29th Mar 2023

EU reacts to Arab spring with small-scale funding increase

In a major policy review in the wake of the Arab spring, EU institutions have pledged €250 million a year in new money for the bloc's 16 neighbouring countries, including six post-Soviet states in eastern Europe.

The funding - which is to come from unspent money in a different section in the EU's global external relations budget - is to cover the period from now until 2013.

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  • War detritus in Libya - the conflict is said to have cost the country €340 billion so far (Photo: BRC)

It comes on top of previously agreed funding of €1.9 billion a year for the region and is to be topped up by extra European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development lending as well as bilateral aid from individual EU countries.

Putting the figures into context, Libyan rebels estimate the war has cost the country €340 billion so far. Independent consultants predict the Egyptian revolution will cost €4 billion this year in tourist cancellations.

EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton and neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fule said on Wednesday (26 May) that countries which make more democratic reforms will get more cash. "The issue is to be guided by principle ... not geography," Fuele noted.

The policy paper said Moldova and Ukraine in the east and Jordan and Morocco in the south are the most progressive.

The money is to be spent on initiatives such as the Civil Society Facility and the European Endowment for Democracy, EU schemes designed to promote grass-roots movements like trade unions. It will also train young people with no jobs, help students and businessmen to visit Europe and help local administrations and courts to function more like those in the EU.

The review comes seven years after Ashton and Fuele's predecssors first launched the so-called European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) for the group of 16 countries.

Commenting on the ENP legacy so far, the review paper said: "Recent events and the results of the review have shown that EU support to political reforms in neighbouring countries has met with limited results."

The ENP was effectively split in two in 2008 with the launch of the French-backed Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and the Polish-Swedish-backed Eastern Partnership (EaP).

The new ENP applies the EaP model to Arab states, saying they should aim for visa-free travel and deep and comprehenisve free trade agreements in the long-term, while looking to cheaper EU visas for students and businessmen and mini trade pacts on individual products for now.

It identifies Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia as first in line for cheaper visas under so-called "mobility partnerships" despite severe tensions over Tunisian migrants in France, Italy and Malta.

It devotes just one paragraph to the half-dead UfM, saying it needs to be "revitalised" and to focus on "pragmatic" projects such as job creation instead of big-ticket items like the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It makes no mention of post-Soviet countries' aspirations to enter the EU, saying only that Article 49 of the EU treaty on eligibility to join is based on democracy and rule of law. Fuele in the press briefing made clear that citing the article is not designed to imply a promise of future membership but rather to show that EU foreign policy is based on values.

Commenting on the ENP review, German Green MEP Franzsika Brantner noted that if EU countries do not play ball the Ashton-Fuele plan will fail.

"Proposed 'carrots' of increased mobility for citizens from Europe's neighbourhood, better market access and more funds will remain empty promises if member states fail to buy-in. In the context of budget cutbacks and the current debates on border controls it is clear that this will not be easy," she said in a written statement.

A set of six MEPs from the centre-right EPP political group said in a separate communique that "financial allocations promised to the eastern neighbours cannot be redeployed under any circumstances to the south" because this would harm post-Soviet reform movements.

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