EU leaders shy away from demanding Mubarak resignation

Egypt protests.jpg

Torn between opposite views on whether the transition in Egypt should take place with or without the battered Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, EU leaders adopted a toothless declaration at their summit meeting today (4 February).

EU leaders called on the Egyptian authorities to meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people with political reform, not repression, and to engage in an orderly transition to a broad-based government.

"The transition process must start now," reads the summit declaration, which does not go beyond calls issued this week by US President Barack Obama.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron pushed for tougher language against attempts by Mubarak to remain in power, as tens of thousands of demonstrators continued to gather in several Egyptian cities demanding his immediate resignation.

However, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrived at the summit claiming that Egypt's transition to democracy should take place without breaking with Mubarak.

As a result, the summit declaration on Egypt stops short of giving any indications as to Mubarak's possible political future during the transition period.

EU leaders also decided that High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Catherine Ashton should visit Egypt and Tunisia soon (the tentative date is in two weeks' time) and that the EU should support the transition process, including the preparation and carrying out of free and fair elections.

Elections in Egypt are due in September and Mubarak indicated on Tuesday that he harboured ambitions of staying in power until then.

The declaration also puts developments in Egypt in the context of the recent 'Jasmine Revolution' in Tunisia, by saluting both peoples' "peaceful and dignified" expression of their aspirations for democracy.

However, diplomats told EURACTIV that Egypt, the biggest Arab country, was a special case not only as a result of its size. "This is an energy summit. Imagine what would happen if the Suez canal were to close," one of them said.

For the time being, chaos may rule in Cairo and other cities, but reportedly no such turmoil is taking place near the Suez Canal or other nearby oil arteries.

According to a Bloomberg correspondent in the region, Egyptian troops have bolstered guards protecting the Suez Canal and the Suez-Mediterranean oil pipeline running alongside it.

The Socialist & Democrats and the Greens/European Free Alliance groups in the European Parliament blasted the Council's perceived weak reaction to developments in Egypt (see 'Positions').

But French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the role of the European Union was not to intervene in Egypt's transition to democracy, adding that it was up to the people of Egypt to decide on their leaders. However, he warned of grave consequences if violence against journalists were to continue.

The EU summit should have made a clear statement that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's time is up, declared Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament.

"Summit leaders appear to be taking the easy option of simply condemning the violence. They need to be much tougher and make it clear that Europe will not tolerate Mubarak clinging desperately to office. A speedy transition, involving all democrats and civil society, is urgent. 

"On foreign policy issues, the EU too often behaves like a frightened rabbit in the headlights of a car. 

"Our Union is proud of its democracy and it should be defending the rights of others around the world to live in freedom as well. Egypt is a key player in the region and an important partner for the European Union. 

"Europe must be unequivocally on the side of the demonstrators in Tahrir Square. At this historic moment for the Middle East, those brave protesters need our support. The EU summit should use all its weight to ensure that today is Mubarak's Day of Departure," Schulz said.

The Greens/European Free Alliance group criticised the failure of EU leaders to take a decisive stance on Egypt and clearly call for an immediate end to the Mubarak regime. Commenting on the outcome of the summit on Egypt, Greens/EFA co-president Dany Cohn-Bendit said:

"Rather than taking a firm and decisive stance on Egypt and the need for an immediate end to the Mubarak regime, the summit continued the foot-dragging that has become the hallmark of EU foreign policy.

"It is clear to all observers that a peaceful democratic transition, which the Egyptian people clearly want, will not be possible so long as Mubarak remains in power and continues to violently repress the protests.

"Sadly, EU leaders remain too cowardly, preferring to sit on the fence, rather than clearly supporting the protesters' will for a democratic transformation. It is high time that the EU ended its sickening softly-softly diplomacy with regard to dictators in Europe's neighbourhood."

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said Europe should learn the lessons of this crisis for its future foreign policy. "We have spent millions of euros in European taxpayers' money in aid to Egypt and other neighbouring countries. We've put in place carefully crafted Association Agreements offering funds, access to our markets [and] other assistance in exchange for clear, measurable steps on political and economic reform." 

"We have delivered our part of the bargain, but all too often our partners have not," he said.

"In Egypt the state of emergency has been in place for years. There's been no progress on the independence of the judiciary. There's been little or no progress on women's rights. Many of Egypt's commitments in our Association Agreement have not been met," argued Cameron, adding that Europe needed to look again at its approach.

Events in Cairo appear to be emulating Tunisia's 'Jasmine Revolution'. On 14 January, angry Tunisians ousted authoritarian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after more than 23 years in power. A week later, Algerian opposition supporters clashed with police in the country's capital. Several people were injured.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has ruled his country with a iron fist for three decades.

Mubarak, 82, has no designated successor. This has fuelled speculation that he is grooming his son, Gamal, 47, to follow in his footsteps.

Gamal has taken on an increasingly prominent political role in the past decade, rising to head the policy secretariat of his father's ruling National Democratic Party.


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