Barcelona 2015: Back to the Roots

Alessandra Paradisi

President of Permanent Conference of Mediterranean Audiovisual Operators (COPEAM) Strategic Committee

It must be admitted that the spirit created in 1995 by the so-called Barcelona Declaration, whose main objective involved achieving peace, stability and economic growth in the Euro-Mediterranean region, has lost all its strength. For many and diverse reasons (the attacks of 11 September and the change of international security policies, the economic crisis in Europe, and later the Arab Spring), the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) has completely replaced the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Neither has the birth of the UfM been much help thus far in the development of the political and institutional cooperation in the area. To recover the Barcelona spirit twenty years on, an institutional framework needs to be concretely established based on mutual understanding and joint work between the different Mediterranean countries. For this, the audiovisual media must be able to provide unbiased reporting, avoiding a single point of view. The Permanent Conference of Mediterranean Audiovisual Operators (COPEAM) was born in 1994 with the objective of implementing new and effective forms of cooperation in television, radio and web to promote a new collective imaginary in the Mediterranean, far removed from prejudices and lack of understanding. A successful experience that has embodied the Barcelona vision since the beginning.

Twenty years after Barcelona, we have to admit, Europe has lost its way.   

After a farsighted decision in 1995 that could have allowed us to reach a free trade area in 2010, even the term “Euro-Mediterranean” has progressively disappeared from the official programmes devoted to the region, drowned in the unspecified expression European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Romans said in nomina res and, together with that name, Europe has forgotten its vision, its ambitions and its courage. There have been many “good will” speeches but the truth is that the Euromed Partnership, at this stage, no longer exists. 

The Barcelona Declaration was aimed at achieving peace, stability and growth in the Mediterranean region through a shared political vision for effective economic and social cooperation: an institutional framework for multilateral and bilateral agreements between the European Union and its Southern Mediterranean partners. 

At the beginning of 2000, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, the security approach prevailed in EU policy. The enlargement to eastern and central Europe became the priority and the Mediterranean region was essentially perceived as a safety belt against the risks from other African and Far East regions. 

Europe abandoned its ambitions when in 2003, many years before the European crisis and the “Arab Springs”, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) gave way to the ENP. In the framework of the EU Security doctrine (2003), the Partnership was conceived as follows: if those neighbouring countries are well-governed, Europe is safe from the risks emanating from them (political instability, terrorism, crime networks, irregular immigration and so on). Consequently, the EU decided to change its approach and offered those countries economic assistance, a number of trade liberalisations and a chance to take part in some European programmes in exchange for their internal reforms – both political and economic – and a progressive legislative system fitting with EU rules.  

The ENP is now based on bilateral, not multilateral, Action Plans signed by the EU and its neighbouring countries. The implementation of such Action Plans relies on a financial instrument: the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), fed with about 12 billion Euros for the 2007-2013 period (for the whole neighbourhood area, including Russia). 

The constructive French attempt to replace the ENP with the “Union ofthe Mediterranean” to re-launch a real economic and political institutional cooperation did not succeed. Several reasons lie beneath this failure and, unfortunately, the French mistake was that of taking on this initiative without preparing the ground, both with its natural allies (Italy and Spain) and potential sceptical countries (i.e. Germany).

Such a lack of preparation lay alongside other geo-political reasons prevailing in the EU, obliging the promoters to rename the initiative the “Union for the Mediterranean”, on 13 July 2008, and to transform it into an intergovernmental initiative. Nothing compared to the Barcelona spirit.

Naturally, we should not neglect the 2008 events in the Gaza Strip, the European economic crisis and, later, the fall of the Egyptian Arab regime (one of the main partners of the UfM), but the roots of the problem were not really there. In 2011, the European Commission and the High Representative of the EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy launched a revision of the ENP, even if its previous results (12 billion Euros in 2007-2013) had not been so brilliant in terms of stability, prosperity and security. 

History has shown once again that economic and financial cooperation cannot produce cohesion and stability in the area, if it is not related to a coherent institutional framework

The new ENP stressed the utilitarian approach with the so-called “more for more” formula: more reforms, more money (even if for the 2011-2013 period, the EU allocated only 5 billion Euros to its neighbourhood policies). Thus, history has shown once again that economic and financial cooperation cannot produce cohesion and stability in the area, if it is not related to a coherent institutional framework. The so-called Arab Spring and the economic and financial crisis only gave rise to critical situations submerged in a substantial status quo. 

I apologise if this synthesis results in radical statements, but this in short is what has been happening and I think it is very important to be clear to avoid repeating the same mistakes and to achieve some concrete results through a renewed partnership. Big problems call for big decisions: we need to rethink Euro-Mediterranean relations lucidly, first by restoring the original institutional framework recognizing its own specificity. 

In the spirit of Barcelona since its beginning (1994), the Permanent Conference of Mediterranean Audiovisual Operators (COPEAM) has helped to make the Mediterranean audiovisual sector a powerful vehicle for the promotion of mutual knowledge and cultural debates and dialogue, for the circulation and sharing of artistic and intellectual works, as well as an instrument for the fight against ostracism, self-withdrawal, xenophobia and all forms of fundamentalism. I especially want to recall these opening words of the Cairo Resolution adopted by COPEAM in its 2009 conference: an Action Plan conceived around 10 main projects. The purpose was to implement innovative and emblematic forms of cooperation in the domains of television, radio and web and this is still the case, not in the sole interest of COPEAM but of the whole audiovisual sector. In particular:

  • developing and promoting Euro-Mediterranean audiovisual production through the creation of a fund supporting Mediterranean co-productions; 
  • facilitating the circulation of audiovisual contents through the setting up of web and satellite platforms; 
  • structuring the Mediterranean Audiovisual Landscape by safeguarding Mediterranean Cultural Heritage (i.e. digitisation of TV and radio archives; a Mediterranean Media Observatory); 

Several projects were launched after the adoption of this Resolution and were successfully carried out thanks to the Euromed Audiovisual Programme. I am referring to Terramed Plus (the first Euro-Mediterranean TV programmes platform on the satellite web); to EuroMed-News (the first transnational newsroom); and to Med-Mem (the first portal devoted to Mediterranean audiovisual memories). A data collection project was also developed in the framework of the EuropeAid Capacity Building Support Programme as the embryo of a possible future Mediterranean Media Observatory. Other initiatives were undertaken thanks to the autonomous economic engagement of COPEAM broadcaster members, such as radio and TV co-productions (Inter-Rives, Kantara, Mediterradio) currently on air. 

All these have been successful programmes that were able to be implemented with a strong political support providing the Mediterranean audiovisual industry with more legitimacy, dynamism and influence. 

In other words, a strategic political engagement aimed at integrating professionals in a without-borders community based on mutual understanding and common work; a powerful network of ideas, proposals and concrete actions that has given hundreds of young people a vision of peaceful coexistence.   

The more destruction we face, the more bridges we need: being able to “speak Mediterranean” means a wide range of programmes capable of “narrating” this mosaic of cultures and beliefs.  

The more destruction we face, the more bridges we need: being able to “speak Mediterranean” means a wide range of programmes capable of “narrating” this mosaic of cultures and beliefs

Mediterraneo stands for pluralism and diversity; the ability to live in such a continuously changing and turbulent world also depends on the images, sounds and emotions spread by the media and on their capacity to inform without prejudices, without imposing a unique point of view.

We need to rebuild a common imaginary, to overcome the rift of incomprehension, to re-establish a real dialogue among people, respecting all differences. To this end, EU programmes such as Euromed Audiovisual need to be re-launched as tools for intercultural understanding.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo taught us a lesson: the masses (both on the northern and southern shores of the region) often have different perceptions from the establishment. We have to listen carefully to their voices, especially those we prefer not to hear.

We have to look at the reality and speak about what is working and what could work: not only Isis, not only deaths, not only extremisms, not only illegal immigration. Obviously, the “war economy” is very profitable in the region, but this is the challenge of our time and this is also the real challenge of Barcelona 2015: defeating the lords of war (and their by-products, such as terrorism and regional conflicts) through co-development, social reforms and the courage of dialogue.

We just have to suddenly restart from Barcelona.