Egypt- EU relations witnessing a major shift?
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi during his last visit to France - YOUM7
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By Omar Halawa

CAIRO: President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is flying Wednesday to Cyprus to hold talks with his Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades and the Greek prime minster Alexis Tsipras, in the light of a series of tripartite talks being held between the countries’ leaders.

Following Wednesday’s talks, Sisi will fly to Spain over an invitation he received from its King Felipe VI.

These series of talks have been seen as a sign of a trend of warming relations with E.U. countries, many of which were vocally critical of the military ouster of Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

“Sisi’s first visit to European countries was to France and Italy in November 2014, they didn’t turn their backs to him; they know that there are lots of common issues they share with Egypt as they are also Mediterranean countries,” said Ahmed Rahka Hassan, a former Egyptian diplomat.

“When we talk about Egypt-EU relations we need to point out an essential difference. Egypt owes relations with the European Commission which consists of 28 countries, that always link economical aid to Egypt with the status of Human rights issues and political developments, this is different from the bilateral relations between Egypt and EU countries’ individually,” Hassan told the Cairo Post.

On Monday, Minister of Education Moheb al-Rafei announced that Egypt had been granted 36 million Euros ($39.3 million)  from the European Commission to fight illiteracy. The grant comes in the light of an 130 million Euros agreement signed between the Egyptian government and delegation of the European Union to Egypt to the Sharm el-Sheikh economic development summit in March. The package also included also a loan from the European Investment Bank to Al Ahly Egyptian bank to support private sector projects.

James Moran, the Head of the EU delegation in Egypt, told Al Borsa news website earlier this month, that there is no set date issued for Egypt to receive the rest of a signed aid package of 5 billion Euros which started in 2012 under Morsi’s rule. “Egypt received nearby 2.5 billion Euros until now, but political changes prevented us from resuming the agreement,” he said.

“As you see, the European Commission participated in the Sharm el-Sheikh conference and offered grants, but still the big package is pawned by Egypt running parliamentary elections with the participation of all political players especially the Muslim Brotherhood group,” he said.

“They saw Egypt being approached by Russia and at the same time establishing new maritime projects as the New Suez Canal, so they now fear to be marginalized and not to approach investments in the country. There are concrete signs that European countries are still positively approaching Egypt; for instance, Germany is investing 10 billion Euros over establishing power plants in Egypt to solve its chronic power shortages crisis, Egypt is a big market they can’t afford to lose,” Hassan added.

In 2014, bilateral trade between Egypt and the EU countries reached 25 billion Euros.

Political dimension

“It’s not only about the economy, they need Egyptian efforts in fighting terrorism and illegal immigration,” Said al-Lawendey, an expert for Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told the Cairo Post.

Last week, a boat carrying 800 illegal immigrants sank near the Italian coast after coming from Libya which shares a huge border with Egypt. Following the incident EU countries held an emergency meeting to set a unified policy to fight migration.

According to figures of the International Organization for Migration, around 2,000 illegal immigrants drowned sunk in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of this year, while 3,279 drowned the previous year.

Simultaneously with the incident, Egypt hosted a conference over efforts to fight illegal immigration which was attended by European and African countries’ representatives.

“Egyptian diplomacy plays a good tactic while stressing the key points which matter to EU countries, Egypt is much more stable than Libya and can offer more reliable assistance on the issue,” Lawandey said.

“A similar scenario of approaching countries took place with Cyprus and Greece. The two countries have bad history with Turkey over land disputes, and as Egypt knew that, thus it organized a summit in September 2014 to form a Mediterranean trio to face Turkey, as its ruling regime is a main regional rival for Sisi,” he added.

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