BRUSSELS (AFP) – EU ministers will decide Tuesday on Egypt’s request to freeze the assets of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s henchmen, and consider French proposals for a web of investment across the Arab world.
After Cairo asked the European Union’s three biggest powers — Britain, France and Germany — to block bank accounts, finance ministers from all 27 EU member states will tackle the issue from 0900 GMT.
Monday evening’s session in the two-day talks on the euro debt crisis ended early with the surprise announcement that ministers had agreed a 500-billion-euro fund for eurozone states in financial difficulties.
That allowed ministers to ministers to re-focus on the issues arising from the wave of popular uprisings in the Arab world.
London’s finance minister George Osborne argued for a pledge by all 27 EU states to strip the assets of the closest associates of Egypt’s ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak.
French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde called for a radical new web of investment across growth-challenged Europe’s southern Mediterranean rim to encourage the fledgling democratic revival.
Italy’s preoccupation however, was a request for EU financial support to fund more measures to protect its vulnerable coastline from a wave of post-revolutionary illegal immigration, mainly out of Tunisia.
European treasuries are still preoccupied with a sliding currency, rising bond yields — particularly in Portugal — and a looming leadership vaccuum at the head of the European Central Bank.
But the historic events in Egypt have transformed the ministers’ agenda.
A senior diplomat said riches accumulated by “six or seven” Egyptians, although “definitely not including Mubarak,” were being targeted.
Amid rumours of serious ill-health, Mubarak’s name “was not even discussed or debated,” said the diplomat.
The EU could use a United Nations convention against corruption as grounds for action, he added.
Already last Friday, the Swiss government ordered a freeze on any assets belonging to Mubarak and his entourage, just hours after his downfall.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague drew a comparison with EU-wide action against Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, toppled last month in a revolt that inspired anti-Mubarak forces in Egypt.
“If there is any evidence of illegality or misuse of state assets we will take firm and prompt action,” Hague said.
On Monday, a senior official in the US State Department confirmed that Egypt’s new government had also asked it to freeze assets of officials who had worked under Mubarak — but not Mubarak himself.
Tuesday’s discussion will cover “financial and economic aspects” arising from a protest movement that is also affecting Algeria and others, said Lagarde.
She wants EU and member-state “investment” mobilised in a bid to “support the democratic movement taking root in these countries.”
The debate may however be complicated by Italy’s demand for 100 million euros ($134 million) in aid after some 5,000 migrants landed on outlying EU island territory Lampedusa in a five-day period.
In a telephone conversation with EU president Herman Van Rompuy, Berlusconi made it clear the situation “is urgent and concerns all of the European Union,” said a statement from Rome.