EU to appoint envoy to drive North Africa policy


The European Union will soon appoint a special envoy to North Africa to sharpen its policy in the region and try to build influence at a time of rapid political change, said EU officials.

The bloc’s 27 governments are eager to strengthen their international clout and forge a clearer approach to the southern Mediterranean, following criticism that the EU has too often turn a blind eye to undemocratic regimes in the region.

If approved by member states, Bernardino Leon, a senior foreign policy adviser in the Spanish government, will be appointed to the post, which will involve primary responsibility for Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Libya and Algeria, Reuters reports.
“With the momentous changes going on in the southern Mediterranean, the new special representative will have a crucial role as the EU steps up in its response to the transformations in the region,” EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said in a statement.

The EU has already taken steps to define a new policy towards North Africa, with a commitment to closely tie billions of euros in aid to the pace and depth of democratic change, and an increase in the cash it offers to reformers.

In the past, critics have said the EU has tended to favour stability over change, supporting autocratic leaders such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak for decades before his overthrow, and the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

However, the bloc’s approach to the region is also a divisive issue among EU governments, which could complicate efforts to build up the credibility of the EU’s new diplomatic corps, which Leon will represent, and its global ambitions.

Italy, Spain, France and Malta all have close geographical, trade or historical ties to the region and are keen not to give up the influence they have gained over the years.

Italy, for example, is a former colonial rule in Libya and has developed a large reliance on Libya energy resources. Spain and France have close commercial and business interests in Morocco and Tunisia, and Algeria is a growing market.

Divisions over immigration could also weigh, with many European governments pushing for agreements with countries like Tunisia and Egypt to help stem the flow of illegal migrants but uncertain what incentives to offer to win their cooperation.

Diplomats said Leon’s role would also focus on efforts to promote dialogue between religious and secular forces in Tunisia and Egypt, as they move towards forming new governments.

Leon, 46, worked on Middle East policy with the EU’s former envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos between 1997 and 2001 and co-founded the Barenboim-Said Foundation, which supports an Israeli-Arab youth orchestra that plays to promote peace.