Senén Florensa

Director general del Instituto Europeo del Mediterráneo

Since its creation in 1989, the European Institute of the Mediterranean, formerly the Catalan Institute of the Mediterranean, has carried out a series of initiatives that include diverse fields of knowledge and cooperation. As an institution with an interdisciplinary vocation, the IEMed has adopted integrating formats that range from studies, seminars or forums to actions aimed at promoting exchanges between the different peoples of the Mediterranean. Hundreds of experts from diverse geographical, cultural and political horizons have participated in our activities and have made possible this investigative and informative task, contributing plural visions and complementary interdisciplinary approaches to the Mediterranean region.

In 2000, with the publication of the first issue of Quaderns de la Mediterrània, the IEMed took a step forward in this direction and made a new commitment: to reflect on the Mediterranean with the demands typical of a periodical publication. Quaderns de la Mediterrània was born with a marked participatory aim, as a journal open to all those who could contribute to interpreting the complex social, political and cultural processes experienced by the Mediterranean countries, especially through the voice of civil society.

The fact that Quaderns de la Mediterrània was the first periodical publication on the Mediterranean with these characteristics published in Spain gives an idea of the motivation that encouraged us to begin, as well as the determination in the creation of tools to achieve better dialogue, the fruit of mutual understanding. The creation of the Catalan Institute of the Mediterranean in Barcelona in the late eighties anticipated a decade of optimism and good will that, in late 1995, would result in the Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference held in this city. In this framework, the IEMed, given its track record, was asked by the European Commission and the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation to organise the 1st Euromed Civil Forum. This initiative also reflects Catalonia’s legitimate leading role in Mediterranean policies, given the involvement of the Government of Catalonia.

The IEMed also attached special importance to the active participation of the different institutions and civil society of the Euro-Mediterranean partners, with the objective of fostering cooperation and a good neighbourhood in economic, social and cultural affairs. It can be argued that in the course of this last decade, the challenges of intercultural dialogue have grown because of conflicts such as 11th September 2001, the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in Madrid and London, the divergence of interpretations of Benedict XVI’s speech at the University of Regensburg, and other misunderstandings followed by a media explosion that has increased the distrust between people of different cultures and religions. For this reason, the involvement of Quaderns de la Mediterrània in the challenges of intercultural dialogue has been clear and in every issue we have tried to reflect the diversity of the region, while showing the shared visions. Thus, we have created dossiers on values, media, youth, women, heritage, comparative visions, spirituality or art, with the aim of overcoming a lack of communication resulting from mutual ignorance.

Our desire is for Quaderns de la Mediterrània to continue contributing to the involvement, in this necessary collective reflection, of researchers, academics, politicians, diplomats, intellectuals and distinguished figures from social and economic life. With them we have established, and we wish to go on establishing, shared spaces between distinct ways of thinking in the Mediterranean, and make a modest but consistent contribution to understanding between the peoples living in the region. In early March 2010, the inauguration of the headquarters of the Permanent Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean took place in Barcelona. At the Palau de Pedralbes, the city ushered in with great expectation what promises to be a new and hopeful stage of the Barcelona Process, which celebrated its 15th anniversary last November. The start of its activities and the gradual normalisation of the Secretariat will mark the culmination of a decade and a half of arduous negotiations, moments of great satisfaction and some disappointments.

The start of this new stage will be the occasion to show that the Union for the Mediterranean looks to the future of the Euro-Mediterranean region, a realistic project of the European Union and its partners, with the aim of exploring new forms of understanding, as well as a more sustainable development. After many difficulties, we find ourselves at a turning point. These last 15 years have served to create a solid institutional base for the construction of a EuroMediterranean project that brings stability and progress to the whole area. It is not a rhetorical matter for two reasons: first, we are suffering one of the most serious world economic crises; second, bad times are approaching, as the writer Juan Goytisolo points out in the interview we include in this special issue, because of the intransigence and distrust of societies. However, in the last few years the European Union has become increasingly aware of the importance of culture and the need to strengthen intercultural dialogue between the different countries and societies in the Euro-Mediterranean space.

One of the main instruments for this was, in 2005, the launch of the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures, as well as the implementation of the programmes Euromed Audiovisual, Euromed Heritage, Euromed Information and Communication, Euromed Youth and, recently, Euromed Gender. It could be considered that, despite the expressions of good will, greater financial and, above all, political involvement is still lacking. But there is no doubt that in this incomplete list the problematic issues are well defined and there are greater efforts to work with more intercultural awareness among the Euro-Mediterranean partners. In the diverse dossiers of Quaderns de la Mediterrània there are contributions that take into account these programmes and offer outstanding visions from civil society. The dossier we present on the occasion of this anniversary is very representative, both in terms of the themes and the quality of the international contributions1 which we have maintained over these 10 years.

Some of these dossiers are the result of innovative seminars that not only offer reflections, but also affect the action of Euro-Mediterranean policies. In this respect, we can feel proud of the contribution made in different ministerial conferences, such as the Euromed Women’s Conference (Istanbul, 2006) and the Euromed Culture Conference (Athens, 2008), whose conclusions include the reflections and strategies previously prepared by writers and intellectuals brought together by the IEMed in Barcelona to achieve advances in intercultural dialogue between Europe and the Mediterranean.