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“Domino revolutions” top EU agenda this week

“Domino revolutions” top EU agenda this week

Andrew Rettman/EUOBSERVER

With tanks on the streets of Cairo and the death toll climbing steeply in protests against Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak over the weekend, EU foreign policy in the Arab and Muslim world will be in sharp focus next week.

EU institutions on Friday declined to speculate on the implications of a potential revolution in what is arguably the most important country in the Arab world.

A senior EU official poured cold water on Italy's idea to send an EU crisis mission to north Africa: "Yes, but at what level? Official level or political level? The high representative [EU foreign foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton] or the European Commission [neighborhood commissioner Stefan Fuele]? ... We have to reflect, what if we meet with an interlocutor who the next day is not there?" he said.

An EU diplomat said the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia has "sent a message" to other dictatorships, but added "there is no domino effect." The contact said each of the protest-hit countries is different: Al-Qaeda does not have a foothold in Tunisia, as it does in the Sahel or Yemen; food prices are the top irritant in Algeria, but memories of a bloody civil war in the 1990s are a deterrent to unrest.

Ms Ashton's top man on Africa and the Middle East, Hugues Mingarelli, will brief EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday (31 January) on his recent trip to Tunisia.

Ministers will discuss economic aid to the interim government in Tunis. EU policy on the Sahel, instability in Lebanon, the recent round of Iran nuclear talks, the referendum on independence in southern Sudan and the extension of sanctions against Cote D'Ivoire are also on the agenda.

On the eastern flank, Ms Ashton will put forward a new strategy paper on Russia, and her top man on the Balkans, Miroslav Lajcak, will report back from a trip to Albania, where unrest also claimed lives last week. Ministers will finalise sanctions on Belarus, with a new visa ban to cover 158 officials. But some EU capitals are wary that trade sanctions could hurt EU companies and ordinary Belarusians.

Low-key energy summit

At the end of the week, EU leaders will come to Brussels for an energy summit. Called by EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, the low-key meeting on Friday is to see EU countries pledge to create a single market for energy by 2014 and to up their game on 2020 renewable resources targets.

According to draft conclusions seen by EUobserver, leaders will also call for "better co-ordination of EU and member states' activities" on gas pipelines. The commission and several post-Communist EU countries are keen to build a "Nabucco" pipeline to break Russia's monopoly on Caspian region exports. But Italy, among others, wants to boost Russia's role with a competing "South Stream" pipeline.

In other commission events: the college will on Monday debate how much money to give to poor EU countries after 2013 at a meeting with Polish leader Donald Tusk.

On Wednesday, it will put out two controversial policy papers: on how to keep down commodity prices on international markets and on internal EU sharing of air passenger data for security reasons. It will also put out numbers on how many people it has so-far recruited from the post-2004 new member states.

Roma 'genocide'

The issue of north Africa's domino protests will again come up on Wednesday during a debate on Tunisia between Ms Ashton and MEPs at a mini-plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels.

MEPs will the same day vote on a resolution to commemorate the Roma "genocide" during World War II.

Earlier on Tuesday, the economic affairs committee will grill the three men tasked with ensuring there is no repeat of the 2008 banking crisis - Dutchman Steven Maijoor, Portugal's Gabriel Bernardino and Italy's Andrea Enria - the new triumvirate of EU financial industry supervisors set up last year.