Britain's Clegg urges U-turn in EU-Arab ties
BRUSSELS - Deputy British premier Nick Clegg on Wednesday urged Europe to match the bravery of the Arab street with "a bold new" economic offer coupled with support for political pluralism.
In Brussels ahead of an extraordinary European Union summit next week to look at events in Libya and north Africa, Clegg said the talks should set a U-turn in policy to Europe's Mediterranean neighbours.
"Every day on our television screens, we are witnessing the courage of ordinary people taking to the streets to demand greater freedom," Clegg said in a keynote address.
"The countries of the European Union need to match their bravery and get behind this movement for change."
"They are creating a new world. We need a new response," he said.
Clegg met EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and was to hold talks with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso as Europe's leaders seek to put behind them a much-criticised era of propping up despots and turning a blind eye to rights abuse and corruption.
The EU only 20 years ago had flown to the side of eastern Europe's former communist states, said both Barroso and Clegg.
"It is clear," the British leader said, "that we are witnessing the biggest geopolitical events of the last decade."
Liberal Clegg cited mainly Muslim, NATO member and EU candidate Turkey, and its emerging powerhouse economy, as a key role model for the Arab north African nations.
Like Indonesia, he said Ankara "plays a massively important strategic role, if we in the EU don't recognise that, we're making a major strategic mistake."
However, while he stressed that aid to manage migration, as well as boost trade, investment and energy links, would need to be coupled with much more than the "minimal conditionality" imposed in recent years, he was "not talking about membership" of the EU as an ultimate goal.
Warning that the "domino process" in Europe's backyard would likely spread across the region in coming weeks, he underlined: "All of us need to step up to the plate."
Nonetheless, Clegg angrily batted away suggestions Britain should butt out given its record in Libya.
The previous Labour administration in London was shown in recent weeks to have done everything in its power to arrange the transfer of jailed Lockerbie plane bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi to Tripoli as oil giant BP pushed for juicy contracts.
Scotland's devolved government eventually released him from his Greenock jail on compassionate grounds.
"I couldn't disagree more with the assertion that because of the past, the EU should now do nothing," he said, adding that would be akin to saying Europe "should have done nothing when the Berlin Wall fell" because of the Cold War prior to 1989.