This was one of the central goals of the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy’s forum on “Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean” in Brussels on March 11.
“The European Union has the experience and tools to help countries in the Arab region as they make the journey to deep democracy,” said Catherine Ashton, the Vice-President and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
During her speech in Brussels, Catherine Ashton emphasized that the European Investment Bank (EIB) could provide approximately 6 billion Euros to the Mediterranean region in the coming three years if the Council approves the additional lending envelope of 1 billion Euros, as recently proposed by the European Parliament. The EU proposed to double their investment in Egypt through infrastructure projects to create job opportunities for Egyptian youth.
But Egypt must make the first move. “It would be premature to announce a support package for Egypt until Egyptian authorities make a specific request for assistance that prioritizes needs,” said Mario David, the European Parliament’s Chair of Delegation for Mashreq (East North African) countries.
Amr Hamzawy, a Cairo University political science professor and researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, noted that in formulating an aid package of technical and financial assistance directed to Egyptian institutions, the EU must consider how this aid will function in the context of constitutional and legal reform, political engagement in the organization of the referendum on constitutional amendments, and presidential and parliamentary elections.
Hamzawy also emphasized that cooperation between both the EU and the Council of Europ are crucial to map a plan that transfers European expertise to assist the transition to democracy, while addressing policy-makers, national forces and civil society.
In the wake of Egyptian protests, economic and political challenges have emerged and the EU, in supporting the quest for democratic principles and value, must have a clear understanding of what these challenges entail.
Said El-Khadraoui, the Vice-Chair of Delegation for relations with the Mashreq countries, explained that the EU can offer Egypt significant expertise – culled from individual governments, the European Institutions (European Commission and European Parliament), local and regional authorities, political parties, foundations, trade unions and civil society organizations.
El-Khadraoui also said that the EU will review its neighborhood policy with the countries in the Arab region in accordance with changes impacted by recent political reform in Egypt. He added that the EU will focus on Egypt’s economy.
Charles Tannock, a member in the Committee of Foreign Affairs in the European parliament, announced that the EU is ready to mobilize full support for the Egyptian people and has started a dialogue with the recently appointed Egyptian government.
He added that the EU welcomes the suitable delivery of first proposals for amending the constitution and encourages Egyptian authorities to continue in their commitment to political reform and to create an environment for thorough democratic transition, including lifting the state of emergency law.
The Council of Europe, another aid partner, is communicating with the EU in an effort to support Egypt during this transitional period. Jean Claus, Adviser in the External Relations committee in the Council of Europe, said that Egypt already participates in some of the activities supported by the Council, and notes that, “this participation will facilitate our support to the country after the revolution.”
Claus added that the Council is offering a partial agreement, called “the Venice Commission,” dealing with constitutional and electoral issues, and Egypt is entitled to ask for membership. Claus adds that “the Venice Commission” can offer Egypt useful advice in building democratic institutions, in the principles of accountability between the authorities and society, and the reduction of corruption at all levels of society.
Egypt’s protests have triggered a significant economic crisis, and the aftermath is manifested in the country’s GDP growth rate. Before the revolution, which officially began on January 25th, a Reuter’s survey of financial analysts predicted 5.4 percent GDP growth in 2011, the fastest for an Arab country after Qatar.
According to the Egyptian stock market, each of the 18 days that the uprising lasted cost Egypt’s economy $1 billion in capital outflow, as foreign investors siphoned money out. The uprising also affected the country’s infrastructures, key institutions, and its tourism industry, which accounts for 11 percent of GDP and 10 percent of jobs. Banks estimate the total loss to the Egyptian economy at over $30 billion.
Egypt’s lucrative tourism industry will not recover soon. Laila Nabhan, owner of Five Continents Travel Company, said her family-owned company’s loss reached nearly 80 percent since the revolution, when many airlines, including Delta, cancelled flights. Five Continents is the Delta representative in Egypt. “We’ve had group and individual cancellations,” says Naban, “up through winter of 2011. Tourists will not return until there is stability in the country.”
Ashton observed that if the European Council does not revitalize tourism in the Arab world, notably Egypt, the loss of national income could undermine recent democratic reforms by jeopardizing the compromised stability in the region.