EU's 1 bn euro aid to Egypt 'ineffective'

A billion euros of EU aid channelled to Egypt before and after the January 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's reign failed to improve human rights and governance, or reduce corruption, auditors said Tuesday.

European Union support for improved governance in Egypt overall was "well-intentioned but ineffective," said a highly critical report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

The criticism comes after pledges by the European Commission since the Arab Spring protests to tie aid to improvements in democratic governance and human rights.

But despite the introduction of the EU's so-called "more for more" policy on aid, the report highlights inadequacies in overseeing funding since Mubarak's ouster.

"The 'softly softly' approach has not worked and the time has come for a more focused approach which will produce meaningful results and guarantee better value for European taxpayers' money," said Karel Pinxten, the ECA member responsible for the report.

The leader of the European Parliament's centrist ALDE group, former Belgian premier Guy Verhofstadt, said the report showed that "the EU is not taking its conditionality seriously regarding Egypt" and called for an urgent parliamentary debate on the matter.

He cited for instance the EU's failure to suspend aid to Egypt in November when President Mohamed Morsi increased his powers or when 43 aid workers were sentenced to jail.

"This inaction by the EU makes a joke of its human rights policy," Verhofstadt said.

But in a letter to the Court of Auditors seen by AFP, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said relations with Cairo were difficult "with the Egyptian side ... very reluctant to accept any foreign efforts -- including the EU's -- to encourage progress on human rights, governance and democracy."

The ECA report said that around 60 percent of the approximately one billion euros sent to Egypt over the 2007-2013 period went to the government as budget support, the rest through projects agreed with the Egyptian authorities.

The audit found that the Commission and new EU foreign service, the EEAS, "have not been able to manage EU support to improve governance in Egypt effectively."

"This was partly due to the difficult conditions they have faced in Egypt but also to shortcomings in the way the EEAS and Commission have managed their cooperation with Egypt."

The report said that despites serious problems in the area of corruption, the EU aid did little to directly address the issue.

There was little or no progress on human rights either, with womens' rights notably taking a step back since 2011, the report said.

"The main human rights programme was largely unsuccessful. It was slow to commence and was hindered by the negative attitude of the Egyptian authorities.

"The Commission and the EEAS did not use the financial and political leverage at their disposal to counteract this intransigence."

The report added that since the uprising, the rights of minorities were increasingly under threat and sectarian violence, mostly against Christians, had risen.

"Investigations into the violence have been sluggish or non-existent," it said.