21st Mar 2023

EU signs gas deal with Egypt's rights abusing leadership

  • 'We want to diversify to trustworthy suppliers and Egypt is a trustworthy partner,' EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen said after meeting Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)
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The European Union will work alongside the Egyptian government on energy despite widespread human rights abuses under the leadership of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

European commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced in Cairo on Wednesday (15 June) the signature of a memorandum of understanding between Israel, Egypt and the EU to increase gas supplies to the EU.

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The agreement comes as Europe tries to reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels in the wake of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

"We want to diversify to trustworthy suppliers and Egypt is a trustworthy partner," von der Leyen said after meeting Egypt's president al-Sisi.

The deal signed on Wednesday argues that natural gas will have an important role in the EU's energy consumption and electricity generation until 2030, recognising the need to scale up the production of hydrogen and other renewables in the near future.

Under the agreement, imports from Israel would involve gas being processed at Egypt's liquefaction plants before being shipped to Europe as liquefied natural gas (LNG).

But the trilateral agreement would allow Egypt to purchase some of the gas being transported to the EU and other countries through the Egyptian territory for its own consumption or export.

"This is a big step forward in the energy supply to Europe, but also for Egypt to become a regional energy hub," von der Leyen said.

"This is a historic day for the EU's energy security," said EU energy commissioner Kadri Simon.

The deal also includes measures to reduce methane leaks and promote the production of hydrogen.

While it does not create any legal or financial obligations for the EU, it is expected to push up investments in gas infrastructure in the country.

The memorandum, which will run for nine years, mentions the need to explore ways to encourage European companies to invest in natural gas exploration and production in Israel and Egypt.

Overall, the EU aims to import 14 to 15 billion cubic metres per year from Egypt, covering around 10 percent of the bloc's gas imports from Russia.

But other countries like Azerbaijan are seen as a potential alternative source for EU imports as Russia's stockpiles account for about 40 percent of all its gas imports.

'A blank check''

Von der Leyen's visit to Cairo and the new gas supply agreement have also renewed the debate over wider EU-Egypt relations given Egypt's dismal human rights record.

EU parliament's lead MEP on Egypt, Green Mounir Satouri, raised concerns on Wednesday over the use of EU funds to support the Egyptian government.

In a letter, he urged von der Leyen to press al-Sisi on human rights during her meetings in Cairo.

A group of NGOs echoed the same message last month, arguing that the lack of progress in Egypt's human rights record should have "serious consequences" on Europe's support for al-Sisi's government.

Earlier this month, the EU commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement Oliver Varhelyi announced that the EU would be supporting Egypt with nearly €300m of EU funding — including €118m of direct budget support.

But Satouri said that the EU is issuing "a blank check" to the Egyptian government.

"These €118m of budget support will not benefit the people, but a dictator, and are contrary to the human rights approach of the EU and the European Parliament," he tweeted.

During a committee debate in the parliament on Wednesday, Varhelyi said that there were "no grounds" to refuse the payments, arguing that the funding was approved by the previous EU commission.

The EU parliament previously argued that the commission should refrain from financially supporting governments in third countries witnessing widespread violations of human rights.

"The human rights situation in Egypt requires a serious revision of the Commission's budget support operations and requires the restriction of EU aid to primarily supporting democratic actors and civil society," MEPs said in a resolution in 2020.

The EU-Egypt Association Council, which will take place in Luxembourg on Sunday (19 June), is set to endorse the new partnership until 2027.

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