MEP Alyn Smith sends SOS to EU Commissioner-Designate Hahn

Scottish Member of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee Alyn Smith has today (Tuesday) used the Commissioner hearings to call for greater and more active EU support for civil society organisations in Europe's southern neighbourhood.

In a wide-ranging hearing with MEPs, Commissioner-Designate Hahn agreed that a number of neighbouring countries, especially Egypt, have not made the progress they should and that he will be actively reviewing EU engagement to protect and promote civil society. Mr Hahn replied that a "colourful civil society" was a "precondition to democracy" and that the EU budget would have to strive to this end.

Alyn said:

"I think we can agree that the EU is better at soft power, and I'd focus on one of the few genuinely common issues across all Neighbourhood countries, the role of the EU in protecting and promoting civil society."

Alyn Smith continued, in reference to Egypt's unprecedented NGO crackdown and the region's overall struggle to develop a strong civil society:

"Many of the neighbourhood countries - and I'm thinking especially of Egypt but it is a common problem - are not just failing to promote civil society, many are actively dismantling it. In your written submissions you foresee a greater role for civil society, and that's very much to be welcomed, but so we can get a sense of you, might I ask for your assessment of how well we've actually done to date?"

The Commissioner-Designate answered that he will report to the Parliament on how the EU can improve its strategy.

The text of Alyn's full question was:

"Commissioner, I think we can agree that the EU is better at soft power than hard, and I'd focus on one of the few genuinely common issues across all Neighbourhood countries, the role of the EU in protecting and promoting civil society. In your written submissions you foresee a greater role for civil society, and that's very much to be welcomed, but so we can get a sense of you, might I ask for your assessment of how well we've done to date?  Many of the neighbourhood countries, and I'm thinking especially of Egypt but it is a common problem, are not just failing to promote civil society, many are actively undermining it. Could I ask for your assessment, and urge you to be more vocal, or else in many countries there might not be much civil society to engage with."

A video of the discussion is available on Alyn's YouTube Channel: