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Opening markets – helping the Arab revolution

14.07.2011 - Interview

Europe needs to give a helping hand now to reform-minded forces in countries like Tunisia and Egypt by opening its markets. By Minister of State Werner Hoyer

Article by Minister of State Werner Hoyer published in the Financial Times Deutschland on 14 July 2011

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Many people in North Africa see Europe as a role model. They admire Europe as living proof – however sceptical some Europeans may be – that their aspirations for peace, freedom and prosperity can become reality.

If we want to maintain the momentum of the Arab Revolution, we must help ensure that people also have something to look forward to, concrete opportunities in the foreseeable future.

That is why Europe now needs to open its markets and give a helping hand to the forces committed to rule of law, democratic and economic reform in countries like Tunisia and Egypt. What makes Europe so strong internationally is not least its attractiveness as a trading partner and a market. It must use this considerable clout to support the ongoing reform process in the Arab world.

Competitive industrial products from North Africa have at present only limited access, however, to European markets. Agricultural products from North Africa are largely excluded, moreover. Yet given the favourable climate and wage costs, agriculture is the region’s most competitive and labour-intensive sector.

For this reason Germany, the Netherlands and Britain have called on the European Commission and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton to draw up concrete proposals for comprehensive market access for reform-minded countries in North Africa. This is something Germany has been working for since the start of the Arab spring. Our efforts in Brussels have now resulted in a declaration of intent.

But that is not enough. With the transition countries in North Africa the EU should put trade agreements in place as soon as possible that give them expanded access to European markets. This is about providing concrete, visible help to help these countries help themselves. Of course we are aware there will be resistance to such a move within the European Union. From a long-term standpoint we believe it would be a historic mistake, however, if we fail to lend active support to the forces for change in the Arab world. This support must crucially include trade liberalization.

Europe must learn the right lessons now from the refugees arriving at its southern borders. One is the realization that the only way for the countries of North Africa to achieve sustainable economic development is to grant them access to European markets, not hand-outs. Either we start letting people there sell their products and services in European markets or they arrive sooner or later in person on Europe’s doorstep.

Quite apart from that, we know that in the medium to long term we are going to need skilled manpower. For this reason, too, we would be well advised not to see in every migrant an assault on our social security systems. These often highly qualified young people outside Europe have great potential, which we ought to recognize.

In its own best interest and in the interest of its credibility, Europe needs to do more to address these issues.

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