EU aid to neighbours to be conditional on democratic reform, says Ashton


EUROPEAN FOREIGN policy chief Catherine Ashton wants increased financial aid for the countries in the EU’s Mediterranean and eastern hinterland to be conditional on democratic reforms.

As she moves to overhaul the “neighbourhood policy” through which the EU supports countries from Morocco to Azerbaijan, Baroness Ashton will make it clear in a policy paper today that the governments which reform fastest will receive the most aid.

“For countries where reform has not taken place, the EU will reconsider or even reduce funding,” a draft paper seen by The Irish Times said.

“Increased EU support to its neighbours is conditional. It will depend on progress in building and consolidating democracy and respect for the rule of law.”

Baroness Ashton said that Europe would provide an additional €1.24 billion for the policy in the next two years, bringing its commitment in the 2011-2013 period to €6.94 billion. From 2014, aid allocations will take into account the “reform track record” of beneficiaries.

“The EU does not seek to impose a model or a ready-made recipe for political reform, but it will insist that each partner country’s reform process reflect a clear commitment to universal values that form the basis of our renewed approach,” the draft paper said. “The initiative lies with the partner and EU support will be tailored accordingly.”

The move by Baroness Ashton comes as the EU tries to recast its foreign policy in light of the political turmoil in north Africa and the Middle East. As the popular uprisings spread earlier this year, EU neighbourhood policy commissioner Štefan Füle called for “humility” about Europe’s failings in the Arab world and said Europe was not vocal enough in its defence of human rights and democratic forces in north Africa.

Although the draft paper was silent on the money beneficiaries stood to lose if they did not introduce reforms, it said the greatest support would go to partners engaged in building “deep democracy” and who supported “inclusive” economic development.

“The more and the faster a country progresses in its internal reforms, the more support it will get from the EU,” it said.

“This enhanced support will come in various forms, including increased funding for social and economic development, larger programmes for comprehensive institution-building, greater market access, increased European Investment Bank financing in support of investments; and greater facilitation of mobility.”

The paper said recent events in the southern Mediterranean called for the authorities to look afresh at the EU’s relationship with its neighbours. “The EU needs to rise to the historical challenges in our neighbourhood. This partnership with our neighbours is mutually beneficial. The EU is the main trading partner for most of its neighbours,” it said.

“Sustainable economic development and job creation in partner countries benefits the EU as well. Likewise, managed movement of people is positive for the entire neighbourhood, facilitating the mobility of students, workers and tourists, while discouraging irregular migration and human trafficking.” The new approach would involve a much higher level of differentiation than before, it said.