France and Spain call to shift EU funds from east to south
France and five other south-lying EU members have said the Union should give less money to its post-Soviet neighbours and more to Mediterranean rim countries in the context of the Arab uprisings.
A letter to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton dated 16 February and signed by the foreign ministers of France, Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Slovenia says: "The profound popular movements calling for political, economic and social reforms in Tunisia and Egypt argue in favour of reinforcing the European Union's actions in its southern neighbourhood."
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An attached analysis paper notes that out of the €12 billion put aside for the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2007 to 2013, just €1.80 is being spent per capita in Egypt and €7 in Tunisia compared to €25 in Moldova.
The "assymetries" and "disparities" are "today difficult to justify and sustain," it notes. "These [financial] packages must be reviewed in the light of current events."
The analysis paper also proposes: tying future EU money more strictly to democratic reform; redirecting other EU funds, such as development aid, to north Africa and the Middle East; creating new regional schemes on the model of the Danube Strategy; and boosting European Investment Bank lending to Arab countries by €2.5 billion over the next two years.
The paper adds that the Union for the Mediterranean, a multilateral body bringing together 16 regional countries and the EU-27, should play a "crucial" role in the efforts.
The proposal could throw a lifeline to the Barcelona-based institution, which failed to meet last year due to Arab-Israeli tensions. "It's not dead. But it is ill. It's in a coma," Syria's ambassador to the EU, Mohamad Ayman Soussan, said last week.
Events in north Africa stand in contrast to the recent backsliding on democratic standards in several of the EU's post-Soviet neighbours, such as Belarus and Ukraine.
"Just when the southern neighbourhood of the EU is [being] shaken by a wave of revolutionary situations that toppled consolidated dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, the eastern neighbourhood seems to be in the middle of a trend towards authoritarian consolidation," Nicu Popescu, an analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, wrote in his EUobserver blog on 14 February.
He pointed out on Monday that "the French play a bit with the numbers" since the occupied Palestinian territories are the largest European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) beneficiaries per capita and southern countries already take two-thirds of the total ENP pot.
The French-led southern initiative comes after the Hungarian EU presidency had to cancel plans to hold a summit with six post-Soviet countries in May because Paris tabled a G20 summit on the same date.
With Poland keen to focus the Union's attention on the east when it takes over the EU presidency in July, Polish EU affairs minister Mikolaj Dowgielewicz told Polish press agency PAP on Sunday: "As the EU, we have equally important duties in the east [as in the south], perhaps a little different, but equally serious. In this context, I wouldn't see it in a competitive sense."
The French-led proposal for the southern neighbourhood will be discussed by EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday and at a multilateral event including US and Arab officials hosted by Ms Ashton in the EU capital on Wednesday.
EU commissioner Stefan Fuele will for his part publish a major review of the ENP by April.
German EU affairs minister Werner Hoyer on the margins of a foreign ministers' dinner in Brussels on Sunday also said the EU must "become more visible" in the south following the region's "tectonic shift." Berlin favours opening up EU trade with Arab countries instead of channeling more aid, however.
Italian foreign affairs minister Franco Frattini said the EU must create a "Marshall Plan" for the region, referring to the US' post-World-War-II reconstruction effort in Europe.