By ANDREW RETTMAN
Next WEEK in the European Union
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Sunday (20 February) evening and Monday aim to pledge support for grassroots north African revolutions, as the bloc scrambles to come up with a co-ordinated response to events.
The ministers’ draft conclusions say the EU will offer “support to democratic transition in the wider region that comes from within,” according to German press agency DPA. The draft paper also speaks of new EU “support packages” and “adequate means to contribute to the most urgent needs for socio-economic development” in post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia, but gives no figures.
Amid escalating violence in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen going into the weekend, ministers might be confronted with entirely new problems by the time they sit down to dinner on Sunday. “No one could have predicted what is happening,” one diplomatic contact said.
Zooming in on details, ministers are likely to debate how to handle the exodus of north African refugees to Europe ahead of talks on the subject at EU-leader-level in March. EU efforts to freeze the financial assets of the ousted Egyptian and Tunisian dictators will also come up.
In other business, the UK is to propose further toughening of economic sanctions against Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons programme. And Poland is to call for extra measures against Belarus after it jailed a young protester for four years.
For her part, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton will visit Egypt on Monday.
On Wednesday, she will host an international conference in Brussels with senior officials from Maghreb and Middle East countries, the US, Japan and international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, to frame a multilateral masterplan for the region.