The European Union will next week outline “ambitious” plans to support Egypt's transition to democracy at the launch of an initiative that the EU envoy to the region describes as “probably the most important move by the EU institutions regarding the Arab Spring”.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, has yet to decide on the exact scale of the EU's commitments to Egypt. However, Bernardino León, her special envoy to the Middle East, said that the figure would underscore the EU's message to post-revolutionary Egypt that it wants to be its “main partner”. A senior EU official said “there are high expectations and no one will be disappointed, as far as I can tell”.
The pledge will be one of a large set of commitments that will emerge on 13-14 November from the launch of the EU's ‘task-force' for Egypt, a political mechanism that the EU has previously developed to frame its post-revolution support for Tunisia. The EU views the ‘task-force' as a process that should supplement existing programmes, add flexibility to the relationship and involve the private sector.
The cross-cutting character of the task-force will be reflected in Cairo by the participation of civil-society groups, 130 EU companies, as well as by the entire Egyptian cabinet and four European commissioners: Ashton, Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Štefan Füle (neighbourhood policy) and Antonio Tajani (industry and enterprise).
The task-force is also an attempt, as León acknowledged, “to build a new relationship” with the region following the removal of leaders who had, in some instances, been supported by Europe for decades. The break with the past will be reflected in talks on recovering public money siphoned into private bank accounts in Europe by the previous regime's leaders.
The senior official said that the support would be conditional on political reforms. León said that the country's president, Muhammad Morsi, has made “some very bold moves...to reinforce this opening of the political system” since taking office in late June.
Support from the task- force is distinct from macroeconomic assistance that the EU will provide for Egypt to ease it through economic reforms. That support is conditional on an agreement that Egypt is currently discussing with the International Monetary Fund.