Skip to main content

EU and Egypt sign 7.4 bn euro deal focussed on energy, migration

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the capital Cairo
— Cairo (AFP)

The European Union and Egypt on Sunday signed a 7.4-billion-euro financial package to support the indebted north African country, boost energy sales to Europe and stem irregular migrant flows.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was joined in Cairo by the leaders of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and Italy for the signing ceremony with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The strategic partnership deal includes billions in credit over coming years and stepping up gas and other energy flows to help Europe "move further away from Russian gas", said a senior European Commission official.

Von der Leyen said that "today we elevate the relationship between the EU and Egypt to a Strategic and Comprehensive Partnership and we agree on a package ranging from trade and investment to low carbon energy, managing migration, and education, culture and youth".

The agreement includes five billion euros in loans over four years, 1.8 billion euros in investment and hundreds of millions for bilateral projects including on migration, said the European official.

This photo taken on March 13, 2024 by international humanitarian organization SOS Mediterranee shows a miggrant rescue operation by the Ocean Viking vessel in the Libyan search and rescue region in international waters

Egypt, mired in a painful economic crisis, borders war-battered Libya and the centres of two ongoing conflicts -- the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip and Sudan's war between the regular armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

"Egypt is a critical country for Europe today and for the days to come," the commission official said earlier, speaking on condition of anonymity and pointing to Egypt's "important position in a very difficult neighbourhood".

Egypt already hosts around nine million migrants and refugees, including four million Sudanese and 1.5 million Syrians, the UN's International Organization for Migration says.

The EU official said the deal includes steps to cooperate on "security, counter-terrorism cooperation and protection of borders, in particular the southern one" with Sudan.

The Gaza Strip, where Israel is at war with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas since the October 7 attack, "will not be the main focus but will be part of the discussion" in Cairo, the official added.

- 'Eliminating irregular migration' -

The EU chief and five European leaders visited cash-strapped Egypt on March 17 to announce a 7.4-billion-euro financial package

The delegation included three Mediterranean leaders -- Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, her Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides.

They were joined by Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country currently holds the EU's presidency.

"We need to be partners in eliminating irregular migration," said De Croo, adding that this could be done by "creating perspectives and jobs for the young generation to eliminate the root causes".

The agreement follows several controversial deals the EU has sealed with Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania to stem the flow of irregular migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.

The EU's border agency Frontex recorded last year nearly 158,000 migrant arrivals in Europe via the dangerous sea route, up by 50 percent on the previous year.

The trend has sparked rising anti-immigrant rhetoric in Europe and gains for right-wing populist parties in several EU nations.

Illegal migrants from Nigeria are being deported from Libya which borders Egypt during an operation in January

Human rights groups have strongly condemned the deals with authoritarian governments.

US-based Human Rights Watch said it had documented "arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees by Egyptian authorities".

HRW criticised what it labelled "the EU's cash-for-migration-control approach", saying it "strengthens authoritarian rulers while betraying human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and activists whose work involves great personal risk".

Egypt stresses that migrant boats have not sailed from its coast since 2016, although Egyptians still arrive in Europe by sea, mostly via Libya or Tunisia to Italy.

- Dire economic crisis -

Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, is in dire need of financial help as it weathers a severe economic crisis marked by rapid inflation.

Egypt's economy has been hit hard by a series of economic shocks

The International Monetary Fund this month agreed an $8 billion loan package after Cairo implemented reforms including a flexible exchange rate and raised interest rates.

Egypt's economy, dominated by military-linked enterprises and recently focused on infrastructure mega-projects, has been hit hard by a series of economic shocks.

They include attacks by Yemen's Huthi rebels on Red Sea shipping that have slashed Suez Canal revenues which are among the main sources of foreign currency for Egypt.

The country's external debt has ballooned to nearly $165 billion, and the cost of servicing it is expected to reach $42 billion this year.