Europe Should Adjust Its Own Policies to Support the Demands of the Arab Revolutions

3 March 2011 | Focus | English

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Regarding the events in the Middle East and in the Arab World, in your opinion, what role must the European Union play in these processes?

In the last 15 years the European policy towards the Mediterranean officially aimed at fostering political reforms in non-EU partner countries. This policy was not accepted by partners. The EU renounced to use conditionality to enforce it. So, the policy did not succeed and in the 2000 ministerial conference of Marseille the EU governments, while in practice dismissing it from the national policy sphere, left the Commission with the task of implementing the policy to the (very limited) extent it would have been accepted by partners under the principle of co-ownership. Ultimately, September 11, 2001 events cancelled political reform from EU member states’ Mediterranean agenda to replace it with stability of and cooperation with the Southern Mediterranean regimes. During the 2000s, while the achievement of reforms has been confined to the Commission-led European Neighbourhood Policy’s bilateral framework (again without any relevant success), the process of Barcelona, albeit initiated to compel authoritarian regimes to change, turned in fact into a factor of regimes’ consolidation.

Demand for change an reforms is now cogently and spontaneously coming from Southern Mediterranean peoples. While officially dedicated to reforms, in fact the EU and its members states are  pursuing  stability, as the latter is perceived consonant with numerous interests (countering Iran’s hegemonic nationalism, Israel security, immigration control and countering terrorism). There is no doubt that the EU is facing many dilemmas. It must opt unambiguously between stability and change. And, if it opts for change, must also find the way to recover credibility in front of Southern Mediterranean peoples.

In my view, the kind of stability the EU has supported in the 2000s is too fragile to be acceptable. It is only a way to put off problems, boost difficulties and prevent them from being solved. More democratic regimes on the other side of the Mediterranean will certainly put problems, but will be more reliable and allow for genuine stability in international relations.

So, my response is that the EU must support unreservedly and actively reforms and have no hesitations in interfering with emerging attempts at diluting change so as to ensure authentic reform. This approach will assure friendship and cooperation with the new regimes that will emerge from current changes.

Do you think it is time to restart or reform Euro-Mediterranean policies or the project of the Union for the Mediterranean?

I don’t think that the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) is a framework which can be used or can be employed to foster change in the current situation. The UfM is an intergovernmental body. It does not fit with the task of changing current governmental postures. As soon as the situation stabilises, the new governments may decide to have a regional cooperation and, in the event, go back to the UfM (which, by the way, is still today an unfinished and very fragile building).

As for the EU, in the short run, it will have to provide effective and rapid assistance in a variety of realms (humanitarian and financial assistance, assistance on elections, etc.). It has the instruments and resources to do so. It can of course refer to the European Neighbourhood Policy framework, but it should be able and willing to act, even independently of existing, sometime constraining, frameworks, if it need be.

In the medium-term. It will have to rethink and revisit its policies. In principle, the ENP fits with the emerging Mediterranean picture, but its sector objectives (e.g. in the realm of security governance and immigration, that is in the realm of Justice, Security and Freedom) will have to be extensively reformed.

From a political angle, the EU must adopt any soon a less hesitant declaratory policy (the stolid Ms. Ashton’s management reflects a bad, anti-European initial choice but also an extremely weak political will and cohesion in the European Council); it must anticipate a more balanced position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (in this respect, the vote in the Security Council against the settlements was excellent). The “querelle des anciens et des moderns” on political Islam must come to an end. There is no doubt that more democratic regimes in the Southern Mediterranean countries will include Islamist parties too.

Do you think that the Europeans are ready to accept the results of a future electoral process?

I think we must. I think we should do our best in order to support the electoral process. I don’t think that we should reject elections if they will not be in tune with our requirements. Personally, I think that in many countries Islamist parties will have some weight; there will be Islamist parties in the Parliaments of Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, etc. At the same time, I’m convinced that they will hardly represent a majority.

It is very interesting that Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist Party in Tunisia, has already declared that he doesn’t want a majority. This is interesting because it shows moderation and political perceptiveness. This means that, at least in Tunisia, we are going to have a change which, by being moderate, will consolidate further change in a true democratic direction.