Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is to call for a European response to match dramatic political change in North Africa.
In a speech in Brussels he will set out why the European Union needs a radical rethink of its policy towards the region in the wake of popular uprisings which have already toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and now threaten Colonel Gaddafi's regime in Libya.
Mr Clegg says the EU cannot afford to stay neutral, and he intends to use his speech at the UK's EU ambassador's residence to warn that monumental change in North Africa is as much a defining moment of the EU as for the region itself.
In his prepared speech he says: "This is a precious moment of opportunity for the region. Precious because it is the people, especially the young people, who are speaking up, and they are doing so for the most part peacefully and with dignity.
"They are showing that there is more to politics in the region than the choice between repression and extremism."
He continues: "It is precious, but potentially fragile too. There is no certainty about the outcome. This is why Europe must play its part.
"Every day on our television screens, we are witnessing the courage of ordinary people taking to the streets to demand greater freedom. The countries of the EU need to match their bravery and get behind this movement for change. They are creating a new world. We need a new response."
Mr Clegg adds: "What happens in North Africa impacts on every community in Europe. This is happening in our back yard.
"The EU, individual member states, businesses, and civil society - all of us need to step up to the plate. 2011 is certain to be a defining moment for North Africa. But it is a defining moment for Europe, too. I hope together we can rise to the challenge."