20 Years of the Barcelona Process

Senén Florensa

Executive President of the European Institute of the Mediterranean

There is no doubt that 1989 was certainly a historically important year. In 1986, Spain had finally become a member of the European Communities and, among many other things, was struggling to introduce the two differentiated priorities of Spanish foreign policy ─ Latin America and the Arab-Mediterranean world ─, along with its own projection towards Europe, into the incipient common foreign policy. The same year in Catalonia, Barcelona had been chosen to host the 1992 Olympic Games and its government was fully expanding its powers. However, in 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and a new historical period began. In the following years, Germany would define its priorities in the reunification and community enlargement towards Central and Eastern Europe that then re-emerged behind the Iron Curtain. Also in 1989 the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) was created.

In Catalonia, the Parliament passed the law for the creation of the Catalan Institute for Mediterranean Studies. And, at the initiative of the Institute and most Catalan institutions, the Spanish government accepted and adopted the call for a major European policy on the Mediterranean.

The history of the Institute goes hand in hand with Euro-Mediterranean Policy itself, which today we commemorate and that the Institute has always promoted. Allow me to refer to it briefly. There are three turning points in the history of the Institute and Euro-Mediterranean Policy.

The first is 1995, the twentieth anniversary of which we are celebrating this year. The pact between Felipe González and Helmut Kohl enabled the agreement at the Cannes Summit of all European leaders and resulted in the start of a major European policy on the East (Phare and Tacis programmes) in exchange for a major policy on the South: the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership with the start of the Barcelona Process.

Until then there had practically been no European community policy on the Mediterranean because Germany and the Nordic countries ignored it, while Italy, and above all France, saw the presence of other countries as unnecessary competition and a hindrance in a world that they considered their chasse gardée. The policy we proposed was and is another: our great priority has always been the development of the south and east of the Mediterranean and, to achieve this, we need all the strength and capacities of the European Union. While German reunification and the community enlargement proposal sought to move the border between Western Europe and the Russian (then still Soviet) troops 1,000 km towards the East by incorporating those countries into the European community world, the project of the Barcelona Process and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership proposed and still proposes shifting the border of underdevelopment, poverty and instability that horizontally crosses the Mediterranean 1,000 km towards the South, integrating the Maghreb and Middle East countries, as well as Turkey and Israel, into the Euro-Mediterranean world through their partnership (or possible integration in the case of Turkey) into community Europe. 

Thus, the first main turning point was 1995 with the holding in Barcelona of the 1st Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference, whose crucial final declaration meant the start of the Barcelona Process. And along with the Ministerial Conference, and at the request of the European Commission and the Spanish Community Presidency, the Institute organised the 1st Euromed Civil Forum that brought together in Barcelona 1,211 representatives of all civil society levels from 38 countries, which would deeply affect the entire Barcelona Process. The Institute adapted to it by becoming the Catalan Institute of the Mediterranean for Studies and Cooperation that same year, modifying its standing rules to broaden its agenda.  

The second major turning point came in 2002. With the second Spanish Presidency, the Valencia Ministerial Conference reviewed the progress and approved a comprehensive action plan. Once the main association agreements had been signed and the MEDA programmes were underway, the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly was set up, as were the new EIB Mediterranean facility (FEMIP) and Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue Between Cultures, among many other measures of the new action plan. The Institute once again adapted to it and, in order to more deeply participate in Euro-Mediterranean Policy, became the current European Institute of the Mediterranean consortium with the incorporation, alongside the Government of Catalonia, of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Barcelona City Council.

And the third turning point was 2008, with the launch of the Union for the Mediterranean and the decision to locate its Secretariat in Barcelona as the body responsible for channelling major Euro-Mediterranean regional cooperation projects. Hence, a new era of the Euro-Mediterranean project began in which the Institute renewed its strengths and continued to decisively contribute to debating, defining and effectively promoting the development lines of Euro-Mediterranean policy.

Thus, we are today a highly active Institute, with an average in recent years of 108 annual activities in 15 Mediterranean or Euro-Mediterranean cities, along with Barcelona. Some have especially marked the evolution of the Institute and Euro-Mediterranean policy itself, beginning with the major 1995 Euromed Forum; the World Congress on Human Movements and Migration within the Barcelona 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures; the successive North Africa Business Development Forums together with the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Association of the Mediterranean Chambers of Commerce of Industry (ASCAME); the organisation by the IEMed in 2010 of the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES), which brought together in Barcelona 2,500 participants from America, Europe, the Arab world and Asia; the bilateral forums with Turkey in Barcelona, Madrid and Istanbul; and, among many others, the Morocco-European Union series of forums and conferences, repeatedly here in Barcelona and Rabat, which were key for Morocco to achieve the Morocco/EU Advanced Status currently in force. Or, recently, the Economic Forum of the Western Mediterranean jointly organised with the co-presidencies of the 5+5 and the UfM Secretariat.

The IEMed has therefore become a point of reference as a think tankspecialised in Euro-Mediterranean policies and development. The eleventh edition of the IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook is now available. Each year it publishes articles by over 60 authors and we present it at the European Parliament. The Euromed Survey, which we conduct and publish annually at the request of the European Commission, has been released four times and includes the contribution of approximately 800 experts. The quarterly journal afkar/ideas, which monitors and analysesthe current state of the Arab and Euro-Mediterranean world, has reached issue number 45. The publication of PapersIEMed, incisive and informative opinion articles in the “Focus” section, books and other monographs is also of great importance. 

In this respect, Quaderns de la Mediterrània, now in its 15th year, is an outstanding biannual journal of anthropology and thought on intercultural dialogue. The issue we present today, “Mediterranean Challenges / Retos Mediterráneos”, analyses the different fields of action that make up the Barcelona Process. Despite the difficulties, we now have the opportunity to examine the challenges and propose initiatives for a better future in the Euro-Mediterranean region. The dossier examines the diverse areas of cooperation mentioned in the 1995 Barcelona Declaration (economy, energy, transport, gender, communication, and so on) and establishes the bases on which we must face the future in each of these aspects. We have divided the dossier into five sections: the expectations of civil society, an area in crisis, women’s challenges in the Euromed region, media and digital technologies, and socioeconomic and environmental challenges.    

Moreover, since 2010 the IEMed has hosted the Permanent Secretariat of the EuroMeSCo Network, made up today by 98 institutes from 43 Euro-Mediterranean countries working on Mediterranean issues and the IEMed organises and publishes the results of its annual workshops and conferences, recognised and from this year funded by the European Commission. At present, the IEMed is still the coordinator of the Spanish network of the Anna Lindh Foundation, which has 140 associations. 

Are we satisfied? I regret to say not. The results of the Euro-Mediterranean policies we have promoted, along with many others, are important and inadequate in equal measure. The problems we have had to face have been overwhelmingly serious. In 1995 we had hopes for peace in the Middle East that have been painfully and repeatedly dashed. Neither did we honestly expect that before the end of the 20th century we would witness in Europe serious episodes of genocide such as we have seen in the Balkans. 1990s Algeria was an inferno of terrifyingly indiscriminate terrorism. We saw the rise and suppression of the intifadas and the wars and occupations in Lebanon. We opened the new millennium with the collapse of the Twin Towers, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the attacks in London, Madrid and Casablanca. The persistence of the authoritarian regimes in the Arab world, which had failed to observe the commitments to democratisation made in Barcelona in 1995, became unbearable for their citizens.

We must say that, given the outbreak of the Arab Springs and their diverse evolution, the countries that have most followed the path of reform, at least economic and therefore social, of the Barcelona Process (Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan) are those which, one way or another, are succeeding. The citizen revolutions of the Arab world are a cry of hope and provide great opportunities despite also involving, as we are seeing, many pitfalls and dangers. 

It should also be said that Europe’s response to these many problems has clearly been insufficient over the last 25 years, although European policy was aiming in the right direction and, today, with the drama of the current issues throughout the Arab world, and especially in Libya, Syria and Iraq, I would say tragically insufficient. Every year, the European Commission allocates around 1,000 million euros to Euro-Mediterranean cooperation and the European Investment Bank around 2,000 million in soft loans. The figures double if we add Turkey and the Balkans. The reforms put forward are appropriate but Europe’s political weight is quite inadequate. And so the efficacy of its soft power, with a much weaker budget and power of attraction towards partnership than the help and integration offered to the Eastern European countries, is poor, especially in the short and mid-term, faced with the pressing problems of a world in transformation.

This is why we have to clearly state that we are not satisfied and we go on fighting. As we promised in 95, we will continue working as long as we can to build an area of peace and stability, of shared economic progress, dialogue and understanding between the peoples and cultures around the Mediterranean Sea.