Opinion & Analysis

The European Union and Egypt comprehensive and strategic partnership: an in-depth analysis of the dynamics and challenges

Since its creation in 2003, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) has provided a platform for political dialogue, economic cooperation, and the promotion of shared values, and Egypt has served as a pivotal platform fostering political dialogue, economic cooperation and the promotion of sharing values.

The European Union-Egypt Agreement (Agreement), presented on 17 March 2024, signifies a strategic and comprehensive partnership aimed at advancing mutual interests across various domains, including diplomatic development, economic stability and migration. While on the one hand the matter of energy procurement has emerged as a significant push factor, driving the European Union-Egypt partnership, on the other hand, concerns have been raised regarding human rights violations in Egypt. The European Union-Egypt Agreement, marks a significant milestone in the ENP, signifying a strategic and comprehensive alliance aimed at advancing mutual interests across various domains, including diplomatic development, economic stability, and migration management.

This paper seeks to delve into the dynamics of the European Union-Egypt relationship. It not only outlines the key components of the Agreement, but sheds light on the main push factors driving this collaboration and addresses the critical issues surrounding human rights violations in Egypt.

  1. The European Neighbourhood Policy

North Africa has consistently held significant strategic value for the European Union (EU), acting as both a close neighbour and partner, while also being a potential source of instability (EUISS, 2023). The significance of this region to the EU was underscored on 28 November 1995, when fifteen foreign ministers of European Union Member States (EUMS) and twelve stakeholders of third Mediterranean member states signed the declaration of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership (Toute l’Europe, 2010). In light of the EU enlargement, there was a growing recognition among EUMS of the need to reassess their neighbourhood policy in response to the redefinition of European borders.

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was launched in 2003 based on an idea originating from Sweden, Finland, the United Kingdom and Poland (at the time a candidate country) (Delcour, 2007). Initially, it encompassed sixteen countries from the eastern neighbourhood (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia) and the southern neighbourhood (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia) (DG NEAR, 2024). The policy gained momentum with a French proposal when President Sarkozy introduced the concept of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) during a campaign speech in 2007 (Altemir, 2014).

The ENP provides a multilateral platform for political dialogue, the exchange of perspectives, and the sharing of know-how among third states. At its core is the principle of granting increased access to the Internal Market in exchange for advancements in the EU’s foundational values (democracy, rule of law and human rights) (Delcour, 2007).

As the interdependence between both continents deepens, ensuring stability and security becomes increasingly imperative. The ENP underwent two renewals: first in 2011 following the Arab Spring, and again in 2015 (DG NEAR, 2024). In 2015, during the Eastern Partnership Summit held in Riga, the EU progressively differentiated and benchmarked the policies with Southern and Eastern neighbourhoods (Toute l’Europe, 2014). Drawing from lessons learned in the initial years of the ENP, the policy underwent a shift towards greater specificity, moving away from its original one-size-fits-all approach. Bilateral negotiations became increasingly prominent, with states crafting their national strategies to align more closely with EU values. Originally conceived as a uniform strategy, the ENP evolved into a more differentiated and tailored framework as policies were renewed (Pisani-Ferry & al., 2018).

The ENP has been conceptualised by the EU and for the EU (Delcour, 2007). The EU used to have an asymmetrical power over the countries from the neighbourhood (due to economic power and union between EUMS). However, this dynamic has progressively changed. The EU’s interest in third states has grown, driven by its increasing energy dependency on said States (even if the relation used to be very asymmetrical) and secondly for the externalisation of migration management (Delcour, 2007). Since 2022, particularly with the onset of the war in Ukraine, energy supply has emerged as a key driver, leading countries including Algeria to gain increased significance (Ghafar & al. 2023).

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About the author

Camille Bensiam works at Finabel’s defence & security research department

Meave Buchignani works at Finabel’s legal research department