Europeans were slow to react to the revolution in Egypt and the resources they committed are insufficient to create any leverage in a difficult process of transition.
Europe has immense economic and political interests at stake in a successful transition in Egypt but struggled to speak with one voice and use its limited tools. After protests against the Mubarak regime began in January, it took too long for a strong position to emerge in Europe. France, Germany and the UK, together with Catherine Ashton, led the way in condemning violence and calling for reform. But the army continues to run the country in an opaque and often authoritarian manner. Parliamentary elections began in November following weeks of demonstrations and ongoing violence. Although the EU is now relatively united, it will find it difficult to respond to events in Egypt unless it finds a way to engage with Islamists and the military, which is unwilling to engage with external partners. Sharp divisions could easily resurface in relation to the Middle East peace process (see component 61) or to internal developments.
Meanwhile, the resources the EU has committed are insufficient to create any leverage in this difficult process of transition. Egypt will receive some of the funds made available for the region as a whole (e.g. around €900 million in EIB loans for 2011, more scholarships and support to civil society, and the European Commission’s revised programme of €122 million in grants for social housing, trade integration, rural SMEs and energy). But the transitional authorities’ sensitivity about external influenceand unwillingness to commit to long-term plans prevented a more substantial increase in funding. There has also been little progress on trade policy or mobility. All this will be crucial as economic and social tensions are likely to worsen with sluggish growth and high unemployment. For now, Europeans could at least make a stronger effort in terms of visibility and public diplomacy, pressuring the army to agree to a meaningful transfer of power to civilian authorities. The EU institutions have been active but, after the initial enthusiasm, national leaders are looking the other way.