Saturday

18th Nov 2017

Europe 'should have backed democrats not dictators,' commissioner says

  • 'Europe was not vocal enough in defending human rights,' says Mr Fuele (Photo: gordontour)

EU commissioner Stefan Fuele has offered an unprecedented mea culpa for Europe's history of support for dictators across north Africa.

Criticising what he called the view of a "rather offensive 'Arab exception' towards democracy", he told MEPs in Brussels on Monday (28 February): "We must show humility about the past. Europe was not vocal enough in defending human rights and local democratic forces in the region."

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"Too many of us fell prey to the assumption that authoritarian regimes were a guarantee of stability in the region," continued Mr Fuele, the former Czech diplomat now in charge of EU enlargement and neighbourhood policy.

In a particularly blunt comment, he said that Europe should be standing with pro-democracy demonstrators and not "dictators" who are killing their citizens.

"The crowds in the streets of Tunis, Cairo and elsewhere have been fighting in the name of our shared values. It is with them, and for them, that we must work today - not with dictators who are, as we speak, spilling the blood of their own people with utter disregard for human life."

He said that Europe must react to developments in its southern neighbourhood the way that it did to similar uprisings against a different series of regimes in its eastern neighbourhood two decades ago: "Europe must and will rise to the challenge of supporting democratic transition in north Africa, as it did after the revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989."

He added that concerns over increased migration, access to oil or the an "increased visibilty of Islamists" should not prevent Europe from supporting democracy in the region.

"Yes, there may be rising irregular migration flows originating from Tunisia, Libya and, to some extent, from Egypt. Yes, there will be a certain political vacuum in the newly democratising countries, including an increased visibility of Islamist parties and, at least in some of them, a worry that they may not want to play by the rules of democracy. Yes, there may be rising oil prices, lost investments and business. Yes, there may be potential civil war and instability in Libya."

"We know that the forces of change that have been unleashed will not produce stable political systems overnight. Yet, we must weather these risks without losing sight of our long-term common objective: a democratic, stable, prosperous and peaceful north Africa."

Mr Fuele said that the commission was now ready with a "new approach" that would match the level of ambition that the parliament has "consistently called for".

He announced that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has asked all the different commission departments to identify what initiatives in their own areas can contribute to what he called "the new southern Mediterranean".

Mr Fuele and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will also issue a policy paper proposal on the subject on 16 March, which will then be considered by EU premiers and presidents at the spring European Council.

He signalled a fresh approach to the thorny question of migration from the region, saying that while the EU should continue to ask north African states to prevent irregular migration and co-operate on the return of refugees, he said the bloc should be "more ambitious" and floated the idea of legalised "temporary or circular migration" for workers.

He went on to say that Tunisia had made a request along these lines and that making it easier for workers to enter Europe on a legal basis was more desirable than having to deal with sudden mass exoduses.

"It is preferable to manage this type of migration rather than the humanitarian crises stemming from uncontrolled migration."

However, with an eye to member states that take a hardline perspective on immigration, he said he will need the help of the European Parliament if such strategies were to be embraced.

"This is another issue on which we will need the full support of this house," he said.

'North-south pact'

It is the first time an EU-level leader has offered an apology for the strategy. Catherine Ashton, the bloc's foreign policy supremo, has kept silent on the question of support for north African regimes.

Carl Bildt, Sweden's foreign minister, came close to making a similar assessment in January shortly after the Tunisian revolution when he wrote on his blog: "In the case of Tunisia, it is quite obvious that [European co-operation with north African states] failed."

"In retrospect, it is reasonable to ask whether we have been sufficiently robust in the requirements of respect also for democratic rights in Tunisia."

Finland's foreign policy chief, Alexander Stubb has also made critical remarks.

On Monday, Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, also called for a new ‘north-south' pact between Europe and north Africa, echoing Mr Fuele's sentiment, if not quite so bluntly.

"First, it is being refuted more and more that, Islam, democracy and progress do not contradict themselves, and second, it is not via an autocratic government, but only by a stable society do we guarantee a stable country," he said, according to FT Deutchland.

France for its part has been repeatedly bludgeoned by commentators over the last two months as papers almost on a weekly basis have revealed fresh embarrassing ties between the French political class on both sides of the ideological spectrum and north African regimes.

In an attempt to staunch the bad press, France has been at the forefront of calls for stronger EU action over Libya. On Monday, Paris sent two planes to Benghazi, the eastern region of the country Prime Minister Francois Fillon is now describing as "liberated territory."

Announcing the move, he added: "And you will have seen that France was in the forefront of the decisions taken to sanction Colonel Gaddafi,"

"We were the ones who called on the European Council to adopt a joint position on this matter."

However, unlike in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, Paris has never had strong ties with the administration in Tripoli.

One EU diplomat last week explained how it is that more northerly countries within the Council have tended to be more critical of support for southern despots: "The further you are away from immigrants landing on your beaches, the more morally pure you can allow yourself to be."

Agenda

EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK

EU ministers will vote on where to relocate two EU agencies from the UK, while later EU leaders will host six eastern European countries in Brussels. Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic awaits his verdict in the Hague.

Opinion

Mind the gap: inequality in our cities

Minimum wages, 'living' wages and a universal basic income are all part of the ongoing mix to find ways to reduce social inequality across the EU.

News in Brief

  1. Bonn climate talks extend into Friday evening
  2. UK needs to move on Brexit by early December, Tusk says
  3. Puigdemont extradition decision postponed to December
  4. Ireland wants written UK guarantees to avoid hard border
  5. US did not obstruct climate talks, says German minister
  6. EU signs social declaration
  7. Puigdemont to be heard by Belgian judges
  8. Steep fall in migrants reaching EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  2. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  4. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  5. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  6. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  9. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  10. World Vision20 November: Exchange of Views at the EP on Children Affected by the Syria Crisis
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  12. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy

Latest News

  1. EU keeps former Soviet states at arm's length
  2. EU leaders make pledge on social issues after populist backlash
  3. EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK
  4. Germany slams Dutch call for more ambitious EU climate goal
  5. Mind the gap: inequality in our cities
  6. Climate activists 'disappointed' with EU at climate talks
  7. Davis outlines UK vision on Brexit in Berlin
  8. German coalition talks in near collapse

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  2. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersMale Business Leaders Gather in Copenhagen to Advance Gender Equality
  4. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened
  5. EU2017EEEstonia Anticipates More Digital Cooperation With Sweden
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina Launches Campaign to Protect IPR of Foreign Companies
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Condemns Attacks on Ruta Vanagaite and the Shredding of Her Books in Lithuania
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesDiscover the Future of the Bio-Based Economy. Register Now for the BBI Stakeholder Forum!
  9. European Free AllianceWelcome Catalonia!
  10. UNICEFGrowing Number of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in Greece in Need of Shelter
  11. Counter BalanceNature Destruction Cannot Be Compensated For, Say NGOs
  12. CES - Silicones EuropeSilicones - Enabling the Next Big Leap in Prosthetics and Health