Yemen's relationship with modern Europe is characterized by the sympathy of the latter with this most poor country. It is a relation that extends to the earlier half or the 20th century, besides the occupation of Britain to the southern part of Yemen from 1839 to 1967, where the European relations moved with the two parts of Yemen to a new stage.
The then newly independent socialist south had established relations with communist Eastern Europe which used to be led by the Soviet Union.
At the same time, western Europe had shown interest in Northern Yemen, since the end of the civil war, and the establishment of the national reconciliation in 1970. The north was politically sympathetic with the west and the conservative Arab countries, as well as keeping distinctive relations with the Soviet Union and China, which it inherited from the era of the former President, Field Marshal Abdullah al-Salal.
As the uninterrupted visits of the southern leaders to Eastern Europe used to be continuous, the first visit of a northern president to a European country was during the reign of the former President Ibrahim al-Hamdi, when he made a state visit to France in 1977, due to an invitation from the former French President Valari Giscard d'Estaing. The visit was a key for a new phase of the north's relationship with Europe, which didn't last due to the assassination of President Al-Hamdi, only three months after his visit.
France opened the door again to northern Yemen in 1984, by the visit of former President Saleh, however no European country had directed any formal invitation for a visit within the next ten years, where the Yemeni and European images had changed during this period. The two Yemens became one country, and the two Europes became one Europe, following the collapse of the communist bloc. After the end of the 1994 war, Europe resumed its interest in Yemen. The access this time was through the support of the economic, financial and administrative reform which the government began its implementation in March 1995.
Since the end of 1994, former President Saleh, had paid several visits at different intervals over the next period to several donating European countries including Germany, France, Britain, Holland and Italy.
Some of these countries had adopted at different periods holding several donation conferences for Yemen, as Europe continued its development support to Yemen, besides the continuous support to the reform program since early 1995. They left most of the military and security support to America.
Europe continued its sympathetic dealing as a great traditional friend in several stages.
The humanitarian side became clear during most of the stages, however it didn't mean that they overlook the disadvantages of President Saleh's reign.
They continued to advice him, but they didn't prefer imposing impossible conditions on his regime for implementing several reforms between 1994-2004, which is the year that all indicators marked the beginning of fast decline in Yemen.
Europe then shifted to the advising, warning stage as well as putting conditions, after noticing the lack for seriousness by President Saleh to carry out reforms, and the impact of this on the government and all its institutions' performance.
The European advices continued, but the most important of them is the one which came earlier from the French spokesperson, following the meeting with Presidents Saleh and Chirak on September 18, 1995, when she said that " President Chirak had expressed appreciation to the efforts for maintaining Yemen's unity. He called for the establishment of a democratic country of law and order in order to proceed in the development policies.
Chirak reminded of the importance of democracy as a necessary element for development. It was clear that Saleh didn't understand this valuable advice which came earlier, for it represents an entire strategic vision to building the Yemeni state, which is outlined by the French spokesperson in few words that express an accurate understanding to the needs of this country.
Fifteen Years later, the British Development Minister spoke during the Yemen Friends Conference in January 2010, before the Foreign Ministers of the Permanent membership countries, GCC countries and the important donating countries to Yemen, held President Saleh responsible, saying that " the solution of Yemen's problems is in his hands and the hands of his government."
He added that his country is looking forward to his leading a reform to all this issues which he mentioned, summing them up in the conflicts and the tension sources, which should be resolved through political reforms. He stressed that the public sector should have the required competence. He also ensured that the corruption indicators arouse concern.
The former Labor Minister had been known for his sympathy with Yemen, because he knows that President Saleh is capable of solving all chronic problems because of the absolute powers he possesses. However, Saleh succeeded in stopping war with the Houthis and failed in all other requirements of London conference, because he was bound with the interests of his relatives and aides as well as a heavy burden of chaos, corruption and nepotism.
It was obvious that the European Union would support the Yemeni people's revolution for change, because like USA and the GCC countries, they came to a final conclusion that Saleh was no longer able to fulfill his commitments of achieving reforms, and there was no way out other than supporting the change revolution in Yemen, in accordance with the provisions of the GCC initiative and its operational mechanisms.
The EU countries seemed more keen than Washington and the GCC countries towards Saleh. They rejected until now to let him enter their territories. They firmly threatened with freezing his assets as well those of his family. This strictness had been eye-catching and surprising because of the friendly relations which linked the three big countries (Britain, Germany and France ) with him and his regime earlier.
Whatever the reasons might be for this strictness, which surprised Saleh himself, the European position was supportive to the Yemeni people's purposes, and it was closer to the humanitarian sympathy and far from the political interests, in comparison with the American position.
That is why the Yemenis today look upon the European Union as a serious and credible supporter to post Saleh Yemen in several development and political fields. This trend appeared during the visits of the German Foreign Minister , and the British and Dutch Development Ministers, for congratulating President Hadi last March. It is a visit that has caused optimism within the Yemeni community.