Senén Florensa

Director General of the European Institute of the Mediterranean

2009 has been a difficult year for political relations in the Euro-Mediterranean region. Discussions about the degree of participation of the Arab League in the future of the Union for the Mediterranean, the painful Gaza conflict and the cancellation of official ministerial and expert meetings at regional level have been some of the negative events that have marked the political agenda over the last year. However, the hopes for the new project of the Union for the Mediterranean, possible thanks to the work carried out from the Barcelona Process, keep the Euro-Mediterranean spirit alive.

The absence of ministerial meetings until the second half of this year has been compensated, in part, by the activities of our institutions and the NGOs, which have kept the flame of dialogue alive in a very delicate situation. I would especially like to mention the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures, which has created synergies to reconstruct bridges of trust with multilateral actions quickly and opportunely with the association networks, as well as a new synergy between the Anna Lindh Foundation and the Alliance of Civilizations in the high level joint meeting held in Paris in March 2009.

Despite this difficult period, the creation of the new institutions and rules of the Union for the Mediterranean has required the work of many people and institutions and we hope that next year, under the aegis of the Spanish Presidency, we will advance decisively in taking forward the Union for the Mediterranean, and that the desire for peace and co-development will be closer and expand to the diverse Euro-Mediterranean ports and territories. As Risto Veltheim reminds us from Nordic Europe, although we have not seen the progress and dynamic of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership hoped for, this has been a year of learning and reflection because the work is not just a project of technical cooperation or an economic programme. It is basically a political project to support the peace process and consolidate the foundations of regional cooperation.

However, it is difficult for it to advance, despite the good intentions, if there is no real understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity and the intercultural possibilities in the Euro-Mediterranean process. In May 2008, the Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Ministers of Culture was called for the second time in the history of the Barcelona Process. The most interesting result was the reflection on a strategy that should be anchored in two main axes: intercultural dialogue and cultural policy. In this respect, the European Institute of the Mediterranean contributed to the conception of this strategy through a Meeting of Writers and Intellectuals for Europe-Mediterranean Intercultural Dialogue, with the collaboration of the European Commission and held in Barcelona. In this meeting, and following a survey and a more wide-ranging series of works, some recommendations were developed and approved which were included in the conclusions of the Ministerial Conference in Athens. In this issue of Quaderns de la Mediterrània we offer this document, of great strategic importance, in its entirety.

Although the Union for the Mediterranean means a new stage that seeks to consolidate aims and go further within the Euro-Mediterranean Process, in relation to the political-cultural strategies it is a great vacuum. I take the opportunity to point out that the new structure envisages a two-year co-presidency of a country from the North (currently France) and one from the South (currently Egypt), the establishment of a Secretariat in Barcelona with six deputy secretaries, proposed by the same number of countries, and the realisation of six major projects on: de-pollution of the Mediterranean, maritime and land highways, civil protection, Euro-Mediterranean Solar Plan and alternative energies, higher education and research, and a plan of support for small and medium sized enterprises. None of the projects affect the cultural ambit as such, apart from that related to cooperation in higher education and research.

A great hope for the mitigation of this cultural vacuum, so necessary to bring mentalities together, is the high level meeting that the Anna Lindh Foundation will hold in March 2010 in Barcelona on the occasion of its five years of existence and with the objective that a representative part of the almost 3,000 associations belonging to the 43 national networks of Europe and of the countries of the south and east of the Mediterranean meet in the agora, a critical and proactive space where not only ideas emerge but also joint actions. Thus we will be able to consolidate a real dialogue based on understanding from civil society, and also from the local and international institutions. So we need to strengthen the activities and bridges of trust with the cultural programmes of the European Commission and the Arab League and with the Council of Europe, UNESCO and the Alliance of Civilizations.

In this respect, religion is one of the key themes in the dialogue as it is at the heart of cultures as a symbol of creed and belonging. These essential elements are frequently used by the orthodoxies and ideologies and, unfortunately, have served more to separate than to unite. Often the vision of the values of the other is especially marked by religious difference, without considering that we share similar spiritual representations from the same sources and the contributions transmitted at historical moments. Beyond the orthodoxies, it is necessary to find these symbols that constitute a shared imaginary. For this reason, the dossier of this issue of Quaderns de la Mediterrània is dedicated to “Spiritualities and Representations in Intercultural Dialogue”, with the objective of achieving greater understanding of shared symbolic aspects. To this end, we have articles by important academics, artists and writers from both shores of the Mediterranean who deal with poetic, musical and visual figures and representations, of great symbolic value for each religion but whose representative and communicative elements are shared to a great extent by Christian, Muslim and Jewish mystics.

In this issue there are also recommendations to foster the political strategies in the next Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Ministers of Culture, through the voice of the main networks of civil society that work efficiently and develop good practices in the Euro-Mediterranean process. In this way, the IEMed not only contributes to the guiding reflection for dialogue and mutual understanding, but looks forward to a 2010 which brings about realities that help strengthen the Euro-Mediterranean Process.