.

He noted that President Aleksander Lukashenko's country is gripped by "fear" and risks becoming "a black hole in Europe."

But he also said Lukashenko's rule is beginning to crumble, referring to "wider frustrations in the country, including amongst the 'nomenklatura'" and "new groups emerging who are becoming increasingly frustrated with the current regime, including a number within the government itself."

"Lukashenko may believe that, by repressing his own people, he is helping to cement his rule ... But I can tell you that when a regime begins to act in such a way, it is truly the beginning of the end," Fuele said.

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