BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting this week to forge a joint response to the recent violence in Egypt that has left nearly 1,000 people dead, with discussions expected on proposals to halt aid programs and suspend arms shipments.
The European Commission said Monday diplomats from the bloc’s 28 member nations agreed the meeting would be held Wednesday in Brussels.
The meeting of ambassadors came a day after top EU officials said bloc will “urgently review” its relations with Egypt.
While the EU lacks the military muscle that gives the U.S. a special position in dealing with Egypt, European nations are a major source of aid, loans, business and tourists for Egypt.
The EU and its member states last year pledged a combined 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in loans and aid for Egypt. European nations are also the country’s biggest trading partner, according to the Egyptian statistics office. The trade volume between Egypt and the EU reached almost 24 billion euros in 2011 (then $34.5 billion), compared with $8.2 billion with the United States.
The flow of aid money, however, could be abruptly halted in the wake of the deadly clashes between security forces and supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi since last week.
Germany’s development minister, Dirk Niebel, told RBB Inforadio on Monday that Egypt will get “no further pledges this year” of aid from Berlin and added he has decided “that we won’t negotiate this year” on any debt relief for the country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday also floated the idea to halt previously approved arms shipments to Egypt as part of a coordinated EU response.
The diplomats meeting in Brussels weren’t expected to make decisions yet, but rather to take stock of the situation and lay the groundwork for a coordinated response to be finalized by the ministers’ meeting Wednesday.
In the U.S., President Barack Obama has denounced the violence, canceled joint military exercises and delayed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets. But the White House has refused to declare Morsi’s removal a coup — a step that would require Obama to suspend $1.3 billion in annual military aid. Congress appears split on whether to suspend the aid, with some saying it would deprive Washington of leverage over those in power in Cairo.
However, the threat to withhold aid from either the U.S. or the EU is weakened by the readiness of wealthy Arab states to prop up Egypt’s new military-backed leadership. So far, they promised $12 billion in new aid, coming chiefly from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, who are longtime critics of Morsi’s Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. The grants allow the government to pay for vital food and fuel imports.
The EU insisted in a statement Sunday that it is the responsibility of the Egyptian army and the interim government to end the violence and to embark on political dialogue to swiftly restore democracy, warning the people’s calls for fundamental rights “cannot be disregarded, much less washed away in blood.”
For Egypt, sun-seeking tourists from European nations flocking to resorts on the Red Sea and elsewhere account for more than 70 percent of arrivals. The tourism sector has kept the ailing economy from suffocating since the 2011 Arab Spring protests that led to the ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
But Germany and others have issued travel warnings following last week’s violence, advising their citizens against unnecessary travel to Egypt. If beefed-up travel warnings from many EU countries were issued and kept in place, Egypt’s economy would nosedive — which could in turn fuel further social unrest.
“In view of the situation, the fewer Germans there are in Egypt, the better and safer,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer in Berlin.
Tourism provided direct or indirect employment to one in eight Egyptians in 2010, according to Egyptian government figures.
Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed reporting.
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