Skip to main content

Human rights the elephant in the room at Arab-EU summit

The first summit of European Union and Arab League leaders exposed existing rifts between the Middle East and Europe, in particular on the human rights front.
European Council President Donald Tusk and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of Egypt, attend a news conference during a summit between Arab league and European Union member states, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany - RC1E39420620

When leaders from the European Union and the Arab League met in Sharm el-Sheikh for their first summit Feb. 24-25, the aim was to "boost cooperation" and "find common ground" on shared challenges in their regions. The issues of terrorism and migration dominated the gathering, convened under the banner “Investing in Stability.” Despite officials hailing the talks as a "new step in EU-Arab relations," no formal agreements were reached, a perhaps not unexpected result given the divisions within both camps and differences between the two blocs on human rights.

The summit was mired in tensions from the onset, with Europe divided over migration and several Arab countries embroiled in an ongoing dispute with Qatar. At a preparatory meeting in Brussels before the summit, Hungary had threatened to block the EU's proposed final declaration, because it opposes cooperating with North African states on migration. Hungary has closed its borders to Middle Eastern and African refugees fleeing conflicts at home, declaring them "economic migrants seeking better lives" and a threat to Hungary and all of Europe. Meanwhile, the rift with Qatar dates back to summer 2017, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt severed ties with the Gulf state, alleging that it supports terrorism and is destabilizing the region.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.