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ARAB-EUROPEAN RELATIONS - Mar 1 - EU Getting Tough With M.Et.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw unveils a report issued by the London-based Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), saying EU states should adopt a tougher policy towards the Middle East by withdrawing aid and trade privileges from regimes that continue to abuse human rights or fail to introduce democracy. (Following an initiative first launched by the UK PM Tony Blair, this forms part of a growing debate on both sides of the Atlantic on how the Middle East can adapt to reform and modernise. Publication coincides with a Mar 1 visit to Washington of the EU's top foreign policy officials, Javier Solana and Chris Patten, and FM Brian Cowen of Ireland, which holds the EU's rotating presidency. The "troika" is holding talks with US Secretary of State Powell on how the US and EU can agree on reforms for the Greater Middle East - including Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan - ahead of the G8, NATO and EU-US summits in June. Through its "Barcelona Process", the EU believes reforms cannot be imposed from outside and will emerge only from within - through encouraging economic liberalisation, opening up the private sector and supporting civil society. The Barcelona Process, which aims to establish a free-trade region in the Mediterranean by the end of the decade, is the only forum bringing together all the states of North Africa and the Middle East, including Israel. The EU has clauses built into its trade agreements that link the flow of aid to adherence to human rights. But it has been inconsistent in applying such conditionality clauses because that requires consensus among all 15 member-states - from May 1 the EU will have 25 member-states - on what amounts to a form of sanctions. The latest plan by Washington has been sharply criticised by Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which object to the idea that reform can be imposed from the outside. "Reforms must spring from the specifics of the region and not through the diktats of external forces", said Syria's Information Minister Ahmad Al-Hassan on Feb. 29. Solana, backed by EU governments, has been cautious over openly supporting the US agenda. An EU diplomat was quoted by the FT as saying: "The US has this innocent view that democracy can just be imposed or simply take root overnight. This is a long, long haul". The FPC, reflecting British government thinking, tries in this paper to find some centre ground between the US and Europe. Richard Youngs, the author, says the EU member states would have more leverage in the region if they co-ordinate their aid and if 10% of their overall aid funds political initiatives). The FPC report says every programme should be conditional on progress on democracy and human rights, and conditionality clauses should be applied more consistently. It says Europe should not shy away from engaging with moderate Islamist organisations that could bring about deep-rooted change. In a speech at the FPC in London, Straw says Arab states must adopt more participative and representative forms of government, as models of government which exclude the bulk of a country's population from influence and power can encourage terrorism. He acknowledges that it is not up to the West to tell the Arab world how their political systems should evolve, but reform is the need with a sense of urgency. He adds: "Stability and prosperity of the Arab world will be under threat if it falls behind the global trend towards greater freedoms and development... We in Britain, and in Europe, want the Arab world to be stable and prosperous". He notes: "The last decades have seen the spread of representative and accountable governments in many parts of the world, but less so in the Middle East". He rejects that the Islamic faith is inherently incompatible with change, saying: "The moderate Islamic community has shown the same capacity to let society evolve". He mentions that Christian societies in the West had to evolve in order to meet the challenges and problems that arose in a changing world, adding: "By contrast, extremism in any religion is not only a block on necessary change but also feeds off those who are marginalised, to breed intolerance and resentment, which in its turn can fuel violence. We all have a shared interest in defeating these extremists, which means we also have a shared interest in building the kind of pluralist, stable and tolerant societies that are the best bulwarks against extremism and violence" (see Arab-US Relations).
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:Mar 6, 2004
Previous Article:ARAB AFFAIRS - Mar 2 - Al-Ahram Attacks Arabs Over US Reform Plan.
Next Article:ARAB-EUROPEAN RELATIONS - Mar 3 - UK Ready To Fund Palestinian Security Force.

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