Why has the EU decided in favor of sending $160-million aid to Eritrea without any conditions despite widespread opposition from many quarters including the Eritrean civic and political opposition, the US government, and several human rights groups?
by Michael Abraha
Q & A with Mehret Gebreyesus, Foreign Affairs Head of the Eritrean Democratic Party (EDP)
Q: Why has the EU decided in favor of sending $160-million aid to Eritrea without any conditions despite widespread opposition from many quarters including the Eritrean civic and political opposition, the US government, and several human rights groups?
A: As we know the EU has had a bad experience in Eritrea with the expulsion of its representative a few years ago. The general feeling among EU’s membership is, therefore, it is important that the Commission continue its presence in the country as sort of a mediator and human rights reporter (the Commission together with only a handful of member states are present in Eritrea). They also feel that it is important to have a dialogue, even though it has so far not led to any major changes. A spokesperson for Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development Aid, said …”that while the human rights situation in Eritrea was of great concern to the Commission, engagement is the best response and we keep our policy under review.”
Q: What message is the EU sending to the Eritrean people and their government which is widely recognized as the worst violator of human and democratic rights in Africa?
A: I think that the message that the EU intends or hopes to send is that its assistance is an expression of good will and the desire to stay engaged with the government despite its dismal governance and human rights record. However, they are starting to be more conscious of the bad image it gives them and the pressure of the numerous complaints that EU’s foreign policy towards Africa is suffering a lot from double standards, especially with regard to Commissioner Louis Michels Office.
Q: Why does the EU think quiet diplomacy would work for Eritrea and not for Zimbabwe?
A: Good question. I don't really have an answer to why the EU treats Zimbabwe different than Eritrea but I think it has got to do with the regional issues of the Horn. The EU’s strategy is to have a coordinated approach in addressing the region’s problems and is very cautious in singling out any one member state for more radical treatment –one way or the other. Some say also that it may have something to do with the fact that white Europeans are suffering in the hands of Mugabe.
Q: There was, doubtless, a massive drive especially from the Eritrean Diaspora and global human rights bodies questioning the wisdom of giving unconditional aid to the Eritrean government, albeit without success. Was the effort worth it? Could the campaign have been waged in a better way?
A: I wouldn’t say that the campaign was not successful. First, the purpose of the campaign was only that aid should go to the Eritrean people directly or at least with some pre-conditions that enable the EU to monitor how the funds are used. We have conveyed that message strongly and we know that the European Commission feels public scrutiny and is aware of the dilemma it is letting itself into. The massive media coverage that preceded the approval has definitely put the issue on the European Agenda. This was not the case prior to the public protest. The other way to look at it is the fact that the Eritrean government is now denied the luxury of isolation. With every disbursement of these funds there will be a direct encounter with the EU and no doubt questions related to human rights and governance will be raised. Who knows, may be the “engagement” Louis Mitchell strongly believes in will have some positive impact.