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Press Release

Press Releases

Clegg calls on EU to help North Africa

Nick Clegg will later call on Europe to respond "quickly and boldly" to the change in North Africa and the Middle East, admitting to failures in the past.

He will say: "our task is to help North Africa attract people in its own right, not act as a stepping off point to Europe."


Below are further extracts from his speech.

"In the past, Europe has sought to build a partnership with North Africa, but failings on both sides have held us back.

Now that we have witnessed the immense courage of unarmed protestors raising their voices in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, in Egypt’s Tahrir Square and the streets of Benghazi and Tripoli, we Europeans need to respond quickly and boldly to their bravery.  They have created an unexpected and game-changing turn of events in Europe’s neighbourhood: we must provide a game-changing response.

There are two big challenges facing us in the Middle East and North Africa region and a free, prosperous and stable North Africa can help us with both.  It will be an enormous asset in undermining Iran’s malign influence as well as help reassure Israel that it can live in peace with its neighbours and give Palestinians their rights.

Despite our good intentions, we Europeans have failed in the past by allowing autocratic regimes to get away with making a pretence of reforming.  We have imposed minimal conditionality and then failed to insist even on those low standards.

We have failed because our support for North African countries has not been based strongly enough on the values of open societies.  We have supported the important goals of economic opening and reform, but the EU has done nothing like enough to use its weight to encourage open, plural societies more broadly.

We have also got our starting point wrong: rather than building a genuine partnership with North Africa, we have focused narrowly on certain areas of cooperation without engaging meaningfully on political reform.  This has given the inaccurate impression that we seek to keep North Africa stable but distant.  The events of the past few weeks have demonstrated the short-sightedness of this approach.

As Prime Minister David Cameron has said, you cannot impose democracy from 30,000 feet.  But you can support democracy from across borders and across the Mediterranean. Being adherents of the international rule of law does not mean being neutral about the kind of world we want to see and the kind of nations we want to deal with: open, free, democratic society.  We should never hold back from advocating our
belief that freedom and the rule of law are the best guarantees of human progress and economic success, and that each country should find its own path to achieving peaceful change.

First, conditionality.  EU policy should be guided by clear principles linking values – the values shown in Tahrir Square – to engagement: We must never again accept paper thin commitments on conditionality that are not pressed home.  But let me be clear that this is a conditionality based on the values the protestors in Tahrir Square and elsewhere have demonstrated their passion for: values they cherish and we want to support.

Second, a broad and inclusive economic offer that draws on the EU’s position as a global economic superpower and supports a process of economic liberalisation to complement and reinforce greater political openness.

There can be no solution to the problem of migration to Europe from and through North Africa that does not have as one of its central planks the aim of developing North Africa’s economies so that they are broad-based and prosperous.  Citizens of these North African countries - and migrants making their way through them - are not going to stay put in North Africa if there are few economic opportunities there:
they are going to make their way to Europe through one means or another.  Our task is to help North Africa attract people in its own right, not act as a stepping off point to Europe.


Third, the EU must also do more to cultivate the civil, political and democratic institutions that underpin successful open societies.   The EU has an enormous amount to offer in terms of know-how and institution-building, not least because of the its earlier experiences with central and eastern Europe."

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