Josep Ferré

Director General of the European Institute of the Mediterranean

“We do not know where this pandemic caused by Covid-19 can take us, a pandemic that this year has shaken humanity, which must react to the misfortune that has enveloped the whole world and together find ways to secure its salvation.” The writer Tahar Ben Jelloun’s words are from the article published in this issue of Quaderns de la Mediterrània on “Intercultural Dialogue: Recognising Ourselves in the Culture of the Other”, which we present on the 25th anniversary of the Barcelona Process. The idea of sharing is nothing new: it was also put forward on that distant 28 November 1995, during the Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference, when, through the signing of the Barcelona Declaration, the 15 EU member countries and the 12 Mediterranean partner countries established a new framework to develop their bilateral and regional relations. An innovative alliance based on common values and principles of co-ownership, dialogue and cooperation to create a Mediterranean region of peace, security and shared prosperity. It was the cooperation policy that Europe launched for the southern Mediterranean in parallel with another that proposed bringing the Eastern and Central European countries closer together, and that in 2008 would result in the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).

Over these 25 years the challenges have been many, as have the tasks carried out, but, seen in perspective, they have not been as wide-ranging or adequate as we would have hoped. One of the main consequences of Covid-19 is the increased inequalities at a social, health, economic and educational level, not only between different counties but also within them. These social inequalities have worsened the precariousness of some of the most vulnerable layers of our societies, such as the population of immigrant origin, women and youths at risk of exclusion.

In this issue, devoted to dialogue and mutual awareness, we want to focus on our common future, bearing in mind the difficult current context and building on all that has been developed in the last 25 years. We are aware of the need to meet the Sustainable Development Goals based on Agenda 2030, and we have only 10 years left. Civil society and social movements are key pieces as catalysers of the changes that our societies need and that call to individual citizens, local, regional and national governments, and international organisations. Without a transformation of our own societies that gradually brings about more sustainable lifestyles, we will be unable to achieve the goals set for 2030. Covid-19 makes us aware of having begun a new era, as well as the need to put aside the selfishness and disagreements of nations and individuals to act together, not only against the pandemic but also against everything that prevents us from evolving as committed human beings. How can we find a positive dialogue that enables us to overcome the great challenges if we do not understand and recognise each other?

This dossier features articles by over 20 academic specialists and active civil society representatives from the two shores who warn us about some of the current dynamics and provide us with recommendations. The remedy, they argue, does not lie in isolating ourselves and raising walls but in remaining united and participatory. The dossier is structured into two interrelated sections: “Times of Transformation and Resilience” and “Shared Identities and Traditions”, with which we have sought to outline complementary elements from the two shores.

We must acknowledge that we are not alone, that we belong to a complex ecosystem that must be safeguarded to save ourselves and each other. As our contributors remind us, it is also important to respect and protect our origins, knowledge and traditions, which form part of humanism as a key element of sustainable development. We must also eschew all those mentalities based on stereotypes that hinder human growth. Undoubtedly, to achieve the goals set by Agenda 2030, we must advance towards an education that helps us acquire knowledge and promote habits of harmony with nature. In the last decade, new generations of youths and women have taken centre stage through different social movements, particularly committed when calling for changes and spheres of opening and recognition, as shown in the latest mass campaigns held both in the north and south of the Mediterranean and also globally.

The values of pluralism, inclusion, dignity and awareness are increasingly necessary tools in the construction of spaces of reconciliation and dialogue to confront the real threats that the pandemic has rendered even more evident. In an environment permanently interconnected and in continuous transformation, we must face these new challenges to advance towards inevitable sustainability through Agenda 2030. The need to invest in and cooperate on scientific innovation and climate change, the development of clean energies and companies also involves eradicating the narrative of violence, conflict and stereotypes to strengthen social inclusion. It is no easy undertaking.

The texts by our contributors call for the relevance of societies and cultures to be taken into account and the global and local skills that enable the establishment of solid Mediterranean relations to be recognised. But to achieve this change of paradigm we must understand and listen to each other. In this respect, the intercultural dialogue that we promote so extensively at the European Institute of the Mediterranean and also through the different issues of Quaderns de la Mediterrània acts as an active and recognised tool in the construction of a renewed and shared Mediterranean project at the service of Mediterranean citizens and geared towards bringing its peoples and cultures closer together.