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EU Aid to Egypt ‘well intentioned but ineffective’

June 21, 2013

Adding to my occasional series of posts on democracy support

The European Court of Auditors has just issued a report on the EU’s efforts to support reform in Egypt in the period since 2007 (press release), the bottom line is that programme (involving €1Bn) has been ‘ineffective’.  This programme had two main strands providing budget support to selected bits of the Egyptian state and grants to civil society organizations.

Reading between the lines the Egyptians have been taking the money and not worrying too much about the EU agenda of transparency, anti-corruption and human rights while obstructing grants to CSOs.  While there are some differences between the Mubarak, military government and current periods the continuities are more obvious.  In return the European Commission and the European External Action Service have failed to insist on conditionality and to use their leverage against the Egyptians.  My reading is that in dealing with multiple programmes applying conditionality is just too difficult, further I suspect that a calculation was at work that continuing the dialogue was more important than applying pressure.

The full report also contains a spectacularly defensive paragraph by paragraph rebuttal by the Commission and the EEAS.  Technically the report is into the management of the programmes and the response is concerned with showing that the Commission and EEAS did a good job ‘in the given circumstances’ which included ‘continuous resistance from the Egyptian side’ on some issues.  Where the Auditors point out aspects of a programme have been ineffective the response is that as the programme still has some time to run there’s still room for progress to be made even though there’s no sign of it. I particularly enjoyed the phrase that occurs at several points ‘this file has been closely monitored’.  The best though is the abbreviation of budget support to BS hence ‘future BS operations’.

In the end the report and the rebuttal are operating within a relatively narrow bureaucratic discourse and  I’m left with a bigger set of questions about these programmes.  Essentially the EU is attempting to generate change in a foreign country that doesn’t want to (or can’t) change; was there any realistic prospect for success? If this type of programme is unlikely to succeed are there alternatives? Is it possible to effectively use complex, multifaceted, technical programmes, executed through mediating organizations as an effective tool of influence – this doesn’t just apply to the EU but to large parts of contemporary statecraft.

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