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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Opportunity for Europe

On January 25, Der Spiegel Online  published an interview with Alvaro de Vasconcelos, head of the European Union Institute for Security, pertaining to the ongoing turmoil in Tunisia. We are bringing you the following interesting excerpts from the interview:

“SPIEGEL ONLINE: ‘The EU hasn't exactly excelled itself in its handling of Tunisia. The deposed president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was fawned over for decades as the supposed guarantor of political stability, while the EU simply turned a blind eye to torture and repression. Do you regard Europe as being complicit?’

“Alvaro de Vasconcelos: ‘I have to agree there. The European Union, and especially the member states geographically closest to Tunisia, accepted Ben Ali's regime for far too long. They saw the status quo as a safer option than experiments with democracy. The underlying reason for this is the Europeans' fear that Islamists could gain power. Many still consider authoritarian Arab regimes to be the lesser evil… In fairness, we have to acknowledge that nearly all the EU's members discussed the "Tunisian model," with its mixture of authoritarian rule and halfway solid economic development, as a model for success… But no one in Europe or North Africa can do this seriously anymore after the revolution in Tunisia… 

“’The EU needs to urge its neighbors to pursue both economic stability and political modernization in equal measures… The European Neighborhood Policy is at its core a highly effective tool for bringing the south and east closer to the EU… There's a real chance for democracy here [in Tunisia], but also the risk that the revolution could fail. The country is in turmoil, and much depends on Europe during this phase. The EU should consider Tunisia its highest strategic priority… There's a great deal Europe can do. For example, we can help in setting up political parties, just as Germany helped after the toppling of the Salazar and Franco regimes in Portugal and Spain.

We can also provide financial assistance. Tunisia is extremely dependent on economic conditions in Europe, which is why it also experienced shockwaves from the euro crisis. One possibility is emergency aid, to be increased depending on progress. Giving such aid might seem a hard sell given the current financial situation, but we shouldn't forget what is at stake here.’”

Europe will get more and more involved in world affairs, including the Middle East.

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