2011 was a tumultuous year in which the EU recovered from its surprise at the Arab Awakening, regrouped, and began revamping the ENP. 2012 should therefore have been the year in which the preparatory work was consolidated and Europe moved to a new, more political approach with the changed Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. But it didn’t quite turn out that way. Although the EU now has ENP action plans for Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, and Tunisia, the onus remained on programmatic support for a broad aspiration to support democratic transitions. The EU failed to bring its significant influence to bear in other ways such as through political, diplomatic, and security engagement.

The EU appeared to conceive of its response only within the framework of its neighbourhood policy, when stronger, more frank and strategic relationships at a political level might have achieved much more. Thus it tends to focus its energies largely on improving the technical aspects of cooperation, usually engaging politically with the leaders in the region – both longstanding and new – as part of set-piece dialogues with little broader impact. The EU–Arab League Ministerial meeting in November was a case in point. Meanwhile, member states have jockeyed with one another to deepen their bilateral ties and understanding with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia. However, the joint visit of the Bulgarian, Polish, and Swedish foreign ministers, on behalf of the High Representative, to Lebanon and Iraq in June showed both a united European front and a willingness to move to a more political collective relationship.

More candid diplomats acknowledge that there remains a lack of vision about what the EEAS can do in the MENA region. There are some notable exceptions to this rule such as in Yemen, where the active EU delegation has identified a niche for itself in supporting the aid aspects of the GCC transition plan and in cooperating closely with the “Group of 10” national embassies that are influential in the country, which includes the UK and France from within the EU. But in general, given Europe’s geographical, diplomatic, and commercial assets in relation to the region, there was potential for better results than were achieved on EU policy in the Middle East and North Africa in 2012. This year, European diplomats no longer had the excuse that there was no clear role for international actors until transitions got underway.

In Libya, Europeans put considerably fewer resources into supporting the process of state building after the intense focus there during the intervention in 2011. In Egypt and Tunisia there was genuine demand for Europe to take a more influential role instead of allowing the US to be in the strategic driving seat, but the EU did not take that opportunity. The most visible aspect of EEAS activity in these countries has been the task forces that have now met in Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan. As investment conferences, they proved quite effective, but their willingness to accept the sidelineling of political reform , particularly in the case of Egypt and Jordan, set a problematic precedent for a longer-term strategy to support the development of democracy in these countries.  

Clearly, European influence in the region was limited by austerity. Leaders in the southern Mediterranean region say in private that they would welcome a more strategic relationship with the EU, but the EU needs to “pay to play”. But even taking into account the euro crisis, European contributions – the promise of money, markets, and mobility – have been disappointing. They are perceived on the southern side of the Mediterranean as incommensurate with the scale of the challenges that the post-revolutionary Arab countries face. The EU also struggled to press collectively for political reform in non-transition countries, particularly in Algeria, Jordan, and Morocco, where various member states such as France, Spain, and the UK have strong bilateral ties.

The most serious crisis of the year was of course the ongoing civil war in Syria. While Russian and Chinese positions at the UN blocked the possibility of a united international response, the EU – together with the US – also failed to fully back political efforts and contributed towards the curtailing of much-needed diplomatic channels and non-UN-based problem solving. The EU strongly welcomed the creation in Doha in November of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and by December most states had recognised it as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. At the end of the year there were some indications that France and the UK might be willing to move towards arming the rebels in 2013, though this is only likely to occur if the US decides to support the effort.

When Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence in Gaza in November, the EU came out in support of Israel’s right to defence almost immediately but it was unable to play a mediating role or engage when Arab leaders went to Gaza because their hands were tied by their policy on Hamas. The successful Palestinian bid for observer state status at the UN in late November again exposed divisions among EU member states. Those that abstained, including Germany and the UK, were left disappointed a day later when Israel announced the construction of thousands of new homes in settlements. However, the year ended more positively with an agreement in principle among EU parties, spearheaded by Germany, to reactivate the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) at Rafah in order to support development in the Gaza Strip.

The EU had a better story to tell in relation to Iran. It led the E3+3 process and adopted two sets of sanctions in January and October that sent a clear and consistent signal about the importance that Europeans (alongside the US) place on the dismantling of the Iranian weapons programme. Although the EU was led by France, Germany, and the UK on Iran, other states, notably Greece, Italy, and Spain, made important contributions by diversifying their oil imports in order to make the embargo bite when it came into force in the second half of the year. However, European unity and resolve did not produce a change of course by the Iranian regime. Meanwhile, the sanctions are weighing heavily on the wider population of Iran, who are now suffering from high inflation, the spiralling costs of basic commodities and energy, and increasing shortages of essential items.

Regional Issues - Grade: C
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
52 - Rule of law, democracy and human rights in the MENA region 2/5 2/5 4/10 8/20 C
53 - Financial instruments 3/5 2/5 5/10 10/20 C+
54 – Security sector reform 2/5 1/5 2/10 5/20 D+


North Africa - Grade: B-
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
55 - Tunisia 4/5 4/5 7/10 15/20 B+
56 - Egypt 4/5 3/5 5/10 12/20 B-
57 - Libya 4/5 2/5 5/10 11/20 B-
58 - Algeria and Morocco 2/5 2/5 3/10 7/20 C-


Levant - Grade: C+
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
59 - Syria 3/5 3/5 2/10 8/20 C
60 - State building in Palestine 4/5 3/5 7/10 14/20 B+
61 - Jordan 3/5 3/5 4/10 10/20 C+
62 - Middle East Peace Process and State Building in Palestine 3/5 3/5 3/10 9/20 C+


Persian Gulf - Grade: C+
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
63 - Iran 5/5 4/5 3/10 12/20 B-
64 - Yemen 4/5 3/5 5/10 12/20 B-