Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools

Other available languages: FR


Brussels, 16 December 2011

The EU's response to the 'Arab Spring'

Since the first demonstrations in Tunisia in December 2010, a wave of popular discontent has shaken the Arab world, with people calling for dignity, democracy, and social justice. Despite the unexpected magnitude of these uprisings, the EU has been quick to recognise the challenges of the political and economic transition faced by the region as a whole. It has also recognised the need to adopt a new approach to relations with its Southern neighbours.

The EU has engaged politically with a wide range of government, opposition, parliamentary and civil society interlocutors in the region through visits from the President of the Commission, the President of Parliament, the HR/VP and several Commissioners.

The EU's strategic response to the Arab Spring came as early as 8 March 2011, with the joint communication of the High Representative/Vice President (HR/VP) Catherine Ashton and the Commission proposing "A partnership for democracy and shared prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean". This communication stresses the need for the EU to support wholeheartedly the demand for political participation, dignity, freedom and employment opportunities, and sets out an approach based on the respect of universal values and shared interests. It also proposes the "more for more" principle, under which increased support in terms of financial assistance, enhanced mobility, and access to the EU Single Market is to be made available, on the basis of mutual accountability, to those partner countries most advanced in the consolidation of reforms. This approach was further elaborated in another joint communication on 25 May which initiated the launch of "a new response to a changing Neighbourhood".

The EU is committed both in the short and long term to help its partners address in particular two main challenges:

- First, to build “deep democracy”, i.e. not only writing democratic constitutions and conducting free and fair elections, but creating and sustaining an independent judiciary, a thriving free press, a dynamic civil society and all other characteristics of a mature functioning democracy.

- Second, to ensure inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development, without which democracy will not take root. A particular challenge is to ensure strong job creation.

While recognising a number of challenges that are common to all partner countries, the EU will support each country on a differentiated basis, thus ensuring individual needs and priorities are accounted for. EU support focuses on the "3 Ms": Money, Mobility and Markets.

1. Money:

in May 2011, the EU undertook to make available up to €1.2 billion on top of the €5.7 billion already budgeted for grant support to the Neighbourhood for the period 2011-2013. In addition, the European Investment Bank (EIB) can now provide, besides the €4 billion available before the Arab Spring, additional loans for up to €1 billion to the region. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is set to extend its geographical coverage to include the Southern Neighbourhood and to provide annually up to €2.5 billion of public and private sector investment to support the establishment and expansion of businesses and the financing of infrastructure.

Furthermore, a new package of grant support for the region was adopted by the European Commission on 26 September. It includes:

- the SPRING (Support for Partnership Reform and Inclusive Growth) programme: This carries a budget of €350 million in additional funds for 2011 and 2012 and makes available support on a 'more-for-more' basis to partner countries showing sustained commitment to, and progress in, democratic reforms.

- the creation of the Civil Society Facility for the neighbourhood (both Southern and Eastern), with an overall budget of €26.4 million for 2011. This facility aims to strengthen the capacity of civil society to promote reform and increase public accountability in their countries.

- An allocation of nearly €30 million through Erasmus Mundus in the 2011-2012 academic year, specifically for Southern Neighbourhood countries, to finance scholarships for students and academic staff from the region wishing to spend part of their studies, research or a teaching period in the European Union. This represents a doubling of the allocation originally foreseen for the Southern Neighbourhood (See IP/11/1558).

These figures are in addition to the first and immediate financial response to provide humanitarian aid: to date, the European Commission has allocated €80.5 million to the refugee crisis in North Africa. EU Member States have provided an additional €73 million.

In its budget proposals for the period 2014-2020 announced on 7 December, the European Commission recommends to allocate more than €18.1 billion to support the 16 partner countries of the Neighbourhood (both East and South). This would represent a substantial increase (by approximately 40%) compared to the financial support of the period 2007-2013. The new European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) will enable to provide this assistance in a faster and more flexible way, allowing for increased differentiation and incentives for best performers in line with the principle of "more for more".

2. Mobility:

Mobility to the EU will be facilitated for citizens of partner countries, in particular by:

- A major expansion of university scholarships (cf. Erasmus Mundus above) and exchanges. Funds for the Tempus programme were also increased to support the modernisation of higher education in the Southern Mediterranean and to expand collaboration with EU universities in 2012 and in 2013.

- The launching of 'mobility partnerships', including visa facilitation and readmission agreements. Dialogues have already been launched with Tunisia and Morocco and we hope to start others shortly.

3. Markets:

Improved market access as well as the progressive integration of the economies of these partners into the EU single market will be the main objectives of the future negotiations of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs) with Morocco, Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia, , which will be launched as soon as the necessary preparatory work is completed (See IP/11/1545). Compared to the current trade relationship between the EU and these countries, the DCFTAs will go beyond removing only tariffs to cover all regulatory issues relevant to trade, such as investment protection and public procurement.

A new SME investment scheme called SANAD ('support' in Arabic) was also launched in August 2011 together with German bank "Kreditanstalt Für Wiederaufbau" (KFW) for a total of €20 million. This fund targets SMEs in the Middle East and Northern Africa region, in particular the business segment which is too small for banks, but too large for micro finance. Finally, we are moving forward in developing a new "Investment Security" scheme for the Mediterranean, jointly with the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Union for the Mediterranean, which could be finalised by end of 2011.

A major priority has been to strengthen support to and cooperation with the civil society organisations, as they have a key role in improving governance and making governments accountable. Civil society in all its components (NGOs, universities, think tanks, media), together with parliaments and Constituent assemblies, will be essential in shaping the future of the region. Women and youth will have an important role to play in this regard, and the EU is launching concrete projects to support their active participation in the political and economic life.

The EU will continue to support civil society both through differentiated bilateral support in each country and through the reinvigoration of existing Euro-Mediterranean fora. The EU has already set up the Civil Society Facility. It will consult civil society organisations more systematically in the preparation and monitoring of bilateral action plans and financial cooperation projects. Work is also underway to create a European Endowment for Democracy with an initial focus on the neighbourhood. This Endowment will add value to European instruments and will reflect the EU’s willingness to make it easier for certain beneficiaries to obtain support and funding. Finally, the European Commission, under the initiative of its Vice President Neelie Kroes, has started to implement the "No Disconnect Strategy" which will contribute to ensuring that human rights are respected online (see IP/11/1525). The Strategy will provide technological tools to enhance privacy and security when communicating online, raise the awareness of activists about the opportunities and risks of digital communication, monitor the level of surveillance and censorship through high quality intelligence, and help stakeholders to share information and generate cross-regional cooperation.

The appointment of a EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean, Bernardino León, enhances political dialogue with our Southern neighbours and helps ensure optimal coordination of efforts among the EU institutions, EU member states, relevant financial institutions such as the EIB and the EBRD, and the private sector. High-level task forces to be co-chaired by the HR/VP and respective leaders of the partner countries are a major tool in this regard. The first task force was organised in late September for Tunisia, and others are foreseen in the months to come. The EU is also a major player in the G-8 “Deauville Partnership” initiative that has already seen €20 billion pledged for the countries of the Southern Mediterranean.

The transitions towards democracy will take time and will continue to pose great challenges. In this context, the EU remains committed to work with countries in the region, international financial institutions, the private sector and civil society organisations to ensure that a coordinated and effective reply can be made swiftly and efficiently.

The EU's response country by country


As an immediate response to the Arab Spring in Algeria, the EU has launched a €23.5 million Youth Employment Support Programme that will support the Ministry of Youth and Sport at national and local level, as well as youth organizations, through information, training, and the funding of projects. The programme aims to reinforce the participation of young people in society, improve their employment prospects and support the implementation of a national youth policy. Political dialogue, security and human rights are also high on the agenda, and the first EU-Algeria sub-committee on these issues took place in Algiers last September, with a second one planned for December. European Commissioner for the ENP Stefan Füle visited Algiers in May 2011, to discuss in particular enhanced participation of Algeria in the ENP and to move towards the adoption of an Action Plan. On 8 December, Deputy Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel announced in Brussels Algeria's willingness to start negotiations of this Action Plan. In addition, the EU has offered its technical support for the upcoming legislative elections to be held during the 1st semester of 2012, as well as an electoral observation mission. Algeria benefits from a €172 million support over the period 2011-2013 under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI).


From the early stage of the demonstrations in Manama, the EU called upon all parties in Bahrain to refrain from violence and engage in dialogue. After the heavy crackdowns on protestors of February and March, the High Representative sent a senior EU envoy to Manama and personally conveyed the EU's messages directly to the Bahraini Foreign Minister and King Hamad. A steady stream of public statements and diplomatic contacts with the Bahraini authorities has drawn public attention to the human rights situation, the necessity of holding perpetrators of all abuses accountable, the need to host a mission of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and to promote real reconciliation across Bahraini society. The High Representative has brought the situation in Bahrain to the agendas of several EU Foreign Ministers’ meetings, and to the level of Heads of State and Government. This pressure, applied by the EU and by many civil society organisations, has yielded concrete results, among which the establishment of the Independent Commission of Inquiry in June 2011 and the reconsideration of trials and verdicts under the military courts.


Since the beginning of the crisis, the EU has defended the rights of the Egyptians to demonstrate peacefully, and condemned the use of force by the authorities. Immediately after the departure of former president Mubarak and in direct response to the Egyptian people’s request for their civil, political and socio-economic rights, the EU launched a €20 million civil society package. In light of the new circumstances, the development aid foreseen for 2011-13 has been reviewed. For 2011, programmes amounting to €132 million have been approved and for 2012 initiatives amounting to €95 million are already in the pipeline. 2011 programmes will support the improvement of the living conditions in deprived areas of Cairo, trade and economic growth (and consequently job creation), agricultural SMEs, as well as the reform of the energy and water sectors.

The EU has also offered fully fledged electoral observation missions for both parliamentary and presidential elections. The Egyptian authorities preferred to decline any offer from international observation missions, however they have accepted an EU support programme of €2 million under the Instrument for Stability which will assist the High Electoral Commission in its work and provide support to civil society organisations. The EU also launched preparatory talks in Cairo for a Mobility Partnership, but Egyptian authorities have pointed out that no commitment would be possible until a new elected government is in place. In order to progressively integrate the Egyptian economy into the EU single market and improve access of Egyptian products to European markets, we are also getting prepared to start discussion on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) as soon as Egypt is willing to do so. At the Foreign Affairs Council of 1 December, the peaceful and well-organised start of parliamentary elections was welcomed; the Council also noted the intention to hold Presidential elections before the end of June 2012. However, deep concern was expressed about the violence and unrest which took place before the first round of elections and the deterioration of the economic situation in Egypt.


Building on the EU-Jordan “advanced status” partnership agreed in October 2010, the HR/VP stated on several occasions the EU's readiness to support Jordan on its path to reform. She welcomed King Abdullah's announcement of the proposed constitutional amendments adopted by the Jordanian Parliament, which represent a positive step towards meeting the aspirations of the Jordanian people by strengthening citizens' rights and the independence of the judiciary.

In order to assist the Jordanian government in addressing the current economic challenges, the EU agreed in May to frontload to 2011 an additional €40 million from the 2012/2013 programmes. This funding will support the development of SMEs with the aim of tackling poverty and unemployment in less-favoured areas, increase the contribution of research & innovation to growth and employment and further strengthen the public finance management. Ongoing programmes (including under the €71 million initial envelope for 2011) already support reforms in various sectors, including energy efficiency, education, democratic governance and local economic development. Moreover, the preparatory process for the future negotiations for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with Jordan will be launched in early 2012. The first meeting of the EU-Jordan Task Force is expected to take place in the first quarter of 2012.


The exceptional brutality of the former regime's repression of demonstrations led the EU to immediately suspend all technical cooperation and negotiations on the EU-Libya Framework Agreement. An Extraordinary European Council on Libya was held in March, and Libya was discussed at all subsequent Foreign Affairs Councils. Libya has gone through several months of a liberation war that ended only on 23rd October, following the capture and death of Colonel Gaddafi. The EU participated in key international meetings such as those of the International Contact Group on Libya, and the HR/VP helped to bring together the divergent positions of key international partners through participation in the "Cairo Group" (comprising the African Union, the Arab League, the EU, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the UN). The EU made numerous statements to support the human rights of the opponents and condemn the bloody crackdown by the regime. The EU adopted a series of sanctions against individuals and entities, aiming at preventing arms and money from reaching the Gaddafi regime. The active engagement of its Member States at the international level led to the UN Security Council resolution 1973 which called for international action to protect civilians and provided the legal basis for NATO's military intervention.

The HR/VP opened an EU office in Benghazi on 22 May and inaugurated an EU Delegation in Tripoli during her visit to Libya on 12 November. She was the first foreign dignitary to meet with the newly appointed Prime Minister Abdurrahim al-Keib.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the EU has provided more than €155 million in humanitarian support and mobilised EU civil protection teams and assets to alleviate the plight of civilians both in Libya and at its borders. In addition, the European Commission is making some €30 million available to support the immediate stabilisation priorities of the National Transitional Council (NTC), and a further €50 million will be available for longer-term support programmes. As agreed at the international conference in Paris in September, the EU is carrying out needs assessments in communications, civil society, and border management. It has already deployed experts in these fields as well as in security and procurement. Finally, substantial migration-related projects which were suspended in February 2011 are in the process of resuming.


On 2 July 2011, HR/VP Catherine Ashton and Commissioner for the ENP Stefan Füle welcomed the positive outcome of the referendum on the new Constitution which endorsed the reforms proposed by King Mohammed VI. They also reiterated the EU's support for Morocco's efforts to implement these far-reaching reforms. The EU sent an expert mission to assess the parliamentary elections of 25 November. The setting up of the Mobility Partnership with Morocco was launched in Rabat in October and the EU gave a new impetus to the negotiations for the new Action Plan of the Advanced Status, which resumed in December. Moreover, the preparatory process for the future negotiations for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with Morocco will be launched in early 2012.

As regards financial support, the five priority areas for cooperation remain the same: development of social policies, economic modernisation, institutional support, good governance and human rights, and environmental protection. The indicative budget for 2011-2013 is €580.5 million, which represents a 20% increase in comparison with the budget of 2007-2010. Morocco also benefits from other thematic and regional programmes and will get further support under the Civil Society Facility and Erasmus Mundus.


Popular protests in Syria started in mid-March 2011 as calls for reforms, but soon transformed into anti-regime demonstrations. These were met with a violent repression from the Syrian regime, which the EU strongly condemned in a declaration already on 22 March and repeatedly afterwards. In the face of the escalating violence against peaceful protesters, the EU introduced targeted sanctions in May, including an embargo on arms and equipment used for repression, asset freeze and travel ban against those complicit in the repression (including Bashar al-Assad himself) and suspension of bilateral cooperation programmes (including new operations of the EIB). None of the reforms announced by the government translated into any improvement on the ground. Following yet another escalation and large-scale use of the military against the protesters in August, the EU noted the Syrian regime's loss of credibility and legitimacy, called on Bashar al-Assad to step aside, and encouraged an inclusive national dialogue. Seeing no progress, the EU continuously expanded its sanctions – strengthened once again by the Foreign Affairs Council of 1 December – by designating further persons and entities for a travel ban and asset freeze, adding an embargo on the import of Syrian crude oil, an investment ban in the oil sector (which necessitated a partial suspension of the EU-Syria Cooperation Agreement), and further suspension of cooperation including regional and the remaining bilateral programmes. The EU has been active internationally, achieving a resolution on Syria of the UN Human Rights Council and pushing for a Security Council resolution with a view to targeting the regime's ability to conduct the on-going repression. The EU has been actively exploring possibilities of new cooperation with civil society partners in Syria, including support for activists and human rights defenders.

The EU supports all activities aiming at an end of violence in Syria, such as the Arab League initiative. It has also agreed internally on coordinated engagement with representatives of Syrian opposition committed to non-violence and democratic values. The HR/VP met on 22 November with representatives of the Syrian National Council and welcomed the ongoing efforts to establish a united platform and to work for a shared vision for the future of Syria and the transition to a democratic system.


The Tunisian revolution paved the way to the "Arab Spring". The EU's swift political support for the transition was demonstrated by a series of high-level visits, the first only a few weeks after the revolution, on 14 February 2011, by the HR/VP Catherine Ashton, followed by European Commission President Barroso, Commissioners Füle, Malmström, Georgieva, Barnier and De Gucht, as well as European Parliament President Buzek.

All EU financial instruments have been rapidly mobilised to respond to the new challenges. Considerable humanitarian support has been made available, in particular to help Tunisia to cope with the influx of refugees fleeing war in Libya. The EU has provided immediate support for the preparation of the elections, through the provision of technical assistance to the transitional authorities as well as direct support to civil society organisations. The EU also increased the funds available for bilateral cooperation: it has doubled the allocation for 2011 and for the period 2011 - 2013 the budget was increased from €240 million to €400 million. The new funds target in particular economic recovery, civil society and democratic transition.

In addition, an EU-Tunisia Task Force, the first one in the region, has been set up in order to ensure better coordination of European and international support for Tunisia’s political and economic transition. Its first meeting, chaired jointly by HR/VP Catherine Ashton and Tunisian Prime Minister Béji Caĭd Essebsi on 28-29 September in Tunis, allowed a wide involvement of European and international partners. In total, nearly €4 billion (including grants and loans) could be made available to support the transition in Tunisia over the next three years: 3 billion from EU institutions, EU banks and international institutions (African Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, World Bank) and one billion from EU Member States. The EU and Tunisia also expressed the joint ambition of a privileged partnership through an 'advanced status', and agreed on resuming negotiations on a number of agreements, including on trade liberalisation and for a mobility partnership. Moreover, the preparatory process for the future negotiations for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with Tunisia will be launched in early 2012.

On 23 October, Tunisian citizens have had for the first time the opportunity to choose in a free and democratic manner their representatives. An EU Electoral Observation Mission was present on the occasion of the Constituent elections which have generally been seen as free and fair. HR/VP Ashton and Commissioner Füle commended the candidates and parties that took part in the democratic process and congratulated the Ennahda party which obtained the highest percentage of votes.


Since the protest movement began in February 2011, the EU has exerted constant pressure on all Yemeni parties to stop violence and facilitate a peaceful transfer of power. The HR/VP has made a number of statements condemning violence, and has been in regular contact with key members of the regime and its opponents. As Yemen’s political, social and economic turmoil has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation, the international community has maintained firm and united pressure for an orderly transition and comprehensive reform process to begin without delay. Following action by the EU at the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution urging all parties in Yemen to implement the steps needed for political transition. On 23 November, after months of political stalemate, the HR/VP welcomed the signature in Riyadh of the agreement for political transition signed by President Saleh and key representatives of Yemen’s ruling and opposition parties under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council. She called on all political groups to help implement the agreement in good faith so that it becomes the foundation for a reconciliation process which reaches out to all Yemenis and enables a peaceful democratic transition to take place.

This sustained political commitment is but one angle of our engagement with Yemen: the EU strives to keep development and humanitarian aid flowing to those who need it most: the people of Yemen who have been paying the price of the crisis. €20 million in additional humanitarian aid has come from EU funds since the start of 2011, with Member States adding at least €40 million more to that sum.

Side Bar