Historic moment: Time for Europe to offer the Arab World a "Marshall Plan"?

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There is a dawning in Europe. A growing awareness that events have thrown up one of history's moments.

The German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, said the awakening in the Arab world was a "historic watershed". "Nothing," in his view, "will be as it was before".

The UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said it was "a historic test for the EU". If democracy and stability could take root in North Africa then it would be "the greatest achievement for the EU since enlargement". He was referring to the events after 1989, when the broken-down countries of Eastern Europe were gradually lifted up and folded into mainstream Europe.

Everyone recognises that in the cities of North Africa something has been unleashed that cannot be contained. It is in part a yearning for freedom, but it is also incoherent. And in its incoherence opportunity mingles with fear. For if those countries freed of their autocratic leaders descend into chaos then there are risks to Europe.

"If we don't succeed," said Hague,"the dangers to the EU of instability or extremism on our frontiers are immense". The Italians are warning of the risk of "hundreds of thousands of people crossing into Europe". Their foreign minister Franco Frattini said "we have to mobilise European funds...because frankly speaking, if you allow economies in their countries to collapse, we will be paying the price"....

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