EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the European Commission came under criticism from the European Court of Auditors (ECA) Tuesday, as a new report published by the body concluded they had “not been able to effectively manage EU support to improve governance in Egypt”. The report, entitled “EU Cooperation with Egypt in the Field of Governance” found that despite having set a large number of human rights and democratic reform targets for Egypt, under the European Neighbourhood Program (ENP) before 2011’s Arab Spring uprising, the Commission failed to adequately monitor progress to these ends, which was deemed to be “slow”, and, as such “continued to provide significant financial assistance to the Egyptian government, notably through budget support”.
Shari Ryness, European Jewish Press, 18.06.2013 The EU allocated approximately €1 billion in aid to Egypt between 2007-2013, however its “softly, softly approach” identified by ECA member charged with formulating the report Karel Pinxten, failed to produce results “and the time has come for a more focused approach which will produce meaningful results and guarantee better value for the European taxpayers’ money”. Under the terms of the EU’s financial assistance to Egypt, one of the key aims is to support reforms in the areas of democracy, human rights and justice, however, the ECA found that the Commission was unable to sufficiently force the agenda regarding its recommendations to ensure that dialogue was “subsequently followed up by the Egyptian authorities with concrete actions. Even when issues raised were included as action items at the end of the meeting, they were not generally implemented”, The European External Action Service (EEAS), headed by Ashton, similarly came under attack for failing to “improve the effectiveness of EU support” to Egypt in the aftermath of the Uprising, as the report claims that a highly-published ENP review had “not yet been translated into a significant revision of EU support to Egypt”. The EU was at fault for failing to use the significant financial leverage at its disposal before the Arab Spring, as the “Commission made no link between its criticism of human rights violations...and the option of reducing or suspending EU assistance”, thereby forfeiting its potential influence for reform. “While the reduction or suspension of budget support, given that it was directly financing the national budget, could have been a particularly potent way of backing up human rights concerns, this was not done before the Uprising,” claimed the report. “The Commission did not establish clear criteria in terms of annual reform milestones and benchmarks for monitoring and assessing what constituted an adequate pace of reform and continued to disburse budget support despite the slow implementation of reforms,” it further concluded. At a meeting with the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee last December, EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean Region Bernadino Leon was forced to fend off criticism from MEPs including Belgian Liberal Democrat Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck, who having herself accompanied the EU-Egypt Taskforce on its recent visit to Cairo, charged that “I couldn’t help having the impression that some of the answers we got in discussion with our counterparts from the council and journalists, that we were getting the answers they knew we would like to hear”. Dutch Liberal Democrat Marietje Schaake meanwhile insisted now was the time “to put our words into deed”, as she called on the EU to place conditionalities on its substantial aid package to Egypt, “to show that democracy is more than one man, one vote”. Slamming EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s limited response to Morsi’s “power grab”, which she contended consisted of little more than a spokesman answering journalists’ questions on her behalf, with no direct communication of her own, she said now was the time “to ask ourselves who is our primary audience – is it the governments of countries of is it the people?” Fielding off suggestions from various members, including taskforce member Spanish Christian Democrat Jose Ignacio Sanalfranca Sanchez-Neyra, to freeze aid to Egypt, Leon said that whilst conditionality was a key clause of the EU’s financial partnership with Egypt, “it would be a very serious blow to the Egyptians seeking solutions, if we took a decision not to be involved” in the process of democratic reform. Despite promoting a supposedly updated review on its partnership with the Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, which saw the EU champion its “more for more” philosophy, advocating increased EU funding and bilateral trade in return for progress towards increased democratic reforms, the report concluded that such an approach had already been outlined in a 2007 Commission Communication, which claimed that “the more deeply a partner engages with the Union, the more fully the Union can respond, politically, economically and through financial and technical cooperation”. Post-uprising reviews of progress on the human rights front in Egypt had failed to properly address a continuing disregard for the rights of minorities and of women, as the report warned that “further regression in these areas also threatens to exacerbate current economic problems, particularly through their negative impact on tourism and foreign and domestic investor confidence”. “Before the Uprising the Commission included a large number of human rights and democracy issues in the Action Plan but did not have a clear strategy for prioritising and implementing them. While it also raised important issues in the framework of its dialogue, it did not ensure that discussions were followed up by specific action,” it continued. “Eligibility criteria such as respect for human rights, transparency and oversight of the budget and tackling seriously the issue of corruption should be strictly applied,” read its recommendations, the majority of which were accepted by both the Commission and the EEAS.