The EU's foreign ministers have reacted to the ongoing bloodshed in Egypt with a joint resolution: no more weapons exports to the North African country. And they repeated the demand for talks.
Europe's politicians have been watching the violence in Egypt with a growing sense of shock and helplessness. The bloody confrontations between the military and Muslim Brotherhood supporters have cost the lives of hundreds of people in the past week.
Because of the escalating violence, European foreign ministers hastily convened a summit on Wednesday (21.08.2013), and decided to stop the EU's planned weapons exports to Egypt. In fact, any equipment for the security forces is now to be withheld.
In a written statement, the politicians said it would "suspend export licenses to Egypt of any equipment which might be used for internal repression." According to the official report, EU export licenses for weapons and military equipment to Egypt came to 303 million euros ($406 million) in 2011. France and Spain are Europe's biggest exporters of military aircraft, for instance with deals worth as much as 102 million euros.
"The European Union must not offer any aid that could help either the Muslim Brotherhood or the military," Elmar Brok, MEP and chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, told DW. But that, he admits, limits the EU's room for maneuver in the Egyptian crisis. The conflict was being carried out with such deep emotion and brutality, "that the EU cannot achieve much with symbolic gestures."
Egyptians need a signal
Brok says the stop to weapons exports is the EU's attempt to try to help de-escalate the situation in Egypt, and hopes it will have some effect: that it would reduce atrocities on both sides and so encourage dialogue. Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, travelled to Egypt on July 17 and 29, hoping - along with Bernardino Leon, the EU's special representative for the Southern Mediterranean - to encourage political dialogue between the conflicting sides. But no peaceful solution could be found.
Ahead of the meeting in Brussels, some EU governments - including Germany - had suggested possible cuts to Egypt's development aid. But Michael Gahler, an EU parliamentarian on the foreign affairs committee, said this would have too much of an impact on the civilian population. "The European Union should continue the projects that directly help the population, for instance in the areas of education or health. That would be a clear signal for the people in Egypt."
Biggest danger: radicalization
He fears, too, that the situation will only get worse if the Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed. "Then there would be a danger that they could radicalize," he said. The conflicting sides, meanwhile, should find a way back to national dialogue and democracy, while the EU should refrain from taking any side, but support the people and help form a democratic state.
"It is up to us to call on all parties to find a national dialogue and a course which makes it possible to lead the country back to normality," said Gahler.
In order to prevent further escalation, he added, the EU's only means of applying pressure is economic. "The EU will harm Egypt if it allows the insecurity in the country to last. We Europeans are the most important investors," he said, and the EU was Egypt's most important partner when it came to development aid. Investors would be deterred if the political situation did not improve, he said.
In their joint statement, the foreign ministers condemned the violence and called on Egyptians to end the escalating spiral. The EU, it said, should try to remain a constructive player, doing what it could to promote dialogue.