A Brussels diplomatic official has revealed that the European Union’s nascent diplomatic service will be spearheading a new initiative in North Africa to offer some 2,000 “democracy scholarships” in the wake of the continuing regional turmoil. Now that the world is watching the North African and Middle East regions, the idea may pick up speed from the broad international attention toward providing peaceful stability measures with immediate as well as long-term benefits.
The idea for a European-Mediterranean partnership recalls the Union for the Mediterranean, a program launched in 2008 by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Though still an active project, it has met with only lukewarm enthusiasm among EU members, and has been overshadowed by issues such as the global financial crisis, as well as concerns over immigration and whether such a project would yield much strategic payoff for the European bloc.
The European External Action Service, the EU diplomatic arm known in shorthand as the EEAS, has been reported to be taking on the preliminary stages of organizing the scholarship. Promising students will compete for places at prestigious universities throughout Europe. It is believed that the fund aims to send a clear initial signal to young North Africans that the EU supports the broad popular struggle for democratic rule organized in large part by students and other disaffected young people.
The ultimate goal for the scholarship, according to those close to the project, is to set in motion a deeper exchange of democratic ideas via a pattern of “circular migration” among the students’ home countries and the EU.
The fund is targeted to appeal both to young North Africans wanting to study in Europe and those who may simply appreciate the EU’s show of solidarity through pro-democracy educational funding. Budget estimates for the scholarship run as high as 50 million euros.
Applicants from Tunisia and Egypt will be given priority initially, and the planners set the start date for the fund as early as the fall semester of 2011. Reports are unclear as to whether the program will be expanded to include nations currently in the most chaotic days of unrest, such as Libya or other Mediterranean coast states.