Egypt hosts the first summit between the EU and the Arab League to “invest in stability”. Are human rights overlooked?

The leaders of the EU and the Arab League gathered in a first-ever summit on 24 and 25 February in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt. The summit was co-chaired by the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi  and the President of the EU Council Donald Tusk.

Both parts reaffirmed their conviction that a stronger regional cooperation is key to finding solutions to the current challenges which both the EU countries and the Arab States are confronted with, and expressed their determination to deepen the existing strategic partnership, promote peace, stability and prosperity, guarantee security, foster economic, social and technological development and create mutual opportunities. 

The main issues on the agenda were:

  • Migration: both parts agreed on the protection and support to refugees in accordance with international law, and on strengthening the fight against irregular migration.
  • Security:  both parts exchanged concerns on threats to international and regional peace and security, including terrorism, radicalization, proliferation, illegal arms trafficking and organized crime.
  • Middle East peace process: both parts reaffirmed their common position on the status of Jerusalem, on the illegality of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, and reiterated their commitment to a two-state solution on the basis of all relevant UN resolutions.
  • The situations in Yemen, Syria, and Libya were also discussed, and both sides called for sustainable and peaceful political solutions.

A final statement under the motto of “Investing in stability” was issued, covering the above issues and calling for a "new era" of cooperation. Both sides agreed to hold regular meetings, with the next one foreseen in Brussels in 2022.

SOLIDAR welcomes the reference, in the final joint declaration, to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which should guide both parts to achieve shared objectives. However the increasing focus on security, migration and countering terrorism of the EU external policy risks deviating EU development cooperation from its main goal, namely eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities. Developed by SOLIDAR members and partners, the Social Rights Monitor Scoreboard in the MENA region observes that no substantive changes or significant improvements have occurred in the areas of freedom of association, decent work and social protection since 2013. The situation has particularly worsened precisely in Egypt in the areas of freedom of association, decent work and access to social protection.

SOLIDAR also salutes the recognition in the final statement of common challenges and the need for shared solutions in accordance with international law (including human rights laws). But the current human rights situation requires a stronger statement. The execution, a few days before the summit, of nine persons for their alleged participation in the assassination of the former Public prosecutor in 2015, indicates the gap between the speeches and the reality on the ground. The abolition of the death penalty worldwide is one of the main objectives of EU’s human rights policy, and executions have been strongly condemned by the Chair of the European’s Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights, Antonio Panzeri.

SOLIDAR strongly reaffirms that an equitable distribution of knowledge, income and power is essential to build a just and equal society, ensure an inclusive democratic transition and achieve a sustainable economic and social development. Finding solutions to the current security and migration challenges should not be at the expense of EU stand for the protection and defense of fundamental human rights.

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