EU dissatisfied at delays returning frozen assets to north African countries

Assets of former Libyan, Tunisian and Egyptian regimes frozen during Arab Spring

Brick layers work at a brick factory on the outskirts of Giza governorate in Egypt. Photograph: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

Brick layers work at a brick factory on the outskirts of Giza governorate in Egypt. Photograph: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters


The European Union is dissatisfied with the slow speed at which frozen assets are being returned to north African countries following the Arab Spring.

The EU froze billions of euro in assets from former Libyan, Tunisian and Egyptian regimes during the uprisings but now says confusion over ownership and judicial procedure has delayed their return.

Addressing the European Parliament yesterday, EU enlargement and neighbourhood policy commissioner Štefan Füle said the return of misappropriated and frozen assets was of great political importance. The matter was one of dignity and justice, he said, adding that “people want the misappropriated assets to be returned and invested in their countries”.

However, he admitted “progress has not been what we hoped for”. The political will exists, he said, but ownership of the assets has been obscured and must be resolved through complex legal means. The process will not be completed “overnight”, he added.

MEPs called on the EU to do more to speed up the return of the money, saying it would aid economic growth in the three countries.

Streamlining legislation
Mr Füle said “in dealing with this complex issue we all recognise that we are in for a long haul but my understanding is that assets are beginning to return”.

He added that member states should see if there is scope in streamlining their national legislation to accelerate the return of assets.

Separately, MEPs have voiced concern at the effect of the mass exodus of refugees from Syria on surrounding countries.

At the plenary session in Strasbourg, members pressed for a political solution to the problem and also called for more practical action on the ground. Many speakers expressed concern about conditions in camps, especially the reported sexual exploitation of women and young girls.

The number of refugees arriving into Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey continues to grow at “an exponential pace”, said Mr Füle, and is currently about 1.5 million. He said the crisis has had a destabilising effect on the region.

The UNHCR estimates that some 3.5 million refugees will have entered the three countries by the end of the year with a further 500,000 predicted to enter Iraq in the same period. This would see refugees make up some 25 per cent of the Lebanese population and about 16 per cent of the Jordanian population.

Mr Füle told MEPs the crisis has cost the Lebanese economy €700 million.