Under the motto “more for more” Ashton said in Brussels that the EU will be stumping up an extra 1.242 billion euros on top of the already pledged 5.7 billion euros in aid for ex-Soviet countries and ‘Arab Spring’ nations in North Africa, but only if the pace of democratic transformation increases.
"The investment that we make now is to the people striving for democracy, freedom, and a better life, and an investment for the people of Europe, too, in a strong neighbourhood with whom we can work," Ashton told journalists yesterday afternoon.
The issue of increasing aid, particularly to North African countries, will be on the agenda of the G8 meeting in France today, to be attended by US president Barack Obama before he flies to Poland on Friday.
"The EU will work with our neighbourhood within the principle of mutual accountability, recognising the responsibility to deliver to the people of the region and to use our resources on behalf of the European tax payer effectively," Catherine Ashton emphasised yesterday.
Brussels hopes that the increase in aid will be an incentive to the 16 countries outside the EU which are involved in the Neighbourhood Programme - split into Mediterranean nations in North Africa and the Poland and Sweden initiated ‘Eastern Partnership’ of ex-Soviet states - to speed up reforms and try and control an increase in migration into southern Europe following the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other nations battling with authoritarian regimes.
Stefan Wolff, a professor of international security at Birmingham University in England has told the European Voice, however, that the idea of ‘more for more' “[…] will work with countries such as Moldova or Morocco that are already committed to reform [but] if you tell Azerbaijan that you are going to stop the money flowing, they will just laugh at you.”
Poland, which takes over the EU six-month presidency on 1 July, has increased efforts of late to be involved in the push for democracy in North Africa.
Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski made an unexpected visit to the Libyan rebel held city of Benghazi earlier this month, to deliver humanitarian aid and have talks with leaders of the stalled uprising.
Former Solidarity leader and ex-president Lech Walesa led a foreign minister delegation to Tunisia, also this month, where he passed on Poland’s experience of democratic change in the late 1980s, early 1990s.
The ‘Eastern Partnership’ part of the Neighbourhood Policy, however, has come under fire from a variety of sources recently as being ineffective.
After the Lukashenko regime in Belarus descended back into authoritarianism following what are regarded internationally as rigged presidential elections last December, a group of émigré writers in the Belarus Digest published an article last week with the headline - Who needs the eastern partnership?
Belarus Digest noted that from the very beginning many EU countries have been lukewarm to the initiative, began by Poland and Sweden in 2008, noting that in 2010, the EU spent just 85 million euros on the policy.
“And though further funding can be available from other parts of the EU budget, it is obvious that the Eastern Partnership was never at the top of the EU agenda,” Belarus Digest writes. (pg)