EU leaders stopped short at the European Council of urging the immediate departure of Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s president. Their declaration called only for “an orderly transition to a broad-based government”, which “must start now”.
Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, said it was up to the Egyptians to initiate leadership change. “We should not interfere on that particular issue,” she said.
Many EU leaders indicated support for Mubarak’s offer that he step down at the end of his term in September, to ensure a more stable transition and to give time to organise free and fair elections. Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said “it would be unwise” to demand the immediate resignation of Mubarak if he was replaced by a non-secular Islamic leadership. Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister, praised Mubarak as a “wise man” and ally of the West, counselling a careful transition toward “a more democratic system” to maintain stability in the region.
Call for restraint
In condemning the violence “in the strongest terms”, the Council called on all sides to show restraint. But the final conclusions suggested that the EU should take a tougher stance on human rights when dealing with autocratic rulers than it has done. The EU leaders reminded Mubarak and his government that the basis for the EU’s relationship with Egypt “must be the principles set out in the EU’s Association Agreement and the commitments made”. The EU-Egypt accord, which came into force in 2004, makes adhering to democratic principles and fundamental human rights a cornerstone of the agreement.
Several EU leaders acknowledged that the Union had not done enough to hold leaders in the region to those standards. David Cameron, the UK prime minister, said that the EU had to make better use of its aid and political and economic influence to hold Egypt and others to account. “We have delivered our part of the bargain, but all too often our partners have not,” he said. “We need to have a long hard look at whether we are using our money and our leverage to best effect.”
Diplomats said the UK and Germany led moves to toughen the summit’s declaration on Egypt with a warning about a tougher EU line on human rights – in response to criticism that the EU had not offered sufficient support to pro-democracy protesters. Earlier drafts of the declaration carried no such warning, featuring instead a call to boost trade ties with Egypt, Tunisia and others in the region – a call that was cut from the final version.
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, was asked to visit Egypt and Tunisia in the coming weeks to offer EU support. Help in preparing for elections and in providing election monitors are among the actions envisaged.
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