IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2005


Panorama : The Mediterranean Year


The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, Civil Society and Cultural Co-operation: An Uncertain Triangle

Odile Chenal

Assistant Director
European Cultural Foundation, Amsterdam

Much has been said and written about the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, its fragile foundations, its limitations and its advances. The third section of the Declaration of Barcelona deals with the social, cultural and human aspects of the Partnership, and in fact cultural cooperation is one of the key dimensions  conditioning the quality of exchange between all other areas. So, ten years after the inaugural meeting in Barcelona, what is the state of cultural co-operation within the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership?

The inclusion of the cultural dimension in the Barcelona agreements was far from being a foregone conclusion, but in the end culture was given its place in the definitive text of the agreements. In terms of an action plan and financial means, it has taken some time for the partnership in the cultural sphere to be put in place at European Commission level. There were plenty of cultural projects at the beginning, relating to areas such as music, social sciences, books and publishing, but only a few framework programmes have seen the light of day, notably in the area of heritage (Euromed Heritage in 1998), audiovisual production and exchanges of young people (Med Media and Euromed Youth Forum in 1999).The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership has, then, given birth to a certain number of initiatives within these areas – initiatives that are certainly limited by comparison with what has been done in other sectors, but which are nonetheless important from the point of view of people operating in the cultural sector and who may well have been used to a more parsimonious approach in the past.

There have been some successes, but the framework programmes set up by the Commission in the cultural field suffer from a chronic weakness: the inadequacy of the means employed in relation to the objectives to be achieved – that is, to provide real co-operation between artists and cultural “entrepreneurs” in different parts of the Mediterranean and to support the emergence of an independent cultural sector in regions where it is still at best very limited, and at worst completely non-existent. Initially conceived as a dynamic, political framework, this cultural partnership remains at best a cumbersome technical tool which only a restricted number of institutional operators or specialised agencies have the financial and administrative capacity to use. Independent operators have little access to it (except perhaps in the case of those dealing with exchanges for young people), and the administrative frameworks hardly lend themselves to the setting up of real co-operation projects, jointly prepared and negotiated by the partners concerned. Ten years after Barcelona, under the effect of bureaucratic constraints and political compromise, the partnership’s programmes are not really capable of supporting and assisting the agents of real interaction between cultures.

Nevertheless, the situation is not stagnant in the Euro-Mediterranean zone. Regional and trans-European cultural networks make an effort to encourage solidarity and professional exchanges ; some independent cultural initiatives have been developing fast for some years, particularly to the south of the Mediterranean in countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan or Morocco; private foundations are looking to invest more in the region; the countries of northern Europe, under the effect of immigration, are opening up to the Mediterranean…Although the general political context and failures of European institutions are making the exercise difficult, the spirit of Barcelona is not dead!

Certain developments which marked the years 2003 and 2004 throw these 10 years of partnership and its future prospects in the cultural sphere into particularly sharp relief. A few highlights:

December 2003 : Naples Civil Forum

Prepared and held in difficult conditions and despite the fact that a great deal had to be improvised, the Naples Forum marked a point of no return for the presence of civil society in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.  

The Civil Forum (which brings together representatives of the N.G.Os active in the Mediterranean region, and operates in parallel with inter-governmental meetings) has enjoyed a somewhat precarious existence since the euphoria of the first Barcelona meeting in November 1995. From Valetta and Naples (1997) to Stuttgart (1999); from Marseille (2000) to Crete (2003), passing through Brussels (2001) and Valencia (2002), the Civil Forum has often been called into question because of circumstances or political divisions, and also because of difficulties with the guidelines and the organisation of the Forum itself. If the Naples meeting, despite the difficulties, has led to a new momentum and has consolidated the Forum’s basic structures, this is undoubtedly because, since 11 September and the occupation of Iraq, it has been driven by a greater sense of urgency; but also to a great extent because it has been able to rely on the support of the non-governmental EUROMED Platform.  Bringing together representatives of associations, trade unions, networks and foundations, the Platform will now be the permanent liaison body for agents in the independent sector between meetings of the Civil Forum.   

It has therefore taken ten years for an emerging and fragmented, if not divided, society to be given a voice in a Euro-Mediterranean Partnership put in place by the European Union, and resting largely in the hands of governments. Although its establishment has been slow and is still far from complete, the Platform has been built on an interdisciplinary foundation which provides its strength.  In bringing together various Euro-Mediterranean co-operation networks, from environmentalists to supporters of human rights, from militant women to cultural operators, it has set itself up as a voice that is independent and critical of the institutional partnership, whilst remaining open to dialogue with the public authorities. Indirectly, then, the Platform has been a success for the Partnership which led to its creation. The European Commission has understood this and has, from now on, agreed (limited) financial support for the Platform, whose role has also been officially mentioned in the declarations of the Euro-Mediterranean Foreign Affairs ministers’ meeting in December 2003 under the Dutch presidency. As with other areas, the non-governmental Platform will give its opinion on the Partnership’s cultural performance. 

Spring 2004 : Publication of the Report Known as ‘the Wise Men’s Report’   

Culture, which had so narrowly missed not being included at all in the Declaration of Barcelona, was finally subjected in 2003, at the request of President Prodi, to the scrutiny of a group known as the “Wise Men”. Officially entitled “Dialogue between peoples and cultures in the Euro-Mediterranean zone”, their report, published at the beginning of 2004, offers a suggestive analysis of the urgent need and importance of communication and exchange in the current Euro-Mediterranean and world political context, while empty formulas, incomprehension, dashed hopes and irrational fears bounce across the Mediterranean… 

– It might have been better if the title of the publication had insisted on the principle of co-operation, as opposed to the worthy sentiments evoked by the essentially meaningless expression “cultural dialogue”, which, as the Wise Men themselves recognised, in fact contributes to create an immediate feeling of estrangement . In fact, the use of the expression “cultural dialogue” only tends to reinforce the very concept of “conflict of civilisations” which it seeks to condemn.

– It would have been preferable if recommendations for action had been presented not as a list but as an articulated set of action plans and priorities addressed to specific representatives; 

– It might have been hoped that this group of respectable figures, rather than working in a vacuum, could have found a way of listening to the younger generation the fate of whom they are so concerned about:

The Wise Men’s report at least has the merit of existing and offering, ten years after Barcelona, a renewed political reflection on the basis of the Mediterranean partnership.  Widely circulated, the report has unfortunately not really been used as an instrument for debate outside a few zealously prepared conventional meetings in Brussels. This is deeply regrettable. One of the reasons for the silence surrounding this report is perhaps due to the demands it makes, since politicians do not have the will or means to take account of them at the moment. The discussion going on about the future

Euro-Mediterranean Foundation is perhaps another reason for this. President Prodi in fact did not await the Wise Men’s recommendations to start the negotiations to establish the foundation. 

November 2004: Creation of the Anna Lindh Foundation for Dialogue between Cultures and Civilisations  

After long negotiations, in November 2004, the Euromed Interministerial Committee, meeting under the Dutch presidency, approved the statutes of the Anna Lindh Foundation for Dialogue between Cultures and Civilisations. It will be established on the basis of an “Egyptian-Swedish” tandem in Alexandria, in the premises of the “great” library, but with an annexe at the Swedish institute. The ministers agreed to facilitate and promote the Foundation’s activities by supporting participation by civil society in their countries and by translating their political involvement into substantial financial contributions, as specified in the conclusion of the meeting of Euro-Mediterranean Foreign Ministers in The Hague on 29 and 30 November 2004.

Announced in Valencia, the Foundation saw the light of day two years later. Ten years after Barcelona, the “third strand” of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership produced an “institution” that could give it a new dynamism. But it must be recognised that the Foundation’s birth was not only accompanied by positive signs:  

• Its independence is not on the agenda, and the Foundation will remain – one dares to hope that this will only be for a limited time – under the control of the Euromed interministerial committee and therefore of Governments.      

• Its capacity for action is limited: 11 millions euros to date, for three years, coming from the European Union and governments in various forms. 

• Aiming at regional and trans-Mediterranean co-operation, the Foundation functions in terms of national representation, which risks giving an advantage to institutional agents to the detriment of independent operators in the cultural world. 

The recommendations of the Wise Men’s report have, then, not been followed by the Euromed Committee and the Commission. However, the Foundation now exists and, despite its teething troubles, it is going to attract a lot of attention. It defines itself as a network of networks. If the national networks it is going to be associated with are really networks of operators, if they are going to be capable of mobilising the agents around Euromediterranean co-operation, if they take up more than a decorative place in the foundation, then they will really be able to bring this Foundation alive and make it the influence bringing together action and reflection which is so necessary in a still very fragmented Euromediterranean cultural space. Without the active collaboration of these independent cultural agents, the Foundation will remain mere shadow-play. 

Future Prospects: Euro-Mediterranean Partnership or Neighbourhood Policy?

What was the enlargement of the European Union going to mean for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership? Openness to the East,and closure to the South? The southern Mediterranean countries have, in fact, expressed their fears at seeing the inclusion in the Union of countries in the North and East of Europe with little sensitivity to Mediterranean politics and the weakening of the Barcelona commitments and of European Union investment in the Mediterranean. But the debate on these issues has, however, not been very animated in the southern Mediterranean, undoubtedly translating the disillusionment in the South towards Europe.

However, on the European Union side, the drawing up of a new policy began well before the enlargement was actually carried out. In fact it was in March 2003 that the Commission presented its communication entitled: “Enlarged Europe – neighbourhood: a new framework for our eastern and southern neighbours”. This was the birth of the famous ENP: European Neighbourhood Policy. A transition period is planned from 2004 to 2006, during which the existing programmes – MEDA for the Mediterranean – will be readjusted and pursued within the framework of this new policy. From 2007 onwards – the year when a new budgetary period for the Union is opened – the neighbourhood policy will take effect. It should depend on strengthened budgets compared to current programmes for the regions concerned, that is, Russia, Byelorussia, Ukraine, Moldavia, the southern Caucasusand the European Union’s neighbours around the Mediterranean except for Turkey, which is now an official candidate country.

What can be expected from this neighbourhood policy in terms of co-operation, and particularly cultural co-operation in the Mediterranean?  The agents for this co-operation express a certain degree of concern at seeing “the spirit of Barcelona” – that is, the spirit of partnership – being diluted in a neighbourhood policy where the objectives of security and development predominate. These concerns are not without foundation, although the official texts confirm that neighbourhood policy in the Mediterranean is based on the Barcelona axis. However, a neighbourhood policy conceived with enough flexibility could offer interesting prospects for cultural co-operation in the Mediterranean: breaking the confrontation between Europe and the southern Mediterranean countries, including the Mediterranean partnerships in a larger unit, with diversified, cultures, religions and languages, to create new synergies and new regional solidarities.  It remains to be seen whether the neighbourhood policy will be able to stand up to compartmentalisation and the establishment of new instruments to encourage inter-regional programmes; whether the new members of the European Union have the will and capacity to invest in the Mediterranean too; whether Turkey, now a candidate, will also be able to play its “Mediterranean card”…. However, it is perhaps already regrettable that the non-candidate Balkan countries – the countries of the former Yugoslavia plus Albania – are excluded from this neighbourhood policy. It might, perhaps, be equally worrying that, once again, the place for cultural exchange and co-operation in the neighbourhood policy is still uncertain, under a general heading concerning “people-to-people” exchanges.The agents in the partnership will therefore have to monitor this policy very closely as it is put into effect.

Ten years after Barcelona, will the Mediterranean countries, already neighbours, become partners? The answer is clear: they have to be both things at the same time.