BRUSSELS, Sept 13, 2012 (AFP)
BRUSSELS, Sept 13, 2012 (AFP)
EU leaders offered Egypt more than a billion euros in aid and better trade as President Mohamed Morsi flew in for his first visit to Europe pledging to support democratic values and protect foreigners.
Praising Morsi for offering reassurances on his “unwavering commitment” to democratic values and fundamental freedoms, European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso told a news briefing that “Egypt can count on the European Union.
“I reiterated to President Morsi our commitment to work with Egypt’s democratically elected authorities to build a democratic, free, open, prosperous Egypt,” he said.
The EU was making available 449 million euros to Egypt for 2011-2013 but was “willing to do much more,” Barroso said.
He offered 500 million euros (640 million) extra in macro financial assistance — on condition Egypt clinches a $4.8 billion IMF loan — and budget support of 150-200 million euros for the country’s economic recovery.
The head of the EU executive also said the world’s largest trading bloc, with its half a billion people, was ready to start negotiations with Cairo on a “deep” free trade deal.
The 27-nation bloc is already Egypt’s top trading partner, accounting for a third of its foreign trade, but Barroso said there was “still a great potential to explore.”
Egypt’s future is viewed as vital in Brussels, keen on strengthening economic ties with the Arab Spring nations while shoring up developed democracies in its backyard in the interest of Europe’s security.
“Europe’s engagement with democracies in the southern Mediterranean will mark the role that Europe will play in the coming decades,” said a senior EU official who asked not to be named.
“This is an historic visit,” said the official.
Morsi meanwhile slammed “attacks” on Islam, citing a US-made film that has sparked outcry, but condemned violence including the Tuesday attack in the Libyan city of Benghazi that left four American officials dead, including the US ambassador.
“We Egyptians reject any kind of assault or insult against our Prophet,” he said. “(But) it is our duty to protect our guests and visitors from abroad.”
He also pledged to continue upholding democratic values and freedoms, several times stressing his commitment to respect the equality of all Egyptians, with no distinction between Muslims and Copts, and equal rights for women.
“We will move forward from corruption and dictatorship to a new phase of freedom for all, of democracy for all, of guaranteeing rights for all Egyptians,” Morsi said.
“Women more and more enjoy more freedoms,” he added. “These human rights and these values are very important to us.”
A senior EU official said Europe will do all it can to assist Cairo in recovering national assets plundered by corrupt elites during the Hosni Mubarak era, estimated at anywhere up to $10 billion.
“We need, as the EU, to help speed up this process as cash is needed,” he added. “My feeling is that it’s often less than countries expect to find.”