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Minister says no EU "blank cheque" for Arab Spring nations - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Jun (Reuters) – The European Union should cut off aid payments to Arab Spring countries that fail to deliver on economic and political reform, Britain’s Europe Minister David Lidington said on Friday.

In an interview with Reuters, Lidington also said Britain did not want the gate to be “slammed shut” on EU enlargement once Croatia had joined the 27-nation bloc. He signalled Britain’s determination to impose a freeze on EU spending.

Lidington, a Conservative, noted that the EU had been spending 1.2-1.5 billion euros annually on aid to Arab and North African countries.

Popular anger has prompted a series of uprisings across the Arab world, leaving European nations to ponder how to back political reform, curb the flow of refugees from its southern neighbours and halt the spread of Islamic militancy.

“Our view is that Europe needs to be ambitious and generous in its response to the Arab Spring but that this is our taxpayers’ money, therefore it’s right that we say the money must be linked to results,” Lidington said.

“The money should be targeted upon those countries which are committed seriously to both economic and political reform. If there is evidence of backsliding, the money should be stopped,” he added. “I think taxpayers throughout Europe would not understand blank cheques.”

Lidington said EU proposals to link aid to democratic reform presented last month were a big step in the right direction, but Britain wanted to see more offered in terms of market access as an incentive.

He suggested the European single market could eventually be opened up to North African countries.

“We’re perhaps looking at something similar to the European Economic Area under which Norway is part of the European single market, applies all the EU regulations but is not actually a member of the EU,” he said, noting that such a scenario was a long way off.

NO PAUSE AFTER CROATIA

Lidington said he hoped that the carrot of EU membership would remain on offer for countries in the Balkans once Croatia joins the bloc. The target date for Croatian membership is July 2013.

“They should be, I hope, a beacon for other Balkan countries, not the last country through the gate that is then slammed shut,” he said, seeing the goal of eventual EU membership as a real driver of reform.

Lidington said it should eventually be possible for former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to join the EU — a move that would raise hackles in Moscow.

“In principle, we see no reason why the Republic of Moldova or Ukraine or Georgia should not become members of the European Union. It is not going to happen any time soon,” he added.

But Britain, where the EU is viewed with deep scepticism, is not prepared to countenance an expansion of the EU’s budget.

The European Commission is due to set out proposals for the bloc’s next long-term budget in the next few weeks and EU lawmakers are pressing for an increase of at least five percent.

“We think there should be at most a real-terms freeze in the new multi-annual financial framework,” Lidington said.

“I think it is impossible to justify to taxpayers in Britain, or in other European countries, why an increase in the EU’s budget is justified at a time when domestic spending is being cut back, sometimes very painfully.”

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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