Euro-Mediterranean 2018

Andreu Bassols

Deputy Head of Unit, DG External Relations, European Commission

The creation of a Euro-Mediterranean space is essential to achieve a more united region allowing us to confront, in better conditions, the potential challenges for this Euro-Mediterranean region under construction. Those proposed by the European Union for a not so distant future are significant: peace, democratisation, social and demographic transition, modernisation, employment, sustainable development and collective security, among others. The path covered until the present, from the Barcelona Process and the European Neighbourhood Policy to the Union for the Mediterranean, offers us a global vision of Europe’s permanent interest in the Mediterranean and in the Southern shore of the European continent.

The reader will allow me to undertake an exercise in politics-fiction: Barcelona, year 2018. Coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Union for the Mediterranean, the heads of state of the region meet to assess cooperation which began in 1995 in the city hosting its Secretariat. It is the fifth summit since Paris in 2008. There are criticisms and complaints but also coincidences and a positive evaluation of the progress achieved, the joint institutions created, the work done and the great deal that remains to be done. Since 2008 important changes have taken place: after arduous negotiations, a fair and permanent agreement has been reached in the Middle East. This agreement has given way to a strengthening of regional cooperation between the Euro-Mediterranean partners. Investments have notably grown in Southern Mediterranean countries. The free trade agreements have yielded the creation of the largest free trade zone in the world. The frontiers between all partners are finally open. The human development index in the region shows a clear improvement; poverty is diminishing, employment is increasing. The economic growth and the demographic transition have resulted in an improvement of standards of living in the Maghreb and the Middle East, and the democratic transition has prompted an increase in political participation. The threat of extremism and terrorism is vanishing. The institutions of the Union for the Mediterranean and a proactive European Neighbourhood Policy have helped reach high convergence levels. A multilateral framework has been achieved which includes a collective security system. There is, finally, a renewed aim to achieve greater levels of regional integration.

This would be an incomplete version of the assessment that the Commission and all those who are taking part and will take part in the Union for the Mediterranean would like to make within ten years. This is the vision of a Mediterranean in search of a common future. It is, undoubtedly, an exercise in politics-fiction; not at all comparable, however, to the exercise in political vision and ambition that the fathers of the European project dared to undertake in the 1950s, after a devastating war and the physical and moral destruction of the continent.

Today, some months after the Paris Summit and the Marseilles Meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers in the region, we are still lacking perspective. Within a few years we will be able to make an accurate and exact assessment of the importance of the year 2008 in the construction of a Euro-Mediterranean space. The Union for the Mediterranean was born as a continuation of the Barcelona Process. This represents a major step towards greater Euro-Mediterranean cooperation but, in order to make a positive evaluation in 2018, several ingredients will be necessary along with large doses of political will and determination.

In a speech a political figure recently evoked Jean Monnet and recalled that the great French politician used to say that in his political life he preferred to do something instead of being someone. The Commission has also opted to do something rather than being someone in the Mediterranean. To this end, it has acted through two main instruments: the political and legal instrument of the Association Agreements, and later the European Neighbourhood Policy and the action plans; and the financial instrument of cooperation. I will not go any further, as legitimate as it may be, in detailing what has been achieved since 1995 through these two instruments. I will not refer to the network of concluded Association Agreements, to the implementation of the Euro-Mediterranean free trade zone or to the more than seven thousand million euros committed to bilateral and regional cooperation. However, I do believe it necessary to mention the evolution of the European Mediterranean policies in the last thirteen years to offer a global vision of the permanent interest of Europe in the Mediterranean and in the Southern neighbours of the European continent.

In 1995, the Barcelona Process opened a new stage in Euro-Mediterranean relations. Three main priorities were on the agenda of the countries which adopted the Barcelona Declaration. First, to establish a stable and permanent, contractual and balanced, bilateral framework between the Southern countries and Europe. The result: the Association Agreements. Second, to promote economic modernisation through the signing of free trade agreements forming part of the Association Agreements. Third, to establish a multilateral cooperation framework between all the countries in the region including Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In other words, a framework in favour of peace in the Middle East and to foster regional economic integration.

Nine years later, in 2004, faced with the finalisation of the process of negotiation and conclusion of the Association Agreements and the culmination of the enlargement process for the ten new member states of the European Union, including two Mediterranean partners (Cyprus and Malta), the Commission launched the European Neighbourhood Policy. The aim was to strengthen the bilateral links and agree a joint agenda of approximation, modernisation and reforms for the countries surrounding the European Union, from Morocco to Ukraine. With this initiative, welcomed and adopted by seven of the nine Mediterranean partners (without including Turkey, to which the European Neighbourhood Policy is not applied as it is a candidate for membership of the European Union) and by five of the six Eastern countries, the European Neighbourhood Policy has become, de facto, the bilateral framework of relations, and the Barcelona Process has emerged as the main framework of Euro-Mediterranean multilateral relations.

Finally, in 2008, the Paris Summit represented a new attempt, a new initiative, to reinvigorate multilateral relations. The objective was to endow the Partnership with new institutions of shared governance, and to identify major regional cooperation projects. This has been achieved by preserving all the assets of the Barcelona Process while confirming the validity of its three cooperation chapters: political dialogue, economic cooperation and the socio-cultural dimension.

Could someone say, taking into account the foregoing, that Europe is not interested in the Mediterranean? Three main initiatives in thirteen years: the Barcelona Process, the Neighbourhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean. Three funding instruments: MEDA I, MEDA II and the Neighbourhood Instrument. Two summits: Barcelona 2005 and Paris 2008, along with dozens of sectorial ministerial meetings and those of Foreign Affairs ministers.

If in 2018 the evaluation resembles the exercise in politics-fiction with which I started this summary, they can all feel quite satisfied. The challenges in the next few years are enormous: peace, democratisation, social and demographic transition, economic modernisation, employment, sustainable development; without forgetting the need to overcome the prejudices of a cultural confrontation foreseen by those who seem to desire it. I am convinced that Europe will not give up its aim to get closer to and unite the Mediterranean. It forms part of its strategic interests; it forms part of its present and even more of its future. A more united Europe will undoubtedly be in a better condition to face, together with its Mediterranean partners, the shared challenges of this Euro-Mediterranean region under construction.