Egypt: A template for EU foreign policy-making? European External Action Service
Catherine Ashton at her meeting with President Mursi in June, the last before his ousting

The diverse geopolitical realities of Europe make the formulation of a common foreign policy challenging and, perhaps, undesirable.  These differences are compounded by historical and cultural factors which shape foreign policy traditions of member states. 

The post-Cold War scenario provides additional challenges. EU enlargement seeks to integrate countries previously hidden behind the iron curtain. On the other hand, the prevalence of new security threats such as terrorism, money laundering, climate change and migration rendered some forms of bilateral foreign policy-making redundant. 

The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) aimed to coordinate a common foreign policy for the EU. The Lisbon Treaty consolidates this role. It provides for the creation of the EU’s own diplomatic corps – the European External Action Service (EEAS) – headed by the office of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. 

The latter has received considerable criticism. Such criticism has not always been fair since the new set-up needs to adapt to its new role. Nonetheless, this role cannot usurp the right of individual member states to determine their own foreign policy direction.

The challenge for the EU is to respect the right of member-states to formulate their own foreign policy, foster and articulate its own distinct foreign policy positions based on its core values, but to also be a vehicle for foreign policy solutions which require multi-lateral approaches.

In view of the above, I seek to briefly answer the following question: Could the relationship between Egypt and the EU serve as a model and a case-study for future EU foreign policy initiatives?

Egypt and the EU

There is great scope for deepening the EU-Egypt relations. Egypt and some EU member states share a maritime border with the Mediterranean Sea – a sensitive geopolitical area which faces multiple security challenges. Egypt is also a key player in the Middle East peace process. 

The Euro-Mediterranean Process provides for a number of institutions were collaboration between the EU and Egypt can be maximised.

The EU is Egypt's largest export and import partner. Tourism, energy, chemicals and textiles are Egypt's main export to the EU. In 2004, the Government of Egypt and the EU signed an Association agreement which establishes a free trade area on industrial products.  During 2012 and 2013 the EU gave Egypt approximately €5bn in aid and loans.

The Post-Morsi Scenario

On the 3 July 2013 the Egyptian Army ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Many have been reluctant to admit that the actions of the Egyptian military are tantamount to a coup. The country has since been plagued by protests organised by the Muslim Brotherhood against the interim government. Some of these protest turned violent. Agence France-Presse reports a death toll of more than 300 people. 

Morsi became Egypt's first democratically elected president in June 2012. However, the relationship between Morsi and the electorate has turned sour.  Many Egyptians feel that his alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to bring about much needed reforms. 

He was accused of authoritarianism and attempting to impose an Islamic agenda. The economy is struggling, and crime has been rising. Supporters point to the fact that secularists and liberals rejected offers of cabinet posts.

Morsi is currently being held in an undisclosed location. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, is the only person outside the Egyptian military to meet with the ousted President. Ashton also met with Egyptian interim President Adli Mansour, Vice-President Mohamed El-Baradei and representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood. These mediation efforts were the response to a request by the Egyptian government.

Opportunities for the European Union

The Arab-Spring and its aftermath exposed some deficiencies in the EU’s foreign policy. The EU came across as lacking political clout. The general understanding is that the EU was not clear on the role it should take. It struggled to come up with a common coherent position and failed to articulate one. 

This setback is not necessarily a negative factor. The EU’s foreign policy approach is currently a tabula rasa; it is an international player with very little institutional baggage. This could strengthen its reputation as an effective mediator. 

Unlike the United Nations, all member states of the EU share common values and are actively engaged in pursuing them. These values include the strengthening of the rule of law and the democratic process, effective institution building and subsidiarity. 

The emerging democracies of Northern Africa are struggling with the above. The situation in Egypt offers the EU a unique opportunity to engage in institution-building and encourage constructive debate. 

By opening up the markets to Egyptian goods and services, the EU would be actively aiding economic growth. In turn, the EU must seek guarantees for real and lasting democratic reform. Trade and aid offer the EU considerable leverage. This leverage has never been used to its full potential.

As a leading regional power, a stable and secure Egypt is vital for the wider security and stability of the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Europe. It is thus in the EU’s interest to engage effectively with this partner. This engagement should not seek to replace the excellent work done by nation states; rather, it should supplement it and go beyond what any singular government can offer.

Edited by: Marcel Wiechmann 
Photo Credits: Catherine Ashton meets with President Morsi by European External Action Service via flickr