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.