Education is a sector that all Euro-Mediterranean countries recognise needs to be on top of the cooperative regional agenda if fostering closer relations across the Mediterranean area is to be achieved. However, since the launching of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in November 1995, the educational field has not received the attention that is necessary to enhance closer cooperation between Europe and the Mediterranean.
In order to address this shortcoming, the European Commission, together with its member states, needs to trigger both public and private stakeholders to work hand-in-hand with a long-term perspective to attract a larger number of Arab students to European shores and vice-versa. This will of course require an updating of procedures for visas, making them more user-friendly for such a category of professionals.
The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership: Union for the Mediterranean that commenced in July 2008 is also seeking to add momentum to cooperation in the field of higher education by implementing a plan of action that will witness the launching of a substantial scholarships scheme for university students from Euro-Mediterranean Partnership countries and an increase in mobility grants for higher education staff.
Future Euromed programmes need to ensure that people-to-people interaction is at the forefront, especially among young people. It is essential that a much larger number of students from the Arab world be given the opportunity to study at EU universities. The Bologna Process must be made functional to them. The same goes for joint EU-Arab research projects. The EU must introduce a package of programmes that seeks to tap into the wealth of intelligence in the Euromed region via scholarships, seminars, and other initiatives. The Euromed Education Ministerial that took place in Cairo in June 2007 has started to serve as a catalyst in this regard.
When it comes to diplomatic training, Malta has already established itself as a regional centre of excellence in the Mediterranean through its educational and training institution, the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies (MEDAC) at the University of Malta, where over 500 graduates from 41 countries have been trained in the last 18 years. Since 1996, MEDAC, together with the European Commission and the Maltese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has also been responsible for coordinating the Euro-Mediterranean Information and Training Seminars, or as they have become more commonly known, the Malta Seminars, which are an official confidence-building mechanism of the Barcelona Process where more than 1,000 diplomats have had the opportunity to interact and openly discuss Euro-Mediterranean issues.
Malta’s active participation in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is perhaps best described as an extension of its co-operative security philosophy. It should also be regarded as a tangible contribution to creating a Euro-Mediterranean region based upon the attributes of positive diplomacy.
The main factor that should move European and Mediterranean states closer together in future is the mutual security interests they share
The Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean (BP: UfM) offers Europe and the international community an opportunity to carry out a strategic reassessment that will allow for more political attention and economic resources to be directed towards upgrading stability and opportunities across the Mediterranean.
The proposal to establish a Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) with a focus on education must be welcomed, as it has again helped focus international attention on a very important geo-strategic crossroads of different civilizations and a crucial post-Cold War theatre of operations. The BP: UfM should not be perceived as a fixed concept but a work in progress –the objective is to create a ‘Barcelona Plus’ situation where Euro-Mediterranean relations are truly re-launched on a more solid footing.
The main factor that should move European and Mediterranean states closer together in future is the mutual security interests they share: Euromed political, economic and cultural cooperation must be strengthened if stability is to be secured in future.
In February 2009, the EU Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, announced that Erasmus Mundus, the European co-operation and mobility programme that supports academic excellence and the attractiveness of European higher education worldwide and fosters cooperation with third countries, is entering a new phase with a substantially increased budget and a wider scope.
In the period of 2004-2008, Erasmus Mundus and the Erasmus Mundus External Cooperation Windows offered more than 10,000 scholarships to students and academics from all over the world, with a combined budget of 609 million euros. The programme offered the opportunity to third-country students to obtain a degree in Europe, and to academics to share know-how and to contribute to study programmes through teaching or research activities whilst avoiding the brain drain and favouring vulnerable groups. Thanks to these exchanges, and through cooperation with non-EU partner countries, the programme also made a significant contribution to the enhancement of intercultural dialogue and to the sustainable development of higher education in third countries.
A road map that stipulates short, medium, and long-term phases of region-building is necessary if progress is to be registered in establishing a Euro-Mediterranean community of values
The Erasmus Mundus programme (2009-2013) will fully integrate the former Erasmus Mundus External Cooperation Windows and continue to support partnerships between EU and non-EU higher education institutions as a basis for mobility among students and academics.
The European Commission has confirmed that between 2009 and 2013, the EU would increase its support to the most talented students and professors from countries outside the EU with grants to take part in joint programmes in Europe. It will also extend the scope of the programme to the doctoral level. The expected budget for Erasmus Mundus will be an indicative amount of 950 million euros from 2009 to 2013, a significant increase over previous years.
The key reason to support the Union for the Mediterranean initiative is that it is in both the EU and the Mediterranean states’ interests for the UfM to succeed given the indivisibility of security between Europe and the Mediterranean. Across the Mediterranean, geopolitical and geo-economic indicators are not as positive as they can be. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is lacking, intra-Mediterranean trade remains limited, and north-south economic and educational disparities are resulting in a permanent poverty curtain across the Mediterranean. Moreover, the demographic time-bomb continues to escalate, unemployment continues to increase, illegal migration has reached alarming levels, illiteracy remains at very high levels, and an escalation of ongoing conflicts remains a serious concern.
When it comes to addressing Euro-Mediterranean security challenges, the list of threats and risks is a daunting one. The plethora of security challenges associated with the north-south debate includes illegal migration, terrorism, religious intolerance and the lack of human rights.
Both the EU and the Arab world need a critical reassessment of regional cooperation. Regional cooperation is not an aim in itself. It has to be pursued with a clear strategy, clearly defined objectives and instruments to advance long-term objectives, and a clear sense of priorities. What sort of regional cooperation makes sense? Where is there a chance of advancing?
In the case of the Mediterranean, the task of overcoming the obstacles that are hampering regional cooperation must consist of better management of ongoing regional efforts and more effective monitoring of goals being sought.
A road map that stipulates short, medium, and long-term phases of region-building is necessary if progress is to be registered in establishing a Euro-Mediterranean community of values. All international institutions with a Mediterranean dimension should provide their think tank platform to map out such a strategy so that a UfM of diverse states becomes a reality in the near future. The Euro-Mediterranean University mechanism that was set up during the Slovenian Presidency of the EU in 2008 is already seeking to promote closer cooperation in the field of higher education between Europe and the Mediterranean.
At the start of the twenty-first century, the Mediterranean must avoid becoming a permanent fault-line between the prosperous north and an impoverished south. The key development to watch in the Mediterranean in the next decade will be to see whether there will be an improvement in the mobility of students across the Mediterranean. If this scenario of socio-cultural interaction does take hold, order will dominate Mediterranean relations. Such a scenario of stability and certainty will spur the economic growth that is necessary to improve the standard of living of all peoples across the Mediterranean.
The only way this future can be achieved is if the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership: Union for the Mediterranean succeeds in attracting the interest of international institutions such as the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the IMF and persuades them to become more altruistic in their dealings with the region when it comes to educational programmes. The Mediterranean countries themselves must also adopt more of a self-help mentality. Rather than undermine or diminish the significance of the BP: UfM, the growing socio-economic disparities that exist across the Mediterranean underline further the significance of the BP: UfM, the only multilateral process of its kind in the area.
The Union for the Mediterranean must aim at reviving and recalibrating the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership by building on the pattern of Euromed relations that exists today. The UfM offers an opportunity to spur the resurgence of sub-regionalism –intensify sub-regionalism and bilateral interplay in the Mediterranean. It also offers the chance to map out a more action-oriented and target-focused agenda. The UfM will only succeed if matched by leadership and political will that succeed in engaging all European Union and Mediterranean states.
All those who are in favour of a harmonious neighbourhood in the south should welcome the Union for the Mediterranean plan of action! The task is so huge! The success or failure of the Union for the Mediterranean will determine whether Euromed relations in 2020 will become more co-operative dominant.