Page last updated at 19:03 GMT, Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Ashton accused of 'playing second violin' on Egypt

The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs Baroness Ashton has been accused of "playing second violin" in the EU's response to the violence in Egypt.

Cypriot Christian democrat Ioannis Kasoulides made the accusation during a debate on 2 February 2011 on the situation in Egypt and in Tunisia.

Baroness Ashton called for an "orderly transition of power and a far-reaching transformation" of Egypt.

She said that the EU - as a union of democracies - had a "democratic calling" to listen to the people who wanted change.

However many MEPs accused her of being slow to react to the crisis, and not taking a stronger line against the government of President Hosni Mubarak.

Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt said the EU had "failed to give unreserved support to the protesters", and drew parallels with the revolutions that swept eastern Europe at the end of the 19801.

Meanwhile Green leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit said he hoped a "third way" was appearing between theocracies and democracies, and rejected Baroness Ashton's "call for calm".

Fighting has continued in Cairo between supporters and opponents of Mubarak, who has been in power for 30 years, and who has said he will not seek re-election in September.

The UN estimates that around 300 people have died across the country after a week of violence.

A number of MEPs, including British MEP Charles Tannock and Greek MEP Niki Tzavela raised concerns that Muslim extremists could fill the void, with Ms Tzavela warning against a similar situation to the Iranian revolution that saw the dictatorship of the Shah replaced by the era of the Ayatollahs.

Tunisian development

Baroness Ashton also made reference to January's violence in Tunisia and the overthrow of former President Ben Ali in the so-called "Jasmine Revolution".

Former critics of Ben Ali, including the leader of Tunisia's main Islamist movement Rachin Ghannouchi, have returned to Tunisia after years in exile.

The constitution says a new presidential election must be held within 60 days.

In the meantime parliamentary Speaker Foued Mebazaa has been sworn in as interim president and has asked Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi to form a national unity government.

Baroness Ashton told the Parliament that the EU had agreed to provide technical and legal assistance to help with the transitionary period.

A vote on a resolution setting out the European Parliament's positions on Tunisia was passed at the daily voting session on 3 February 2011, with a vote on Egypt due to take place during the Strasbourg plenary session later in the month.

Read Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work here.


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