Brussels - European Union foreign ministers agreed Wednesday to suspend the delivery of any equipment to Egypt that could be used against protesters at emergency talks in Brussels.
The talks were held after hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed this month in an Egyptian police crackdown on protest camps in Cairo demanding the reinstatement of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, who was removed by the army in July.
“This collective EU position sends a very clear and determined signal to Egypt for an end to the violence and the return to a political process that includes all different political forces,” said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
The ministers stopped short of an EU weapons ban, but decided to review all exports under the bloc's code of conduct, which restricts deliveries to countries undergoing internal strife or human rights abuses. This effectively puts a stop to military deliveries.
Countries including Germany, France, Britain and the Netherlands have already suspended weapons supplies.
The 28 EU members “agreed to suspend export licences to Egypt of any equipment which might be used for internal repression.” Examples could include water cannon, barbed wire or truncheons.
Europe is treading carefully in its efforts to criticize the recent upsurge of violence, while keeping open communication channels and showing support for the Egyptian people.
“The EU condemns in the clearest possible terms all acts of violence,” ministers said in a statement. Egyptian security force operations had been “disproportionate,” they said, while also condemning “acts of terrorism.”
The ministers also decided to review a 5-billion-euro (6.7-billion-dollar) aid package agreed last year, “on the basis of Egypt's commitment to the principles that underpin” it. Very little of the money has flowed, due in part to a lack of democratic reform.
They decided that “assistance in the socio-economic sector and to civil society will continue,” to avoid harming the most vulnerable groups in Egyptian society.
Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said EU aid to Egypt was so low that “clearly, we do not have economic leverage,” but her German counterpart was less pessimistic.
“It is clear to us that of course European influence is limited, but it cannot be underestimated,” Westerwelle said, adding that the country's economic future was dependent on a return to political stability.
“Egypt knows, especially in the context of its own economic development, what it has in Europe,” the German minister added. “That cannot be compensated by one, two or three Gulf states,” he said, in reference to some countries' offers to step in if the EU withdraws financial support.
The United States has suspended joint military exercises with Egypt and delayed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets over the deadly crackdown. It has not withheld annual military aid of more than 1 billion dollars to the Egyptian army.
On Thursday, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders is to start a two-day visit to Egypt, Belga news agency reported. He plans to meet his Egyptian counterpart Nabil Fahmi, Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi, opposition representatives and non-governmental organizations.