IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2005


Panorama : The Mediterranean Year


Evolution Not Revolution: The Barcelona Process Ten Years On

Christian Leffler

Middle East and South Mediterranean
DG External Relations, European Commission

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”, Mark Twain famously wrote to the US press after his obituary had prematurely appeared in their columns. Some Mediterranean analysts might appear to be in the same indecent haste to offer similar condolences to the Euro-Mediterranean  Partnership. However, contrary to some death notices, the Barcelona Process is not dead. It is alive and well and being mutually nurtured by the Neighbourhood Policy in their common quest for peace, security and prosperity in the region. This year, dubbed ‘The Year of the Mediterranean’ by EuroMed Foreign Ministers at The Hague Ministerial in November 2004, the Partnership will also celebrate its tenth anniversary. The tenth year of any relationship commands special attention. It can be taken as a period of reflection or projection, a milestone or a millstone, a symbolic hook or a springboard. It can also be a mixture of all these.

In some ways the evolution of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership can be compared to the construction of the European Union. Just as Europe’s incremental move towards integration failed to attract too much media attention (apart from the detractors and dissenting voices) neither has the Barcelona Process been a headline-maker. Nevertheless, it has continued to make concrete progress. It is, as its title implies, a process. It is not a sprinter, but rather a middle-distance runner; neither is it a Rolls Royce but rather a dependable family car. Sometimes that car might stall, or even break down but it will continue to move forward. Just as in the European Union, there is no reverse gear in the Euro-Mediterranean  Partnership.

While Europe and its Mediterranean partners have long been linked by history and culture, circumstances now demand closer linkages and interdependence to address the common problems of terrorism, illegal immigration, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation, international crime, etc. Today, as globalisation increases, the EU still remains the main partner of Mediterranean countries both in trade of goods and services. More than 50% of the trade in the region is with the EU, and for some countries the EU represents the destination of more than 70% of their exports. Europe is the largest direct foreign investor (36% of total foreign direct investment) and the EU is the region’s largest provider of financial assistance and funding, with almost €3 billion per year in loans and grants.

As we move towards the end of the Partnership’s first and defining decade looking back will help see how far we have come in the relatively short time of ten years. The much vaunted – some would say lofty – aspirations set out in the Barcelona Declaration outlined peace, stability and prosperity in the whole Euro-Mediterranean  region as the major objectives. This, essentially, was an attempt to extend southwards the zone of peace and prosperity achieved within the EU, through a process of North-South, but particularly South-South integration. The establishment of a Free Trade Area by 2010 is a means to an end, a way to attain the long-term goal of peace, something Europe had attained through integration.

Substantial progress has been made but much still remains to be done. The Barcelona Process has established a comprehensive set of co-operation activities in areas ranging from trade liberalisation, economic reform and infrastructure networks to culture, education and the movement of people. It has shown that governance, human rights and common global challenges can be fruitfully discussed, if they are handled through partnership.

 The bedrock of our cooperation, the Association Agreement, has been negotiated with all countries and most are in force. All countries have agreed on a schedule of tariff reductions, a necessary pre-requisite on the road to free trade. The achievement of the liberalisation of trade in goods has to be tempered by slow progress in the liberalisation of trade in services and agricultural products. However, regional integration in the Mediterranean region points an encouraging way forward with the signing of the Agadir Free Trade Agreement between Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia and Turkey’s respective Free Trade Agreements with Morocco, Tunisia and the Palestinian Authority. The regional dimension has been further enhanced by the creation of the Euro-Mediterranean  Parliamentary Assembly and by the establishment of the European Investment Bank (EIB) sponsored Euro-Mediterranean  Investment Facility for the Mediterranean (FEMIP).

Yet, when all the policies, programmes, declarations and action plans are pared down to their essential nucleus, the Barcelona Process is really about bringing people and cultures together through partnership and dialogue. Dialogue between cultures is essentially a dialogue between people, not between anonymous cultural entities. The recent inauguration of the ‘Anna Lindh Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures’ in Alexandria focussed minds on the point that partnerships are principally about people. The Foundation will play a pivotal role in assuaging the common suspicions, stereotypical and negative images that still prevail in parts of the ‘West’ and ‘Arab’ worlds. This will be done in a very practical way by giving present and future generations the instruments of dialogue. Young people will be encouraged to learn at least one foreign language and to acquire knowledge about all religions and cultural traditions that have shaped the Euro-Mediterranean  region as the crossroads of civilisations.

On the political front we cannot pretend other than progress has been slow. Institutionally, the architecture is in place to meet the challenges that reforms imply. Unfortunately, the continuing conflicts in the region have often impeded the search for consensus. But while progress on the Middle East Peace Process is an essential element for the success of any reform policy, the ongoing conflict should not be used as a fig leaf or alibi for inaction or universal excuse by partners to avoid reforms.

Certainly, the landscape is becoming littered with strategies and visions for its future. It seems like everyone has a theory or thesis on the problems besetting the region and is armed with a pocket paradigm or panacea for their resolution. I do not need to add to that debate or underline the problems still facing the Mediterranean and Middle East region. The UNDP reports have eloquently and starkly drawn attention to the major deficits in culture, education and political freedoms. The lack of individual freedoms and the subjugated role of civil society have contributed to smothering individual initiative and economic development and have resulted in disconnecting populations from decision-making processes. It is certainly not Europe’s role or intention to impose the necessary reforms; home grown change is the most acceptable and durable. Europe’s great catharsis after the last war involved the pioneering and development of a unique process of regional integration, of the pooling and balancing of national sovereignty against the need for common structures and common disciplines. It has been a tremendous force for political stability. Europe can, therefore, help and support this Mediterranean quest for transition. In our relations with our southern partners unless we encourage a process of economic and political change, change will come instead in undesirable forms and at an undesirable pace.

It has been said that borders are history’s scars. A flick through the back pages of Korea, Cyprus, Ireland and Germany, among many others, will bear witness to that statement. There have been worries among our Mediterranean partners that the recent enlargement of the European Union might result in new borders being drawn or the creation of new dividing lines to the detriment of relations with our partners, and that the new borders would be exclusive rather than inclusive, closed rather than open. The European Neighbourhood Policy is a clear response to those concerns and to the changing composition and shifting borders that enlargement implies. The new policy has been designed to include and integrate our neighbouring partners into the new, enlarged economy by offering them many new opportunities, one of which is tariff-free access to the new expanded market of 25 countries.

There has been a certain amount of confusion from commentators and critics of the European Neighbourhood Policy concerning its role and status vis-à-vis the Barcelona Process: Does Neighbourhood replace Barcelona? Is Neighbourhood the logical extension, and new articulation, of Barcelona?  Does Neighbourhood constitute an important policy shift within EU policy towards the South? Is it an attempt to offer a ‘consolation prize’ to the EU’s neighbours, new and old? The answer to all the preceding questions is ‘no’. Neighbourhood and Barcelona are complementary and mutually reinforcing, aiming to create enhanced relations while supporting and promoting domestic reforms. The European Neighbourhood policy offers partners the possibility of a stake in the EU internal market and the chance to participate in EU policies and programmes. It will build on existing systems and structures, using the Barcelona platform, to agree common Action Plans with partners that can bring about a qualitative change in Euro-Mediterranean  relations.

Communication is the key to unlocking the confusion and opening up the realities and possibilities of the Partnership to the populations on both sides of the Mediterranean. For that it is vital to bring the partnership closer to the people. There have been many concerns voiced at all levels about the perceived ‘information deficit’ concerning the Euro-Mediterranean  Partnership. The Commission is aware of this and has this year launched a dedicated region-wide information and communication programme as a complement to other information activities in the region. This innovative inclusive scheme, dubbed the EuroMed Dialogues aims at mobilising the mass media, civil society and youth in its implementation. It is not a machine for proselytising or peddling propaganda, but more an effort to engage the various stakeholders in discussions about the further evolution of the Partnership. Through a programme that includes a pan-regional television series of debates, dialogues and documentaries on subjects related to the Partnership; senior Euro-Mediterranean  journalists/analysts conferences; training and exchange opportunities for young journalists; cultural exhibitions and competitions for youth; and other targeted activities for civil society, the business and academic sectors an holistic approach is being taken to raise awareness and share opinions on the different aspects of Euro-Mediterranean  relations.  

In an exercise that squares the circle, this year – ten years after the signing of the Barcelona Declaration – all roads return to Barcelona for the specially convened Euro-Mediterranean  Summit in November. Certainly it will be an occasion for reverie and reflection, there will be celebration too. But there is also serious work to be done. The Euro-Mediterranean  Partnership has arrived at this watershed year with the knowledge and strength that experience brings to long-term relationships. While it will cheer the successes of the last ten years, the growing maturity will ensure that it is not blind to its shortcomings. Those challenges – human rights and democracy, sustainable economic growth and reform and education – are articulated in the Commission Communication that will mark this anniversary year. The Euro-Mediterranean  Partnership prepares to enter its second decade, returning to the place of its birth for further inspiration and impetus. If this is death, then as Mark Twain added, “I won’t be attending the funeral, but I will send a letter of approval”.