Saturday

17th Aug 2019

Barroso to young Arabs: 'We are with you'

  • Barroso as a young man took part in Portugal's 'Carnation Revolution' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has urged Moammar Gaddafi to step down and outlined ideas on a new EU north Africa policy ahead of an EU summit on Libya next week.

"It is time for him [Gaddafi] to go and give the country back to the people of Libya," he said in the EU capital on Wednesday (2 March). "It is our duty to say to the Arab people that we are on their side. From Brussels I want to say this particularly to the young Arabs that are now fighting for freedom and democracy: We are on your side."

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Calling the series of revolutions in north Africa a "rendezvous with history" for the Union, he noted that the post-World-War-II and post-Cold-War EU itself is born from the fight against totalitarian regimes.

"Some are saying ... that Arabs are not fit for democracy. I believe that Arabs are fit for democracy and we are on their side," he went on. "I think Europe would rather be guilty of holding on to dreams of democracy than to be accused of cynicism."

The strong words come on day 16 of the violence in Libya which the EU estimates has cost up to 2,000 lives, created 140,000 refugees on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders and prompted the evacuation of around 9,000 EU citizens.

The commission chief was himself as a young man part of the underground in Portugal in the run-up to the overthrow of the authoritarian regime of Marcelo Caetano in what became known as the 'Carnation Revolution.'

Mr Barroso said he will step up emergency funding for food and shelter for refugees from €3 million to €10 million and send EU aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva to the region later on Wednesday to oversee spending.

He mentioned that another €25 million is available from different budget lines, in part to help Italy and Malta cope with people fleeing the fighting.

The commission chief will urge EU leaders at a Libya summit next week to create a new foreign policy for the Maghreb and the Middle East: "We must not just deal with the fallout of this crisis. We must help address the root of this crisis. We need a new political paradigm ... we need a partnership for democracy ad shared prosperity."

The new Barroso model is based on three parts.

The commission wants to spend the €4 billion left in the pot up until 2013 for its 16 neighbouring countries to reward those that make democratic reforms.

It is keen to see a new "stimulus package" to combat poverty and youth unemployment in the south. The package is to focus on small businesses and is to be funded in part by European Investment Bank loans and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development assistance.

It also wants EU countries to ease visa conditions for students, academics, NGOs and "bona fide" businessmen.

In the context of deep mistrust of the West in the Arab world due to EU countries' colonial history and their more recent embrace of dictators for the sake of oil, arms and counter-terrorism deals, Mr Barroso added: "They [the Arabic freedom fighters] will follow their own road ... It is not up to us to tell them what to do."

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