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Regional Issues

34 - Rule of law, human rights, and democracy in the MENA region

Grade: C
Unity 2/5
Resources 3/5
Outcome 3/10
Total 8/20
Scorecard 2012: C+ (10/20)
Scorecard 2013: C (8/20)
Scorecard 2014: C+ (9/20)

EU states remained united in straightforward relationships but a growing group were inclined not to challenge MENA countries of significant strategic interest.

The EU’s objectives on the rule of law, democracy, and human rights are unchanged from 2013, but the operating environment has become more complex. The aim of protecting fundamental rights in countries in which transitions are taking place applied only to Tunisia in the second half of 2014 (after Yemen’s transition took a turn for the worse in August with the Houthi capture of the capital). Sweden and Germany, in particular, have continued to take this role seriously in Tunisia, with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier hosting the Tunisian prime minister and foreign minister for a second round of intergovernmental consultations on the issue in Berlin in June.

In non-transition states, the EU aims to push the governing regimes towards political reform, and it aims to maintain a consistent line on the rule of law with the Gulf States and Iran. These obligations have been fulfilled in a minimal way with critical statements at certain moments, such as the High Representative’s statement on the imminent execution of Reyhani Jabbari in October, but are often secondary to other strategic interests with the country in question. Just as in 2013, the EU’s reluctance to challenge flagrant violations in Egypt, such as the mass trials of protestors in spring and summer, have coloured perceptions of the EU’s commitment to its principles in this region. Egypt is such a key player that the choices that the EU makes there resonate across neighbouring countries, carrying a clear message about what the EU is prepared to tolerate.

Finally, the EU calls for accountability for human rights abuses where there is conflict. While EU statements, including at the Geneva II conference in January, have underlined this commitment, its limited intake of those affected by the refugee crisis resulting from conflict in the MENA region has to some extent undermined it. Member states were divided on whether to support Palestinian calls for Israel to be referred to the International Criminal Court following the Gaza conflict this year.