Expectations for the EU-Arab League summit in Sharm el-Sheik had been downplayed so much that everyone was prepared for the final press conference and communique to be the dampest of damp squibs.
Having to deal with despots and dictators must stick in the craw if you are a European leader.
It is remarkable that Egypt’s Abdel Fattah El-Sisi & co were able to keep a straight face listening to Jean-Claude Juncker’s remarks at the final press conference on Monday (25 February) that “I would like us, together, to defend the fundamental values of respect for human rights and tolerance”.
El-Sisi has ruthlessly cracked down on the Egyptian opposition and civil society and his regime is far from the worst. The government of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz – who was, himself, in Sharm el-Sheik – brazenly murdered the journalist Jamal Khashoggi only a few short months ago
But the hard truth is that Egypt’s president is now an important regional power-broker for the EU. In addition to the Arab League, in 2019, he will chair the African Union, with whom the European Commission is negotiating on future trade relations.
For El-Sisi, the value in hosting the summit is obvious: He is in the process of preparing the ground to change his country’s constitution and allow him a third term in office and dealing with the EU offers the prospect international credibility, and cash.
His government’s three-year, $12 billion programme with the International Monetary Fund comes to an end in November. More EU money to control migration would help plug Cairo’s budget deficit.
The EU’s only real interest in the Arab League and El-Sisi is in their capacity to control migration flows into Europe. The EU, as well as the wider international community, has little leverage when it comes to resolving the long-running wars in Syria and Yemen, and, in any case, the Arab League is a particularly toothless organisation.
Most of its members prefer to do their serious business with the EU bilaterally.
Although the African Union wants to kill off any move for EU-funded migrant camps on the continent, Egypt and Morocco are the two North African countries that are most amenable to the EU’s plans to strike migration-control deals that will keep African migrants away from Europe’s shore.
Some 243,000 refugees and asylum seekers from 58 nations were registered in Egypt in late November 2018, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
There is a certain irony in the fact that, despite chairing the African Union, El-Sisi is not thought to have much interest in the organisation. Unlike his predecessor as AU chairman, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, El-Sisi has little interest in promoting a stronger Africa in the world.
“El-Sisi wants Europe to respect Egypt, not Africa,” said one insider to the talks.
And when it comes to migration, he is actively seeking to undermine a common African position.
by Alexandra Brzozowski
Coming ever closer to March 29, the realisation that Brexit will also be painful for the EU27 hits the continent. This is where it will be hit hardest.
Until then, follow our on-the-ground reporting looking into the effects of Brexit on EU regions and, in particular, its implications for the relationship between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
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Germany’s Left Party has adopted its programme and named Martin Schirdewan, a 43-year old MEP, and Özlem Demirel as its two top candidates for the European elections.
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The FAO has raised the alarm over the state of biodiversity, which is necessary for global food security, in the first report it has published on the subject.
Missed today’s latest news from around Europe? Have a look at today’s The Capitals, with Bulgaria voting down Romania’s Kövesi as EU chief prosecutor, the mobile congress in Spain and Polish beef in and with Prague.