Europe has taken too little interest in the political path of its southern neighbours, argues Fabrizio Tassinari.
An old Moroccan legend has it that the people of Andalusia, in Southern Spain, once complained to king Alexander of Macedonia about the continuing pillaging at the hands of the north African Berbers. The king ordered his best engineers to dig a huge channel between Spain and Africa. The Strait of Gibraltar thus came to be and the Andalusians lived in security happily ever after.
In the face of the momentous popular upheaval shaking north Africa, Europe is still living the fairy tale. At a meeting on 31 January, EU foreign ministers reached out to the new authorities in post-Ben Ali Tunisia and expressed their support for an "orderly transition" in Egypt. But the message during recent years has been something strikingly different: Europe has neither encouraged democratic transformation nor prioritised reforms in the region. Much like the Andalusians, the paramount objective has been to keep north Africa at arm's length from Europe.