Europe in policy U-turn to Mediterranean partners

Stefan Fuele: 'we must show humility about the past'

The European Commission on Tuesday unveiled new policy guidelines towards Arab neighbours on its southern flank aimed at avoiding errors of the past by linking aid to political and economic reform.
The Commission, the European Union's executive arm, will submit its so-called "Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean" to EU leaders gathering in Brussels on Friday for a crisis summit on Libya and the Arab world.
The crux of the new thinking is to link the four billion euros of aid to be distributed over 2011-2013 across the region, to progress in judicial reform, corruption, human rights, and to place special emphasis on civil society and small businesses.
"The Commission proposes following a clearly incentive-based approach," said Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.
"Partners who move faster on political and economic reforms should be able to count on greater support from the EU," he added in a speech.
Slammed for propping up despots and turning a blind eye to rights abuses, Europe's leaders have pledged a "top to toe" revamp of Mediterranean policy.
Events in the Arab world caught the EU napping despite billions in aid and a slew of trade deals struck during 15 years of a Euro-Mediterranean partnership.
Critics slammed the 27-nation bloc for regarding despots as bulwarks against extremism, and failing to enforce the very values founding the union.
"Europe bowed before these dictators, it paid no heed to repression," said Alain Deletroz, an analyst at the International Crisis Group. "Europe is bidding to open a new chapter carrying a heavy burden from the past."
Barroso on Tuesday said the EU sought to make "a qualitative leap" with "its neighbours who are willing and able to embark on the path of political and economic reforms.
"Fears of tomorrow's unknown shall not prevent us from supporting today's changes," he said. "This is a rendezvous with history that we must not miss."
Across Europe, contrite capitals have been rattled by skeletons in cupboards, leftovers from ties with the regimes of former allies Hosni Mubarak and Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
France has fired its foreign minister for fraternising with Ben Ali, and Britain, France and Italy have been chided for fawning to Moamer Gathafi as he unleashes war against his own people -- using arms sold by Belgium, Germany and others.
In a much-noted statement of repentance, Stefan Fuele, the Commissioner in charge of the bloc's relations with its neighbours, this month said: "We must show humility about the past."
"Too many of us fell prey to the assumption that authoritarian regimes were a guarantee of stability."
Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the new proposals suggest a change of mandate for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) originally set up to help eastern Europe, enabling it to extend a billion euros a year to the Mediterranean regime.
Likewise the European Investment Bank could see a massive boost in its capital, pending EU approval, allowing it to offer loans worth almost six billion euros to the region over three years.