By Štefan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Mr President, Honourable Members,
It is my pleasure to be here with you today. As you are certainly aware, the High Representative and Vice-President of the Commission is visiting the Southern Mediterranean these days and has asked me to address you on her behalf on the events in Egypt.
The political reality of Egypt changed spectacularly last Friday when President Mubarak stepped down after 30 years in office. His departure has opened the way to the possible transformation of Egypt.
Let me repeat it in front of this House: the EU salutes the courage of the Egyptian people who have pursued their struggle for democratic change peacefully and with dignity.
A great responsibility now rests on the shoulders of the Supreme Military Council to guide Egypt towards the democratic future for which its people have striven.
We have taken good note of the commitments to revise the Constitution, to hold parliamentary and presidential elections, to honour international treaties and obligations, and to limit the military rule to six months. There are already reports on the first steps taken, the proposal for constitutional amendments should be delivered within ten days and submitted to popular vote within two months.
We will closely watch the steps that will be taken and we hope they will pave the way towards democratic, free and fair elections later in the year.
The EU responded to the events in Egypt as soon as the public protests escalated. We repeatedly called on the Egyptian authorities to ensure an immediate transition and to respond to the democratic ambitions of the people. The High Representative contacted directly the Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman when concerns of rising violence or human rights abuses arose.
The EU immediately expressed its readiness to lend full support to Egypt’s transition process towards democracy. The European Council tasked the High Representative to develop a package of measures supporting the transformation process in Egypt and Tunisia. She was also asked, together with the Commission, to adapt European Union instruments to stimulate the transition and the country’s economic and social development.
We have started work on how we can best support Egypt and we are aiming at the kind of joined-up foreign policy response that the Lisbon Treaty allows. In doing so we are listening to all voices, including those of the Members of this House. You have a crucial contribution to make as democratically elected representatives and as budgetary authority. The HR/VP and I will also report on this process to the Foreign Affairs Council in a few days’ time. The HR/VP has convened a special session of the Foreign Affairs Council already for this Sunday.
In Egypt like in Tunisia, the European Union is unequivocally supportive of the transformation process that has started. There is, however, an important difference. In the case of Tunisia, the political situation has clarified to a certain extend. We have managed to establish a dialogue with the transitional government on the needs of the country and the possible EU response.
The HR/VP has been in close contact throughout with international leaders to discuss the challenges facing the region and ensure a coordinated and therefore strong international response.
We will first seek to adjust our ongoing programmes to support the aspirations of Egyptian people for reforms, as and when matters clarify. The European Union has already in place a wide portfolio of programmes in Egypt and spends close to €150 million a year there.
For several years, we have been financing projects on democratic reform, good governance and respect for human rights. € 40 million were allocated to this objective in 2007-2010 and € 50 million are planned for 2011-2013. We also have more funds mobilised, in particular for civil society, through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
The new situation in Egypt should create the right environment to put these funds to maximum use and push forward the implementation of much more ambitious programmes than was possible in the past.
Beyond the existing programmes and funds, we intend to listen to the Egyptians and hear where they consider the country needs our support most. Their demands in terms of democracy, social and economic perspectives and free, fair and inclusive elections must be met. The European Union stands ready to support this reform process based on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Egyptian authorities have already approached us with initial requests, including on dealing with suspicions of misappropriation of public funds.
We are coordinating with Member States on this and the Foreign Affairs Council is expected to address this issue. As and when other requests come, we will do our utmost to be responsive and mobilise our expertise on democratisation, elections, human rights, economic and social reforms, as well as any other issues where Egyptians may see a need.
But let me be clear. It is not for us to dictate outcomes or impose solutions. The future lies firmly in the hands of the people of Egypt.
Mr President, Honourable Members,
I mentioned at the beginning that the HR/VP is travelling in the region as we speak. She was willing to visit Egypt as part of her trip and she expressed this will to her Egyptian counterparts. She has now been invited to Cairo by the Egyptian authorities and will travel there on Monday evening, after the Foreign Affairs Council. This will be an opportunity for her to listen to the Egyptians and to assess the priority needs of the country on the road to democracy.