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Europe considers gradual resumption of aid to Côte d'Ivoire

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afrol News, 30 May - After having frozen its cooperation after the military coup in 1999, and refused to resume it during the disputed transition to democracy in 2000/2001, the European Union now proposes "a progressive and gradual resumption of the cooperation with Côte d'Ivoire".

The proposal from the EU Commission, issued only yesterday, comes in light of positive signs that the country is becoming more open and democratic. EU scepticism whether the democratisation process is true and lasting however accounts for the "gradualism" of aid resumption - the EU wants to be able to keep its pressure high on Laurent Gbagbo's government, not believed to have majority support in the population. 

- I am glad for the concrete initiatives implemented by the Ivorian authorities, said EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Poul Nielson in a statement. "This proposal to resume aid is the logical consequence of recent democratic progress in Côte d'Ivoire, especially the organisation of open and transparent municipal elections on 25 March 2001," he explained. 

The proposal is awaiting approval from EU governments through the EU Council, where is to be debated within short. In such matters, the EU Council usually follows the advises from the Commission. If approved, the proposal would enable "substantial disbursements" to Côte d'Ivoire in a matter of weeks, observers claim.

In a roundtable briefing Tuesday, Nielson told journalists "The well-organised municipal elections and the participation of the opposition parties and everything relating to that was a major step in the right direction. And this has been almost decisive as a show of willingness and ability to reintroduce democratic principles in the political life of Côte d'Ivoire."

- Our assessment is that we have seen, on a number of the issues, progress, steps taken by the authorities, which make it possible to have a gradual restart of co-operation, said Nielson.

However, there are still a number of points that the EU will monitor carefully, he said. These include the national reconciliation process, dialogue between political parties, and the neutrality of the judiciary "and especially, the investigations concerning violations of human rights that took place in 2000," he said.

Nielson stressed that "a carefully calibrated handling of the process" would continue, but that he expected the Commission's move to resume aid, focusing on the social sectors, and support to institutions and the private sector, would send an important signal to other donors.

- This decision is also important for Côte d'Ivoire, because it has consequences for decisions taken by the IMF and the World Bank concerning their economic support to that country, said Nielson. 

The "gradual resumption" of cooperation therefore underlines the conditionality of the EU's aids. Nielson and the EU Commission are not at all pleased with the overall state of democracy and human rights in Côte d'Ivoire, which experienced severe political riots and government suppression in its transition from military dictatorship to democracy. 

It is still believed that opposition leader and former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara was deprived of a probable victory in the presidential and legislative elections in 2000. The EU and the UN pushed for re-elections, but were somewhat pleased by President Gbagbo's handling of the municipal elections in March 2001, where Ouattara's party was allowed to contest to prove its strength - and won.

Nielson therefore still emphasises on the need for "national reconciliation, a political dialogue between the political parties and the independence of the judiciary." His statement clearly indicates that the EU will continue to monitor Côte d'Ivoire on these points, making a total resumption of aid dependent on further positive trends. 

In the mid-1990s EU aid to Côte d'Ivoire totalled about 100 million euros (90 million US dollars) annually, but since the partial freeze in 1998, it has been running some 10 million euros per year. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other donors also suspended budgetary aid in 1998 over concerns of fraud and mismanagement on the part of the government.

Côte d'Ivoire traditionally has had strong ties to the EU and especially France, a country that spearheaded the EU reactions against Côte d'Ivoire when Robert Guei toppled the democratically elected government in December 1999. A good spirit of cooperation with France and the EU therefore also is seen as prestigious for the Ivorian government and its national popularity.

Sources: EU Commission, IPS and afrol archives

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