Friday, 16 August 2013

 EU aid to Egypt: "well-intentioned but ineffective" 

 Friday 16 August 2013
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The European Union should review aid programmes to Egypt and the International Monetary Fund should hold off from supporting Cairo after a crackdown on supporters of the ousted Islamist president, Sweden's foreign minister said yesterday.

Carl Bildt told Reuters in an interview that Europe had very limited influence on Egypt's dominant military, although the United States had stronger links, and economic sanctions were not the right response to the bloodshed.

Bildt forecast a period of severe repression, with hardliners in command in Cairo, but said the Europeans should keep talking to all sides so as to be ready, if the opportunity arose, to play a role in achieving a solution.

And that is the current offering. But what is not being said is quite how much we, via the EU, have been giving in aid to Egypt. It takes a recent report from the European Court of Auditors to tell us that. Between 2007-2013 it amounted to approximately €1 billion.

Furthermore, as recently as June, the Court of Auditors were saying that the support was "well-intentioned but ineffective".

In particular, Baroness Ashton's European External Action Service (EEAS) had failed to ensure that the Egyptian authorities tackled major weaknesses in public finance management. There had been a lack of budgetary transparency, an ineffective audit function and endemic corruption.

Yet, the Commission and the EEAS did not react to the lack of progress by taking decisive action to ensure accountability for considerable EU funds. Instead, the funds continued to be paid directly to the Egyptian Authorities.

Only now, two months later and after the killing of hundreds and possibly thousands of civilians, do we have Carl Bildt telling us: "We will have to look at the different EU programmes to see which ones are appropriate and which ones are not in the present situation".

Predictably, Bildt rejects criticism that the EU has failed to do enough to support the Arab Spring uprisings. "We went flat out, particularly with Egypt ... I think we did everything we could have done. And it was obvious from the beginning how difficult it was, there were deeply entrenched divisions within the Egyptian society", he says.

The thing is, though, we have been looking at serious amounts of money and this is being paid to buy influence, part of the EU exercise its famous "soft power" which was supposed to enable it to shape events in the Middle East.

Yet, even in 2011, a commentator was writing that the EU had "no role in the ebb and flow of Egypt's process of political change". The shifting alliances and tactics of different actors in Egypt, he said, "are unfolding quite beyond the orbit of EU influence".

Now, nearly two years later, all Bildt can say is that: "Everyone underestimated the problems and the dangers inherent in what was unleashed two and a half years ago".

So, what were we supposed to be getting for our money? Can somebody please tell us that the "well-intentioned but ineffective" expenditure of approximately €1 billion has given us more than hundreds of dead, a country on the brink and events which "are unfolding quite beyond the orbit of EU influence"?

Is there anything Ashton and her EEAS has done that was actually worth even a fraction of the money spent? All we actually seem to be getting is the EU reduced to a mere spectator, with Ashton wailing that she fears the worst.


Richard North 16/08/2013

 Germany: for you, the holiday is over 

 Thursday 15 August 2013
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That's the blunt message conveyed by Spiegel as it marks the start of Merkel's general election campaign, with the poll set for 22 September, a mere six week's time.

As it stands, the money is on Merkel's CDU-led "yellow-black" coalition winning, although even Merkel herself concedes that the voting will be tight. In the 2009 election, the CDU/CSU grouping took 33.8 percent, while coalition partner FDP polled 14.6 percent. Currently, the CDU/CSU is polling 40 percent (Emnid, 4 August) but the FDP is down to a mere five percent.

For German political experts, reading the runes is going to be difficult enough, but for outsiders it is going to be doubly so. Already though, there are indications that this is going to be an ill-natured campaign.

At the launch yesterday at Seligenstadt, just outside Frankfurt, young Socialists heckled Merkel, shouting "hypocrite", "Merkel out" and "liar". In response, Merkel observed, mockingly, "This is the future of the SPD".

Merkel is planning more than 50 major rallies between now and the election, so we are going to see a lot more of this. But, in the meantime, some British newspapers are making claims that Merkel is keen to support David Cameron on repatriating powers from the EU.

The Independent is making a big deal of this, although there are no direct quotes from Merkel or German officials.

Instead, the source seems to be Fresh Start Tory MPs citing private discussions with "close colleagues of the German Chancellor". That would make the information extremely unreliable, prone as the Tories are to serial delusion.

The Telegraph joins the gang as will, with the obligatory "comfort quote" from Open Europe, which makes its story no more reliable – any more so than the wiffle from The Times.

However, there is also an AFP report in circulation, published in a variety of German media, includingDie Welt. It tells of Merkel stating on German radio that there should be a discussion about a return of powers from Brussels to nation states – after the election.

That was on Tuesday, when she was asked whether the EU should get more powers. She conceded that it should, but she also referred to a debate in the Netherlands, saying: "We can also consider: Do we give something back?"

This was in the context of Merkel stressing that her goal of "more Europe" cannot be achieved only by strengthening the institutions in Brussels at the expense of nation states. There was a need, she thought, for better coordination among member states.

We might expect some vague rhetoric on the EU from Merkel, to counter any threat from the AFD, although Der Spiegel suggests that this new eurosceptic party is unlikely to make it into theBundestag.

Certainly, what Merkel has just said does not at all sound as if she is preparing a winding up order for the EU. The nub is, though, that we are going to get no bankable intelligence on the EU from German sources until the election is over and the new coalition – whatever its colours – settles down to work.

Then, we have already been warned to expect in the early spring of next year, proposals for a new treaty from the Commission, and this most certainly will have been run past the German chancellor. Tory hopes of a big breakthrough will, I would have thought, be extremely slender.


Richard North 15/08/2013