EU foreign ministers are meeting today (31 January) in Brussels against a backdrop of unfolding revolution in Egypt, revolts across North Africa, tensions in Sahel, Sudan and Côte d'Ivoire, and a human rights stand-off with Belarus.
Diplomats from several EU countries told the press that the main question on the ministers' agenda would be, 'is the EU responding adequately?'
Popular revolts are currently unfolding across the Arab world, reminiscent of the 1989 wave of revolutions that freed Eastern Europe from communist rule and the 1951-1962 declarations of independence in North Africa.
EU foreign ministers are expected to adopt a common position on the situation in Tunisia, which will focus on how the EU will support the democratisation process following the 23-year rule of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Regarding Belarus, a stricter than ever travel ban is expected to be adopted against a wide range of officials and family members of Alexander Lukashenko, Europe's last dictator. Diplomats said they had not ruled out Albania featuring in the discussions as well.
Despite being on the way to EU accession, the political stalemate and street violence in Albania seem to put it in the same context as other unfolding revolutions in the Mediterranean.
Are Egypt and Algeria different from Tunisia?
Diplomats insisted there were "differences" in the situations from one country to another, mentioning in particular the capacity of Algeria to respond to large-scale security threats such as armed Islamic uprisings in the 1990s.
The situation in Egypt was also "different" from Tunisia, a diplomat from a large EU country said.
However, the weekend's developments in Cairo suggest that diplomats, who spoke on Friday, may have underestimated the strength of the unfolding Egyptian revolution. According to many, the situation there has reached the point of no return, and even official messages by the United States, the country's biggest ally, suggest that the days of Hosni Mubarak as president may be numbered (see 'Positions' below).
Ashton under fire
In the meantime, the EU's foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton came under fierce attack for lacking the vision to steer a common EU foreign policy agenda. Influential French daily Le Monde said Ashton was not living up to expectations and was generally unfit for the job.
Human Rights Watch, an NGO, blasted Ashton for her "obsequious approach" in allowing trade and energy interests to outgun rights concerns.
Her "quiet dialogue and cooperation often look like acquiescence" on rights abuse, the group said in its annual report.
Point of no return?
Six days of unrest have seen more than 100 people killed in Egypt but the situation has reached a stalemate, according to Reuters. The protesters refuse to go and the army is not moving them.
Protesters in Tahrir Square – the epicentre of the revolt – have dismissed Mubarak's appointment of military men as his vice-president and prime minister.
His promises of economic reform to address public anger at rising prices, unemployment and the huge gap between rich and poor have failed to halt their broader calls for a political sweep-out of Mubarak and his associates.
Protesters have called for a general strike on Monday and what they are billing as a "protest of the millions" march on Tuesday, to press home demands for democracy which could spell the end for the military establishment which has run post-colonial Egypt since the 1950s.
An Egyptian opposition coalition that includes the mass Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood has turned to Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, to form a national unity government and make contact with the military.
ElBaradei has urged US President Barack Obama to call time on Mubarak.
"It is better for President Obama not to appear that he is the last one to say to President Mubarak, 'it's time for you to go'," he told CNN.
In the meantime, governments took steps today (31 January) to whisk their nationals out of Egypt on chartered or scheduled aircraft.
Some European and Asian companies started evacuating staff.
Witnesses reported scenes of chaos at Cairo Airport, with many people, including Egyptians, scrambling to get on a decreasing number of operational flights.