By Jim McConalogue
Let’s get this straight – if we are to talk about any political hypocrisy in relation to events now unfolding in the Middle East, it is Britain’s part in the European Union’s hypocrisy over the Egyptian regime – notably, the clear discrepancy between generous EU funding and decades of failed demands for real democracy.
What makes this infinitely worse is that under the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, the Coalition Government has inherited a state of affairs in which it has quite clearly lost its power, action and influence to take any decision on the key issues, has ceded powers to this political force in the shape of its new EU Foreign Minister and our ministers being reduced to making public relations statements.
Historically, with British consent, the European Union has been cooperating greatly with autocratic rulers in the Middle East. Regimes such as that of Mubarak’s in Egypt have enjoyed the EU’s financial support over the past 30 years. As is now clear, on 11 February, following several days of protests and violence, Hosni Mubarak eventually stepped down – but why are we not prepared to question the role of our country’s failures in what went wrong?
It is concerning that the European Union has supplied extraordinary amounts of funding without any sufficient democratic measures attached. It is now crystal clear that our participation in the EU neighbourhood policy is not working – the Barcelona Process as well as the Union for the Mediterranean has failed. Britain must renegotiate its deal with Europe. When the Barcelona Process started in 1995 and the EU started signing Association Agreements it ensured the adherence to democratic principles was an essential element of such agreements. The EU attached fundamental conditions such as human rights and governance reforms to its support for projects and funding. This has failed.
It has been said that from now on, any EU aid “to the democratic transformation processes” shall have strong conditions attached and insisted upon. Too little and too late. Besides, can the EU really demand reforms from its southern neighbours, given its previous record? In the meantime, taxpayers’ money has already been spent in projects that provided little in the way of democratic progress.
EU diplomatic relations with Egypt go back to the 1960s – and since then the EU has continued to develop a privileged relationship with the country. The European-Egyptian partnership started in 1977, even before Mubarak came to power, and since then until 2004 a Co-operation Agreement governed their bilateral relations. Such agreement provided for economic co-operation and established provisions for trade liberalisation and market access. The EU is now Egypt’s largest trade partner.
Within the framework of the Co-operation Agreement, from 1977 to 1995 four financial Protocols provided EC funding for programmes and projects in Egypt for a total amount of 1.463 billion Euros. Under the first ‘MEDA phase’ (1996-1999) Egypt benefited from financial support of 686 million Euros. Between 2000 and 2006, Egypt received 594 million Euros in funding from the MEDA II programme. Moreover, Egypt received €5 million from the European Initiative for Human Rights and Democracy, under which the European Commission funds NGOs. Also, with the intention of upgrading the institutional capacity of the Egyptian administration, in 2005, the EU and Egypt signed the "Support to the Association Agreement" programme whereby Egypt received another 25 million Euros.
The European Commission earmarked a 558 million Euro financial assistance package for Egypt for 2007 to 2010, in order to support three priorities: political reform and good governance, competitiveness and productivity of the economy, socio-economic sustainability of the development process. The Commission allocated around 39 million Euros for “Supporting reforms in the areas of democracy, human rights, good governance and justice” for 2007–2010, which corresponds to 7 per cent of the total amount allocated to Egypt for this period.
For the period 2011-2013, the bilateral European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument budget allocation for Egypt, implementing the Action Plan, has been proposed to be 449.29 million Euros, which represents an average of 149.76 million Euros per annum.
Relations between the EU and Egypt are now governed by a legally binding treaty – an Association Agreement. As it is the case with other Association Agreements between the EU and its Mediterranean partners, the Egypt Association Agreement stresses the importance of the principles of the United Nations Charter, particularly the observance of human rights, democratic principles and economic freedom. \
So why did the EU supply the cash but not support the democratic principles? The difficult reality that underlies the hypocrisy is this: the EU is fundamentally undemocratic and our acceptance of being governed by this political bloc in this shameful way has grossly undermined our international reputation.