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Fundamental compromise around the Mediterranean

by Daniela Schwarzer, Isabelle Werenfels

The compromise found by the European Council in March 2008 for the Union of the Mediterranean allows the internal EU argument around the topic to be smoothed over, at least for the time being anyway. However, it doesn't promise any fundamental re-orientation of the EU's Mediterranean policy.

Key points of the Union for the Mediterranean

The suggestion by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy to set up a Mediterranean Union over and above the EU framework has caused months of tension, particularly, between Germany and France.

Union for the Mediterranean?
Photo: Photocase

An initiative outside of the EU had not only called into question the existing Barcelona process which had been in place since 1995. It also weakened the European Neighbourhood Policy and could split the EU politically. Whilst these dangers were averted by means of the compromise at the March summit, the key points of the Union for the Mediterranean, to date, do not promise a major leap forward in the Mediterranean policy:

  • Members of the Mediterranean Union will be the EU-27, ten southern Mediterranean neighbouring states, (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Albania) as well as two countries who do not border the Mediterranean but likewise are members of the EMP (Jordan and Mauretania). Whether Libya, who has up until only had observer status, will take part, is still uncertain.
  • A secretariat will be set up in one of the countries bordering the Mediterranean, probably Tunisia. A Mediterranean EU member state and a southern non-EU Mediterranean state will share the presidency for a two year period. Only when all Mediterranean EU member states have held the presidency, will the other EU states be allowed to apply. A political summit meeting will take place every two years
  • The main areas to be discussed are to be elaborated by the European Commission in cooperation with the future French EU Presidency for the July summit in Paris. At present, they will include initiatives for combating pollution of the Mediterranean and projects in the area of renewable energies and the maritime routes as well as increased scientific and education cooperation.
  • In addition, the following aspects are aimed at by the French: Project implementation according the "variable geometry” principle, establishment of Public-Private Partnerships and raising additional funding besides that of the EU Barcelona budget. Some EU states have categorically ruled out an increase of this budget.

The Barcelona process: Failure or not?

In order to evaluate the chances of success of the emerging project, the outcomes and stumbling blocks of the Barcelona Process in the three main initiatives, security, economy and culture need to be considered.
In the security and political transformation area, the attempt to change existing authoritarian, political structures in the southern Mediterranean region by means of multilateral partnership recognition and to develop regional security cooperation has proved extremely difficult.

  • The authoritarian rulers naturally have little interest in initiating structural political reforms or of allowing more civil freedoms which would undermine their authority.
  • The EU has had trouble criticising the existing authoritarian structures due to internal differences and out of concern for Islamic election victories. Moreover, France, Spain and Italy in particular are hesitant to impact on relations with their direct geographical partners by addressing topics such as human rights.
  • The Arab-Israeli conflict is preventing security cooperation on a fully regional level. Plans for a Euro-Mediterranean Charter for Peace and Stability have been put on hold since 2000.

The balance on an economic level is more mixed. Structural reforms and economic growth have fallen way behind the needs of the population in the majority of the neighbouring states. The downward spiral of prosperity has greatly increased since 1995 in comparison to Europe. In addition, not least the separation of European markets for agricultural products from the Southern Mediterranean regions could have contributed to this. In Tunisia, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) has, however, lead to an acceleration and intensified reform process that was already underway. The economic dynamism of Turkey, on the other hand, can be attributed to EU membership.
Direct foreign investments for the region as a rule have fallen short of expectations, if one takes natural oil and gas sectors out of the equation, amongst other things due to the reforms in the finance and banking sector and the basic legal conditions not being adequate.
The South-South Cooperation, which should have been improved by the Barcelona Process, has hardly progressed at all: The trade flows have not increased significantly through the Barcelona Process. The EU remains the most important trading partner for nearly all the southern countries bordering the Mediterranean.

In addition, in the area of cultural cooperation, the expected dynamics have not been developed. On the one hand, because this cooperation was heavily elite-orientated, on the other, because the repressive general conditions for to a civil society engagement has hardly changed. Where the latter has improved, like for instance in Morocco, EU funding has fallen on fertile ground.

Official and civil society protagonists from the EMP states have repeatedly criticised the fundamental functionality of the Barcelona Process. Amongst other things, they have complained about the institutional asymmetry (the process is managed in Brussels without significant involvement of the partner states), the lack of flexibility and the slow pace of decision making (all 39 EMP states must reach agreement at ministerial meetings). In addition, they criticise the lack of a clear aims and objectives for the diverse projects, inadequate communication and the lack of transparency of the individual initiatives and processes.


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Daniela Schwarzer
Dr. Daniela Schwarzer is a researcher at the Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin. She is the founder of Eurozone Watch and co-founder ...
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Isabelle Werenfels
Dr. Isabelle Werenfels is a researcher at the Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin. She is a member of the EurMeSCo Steering Committee ...
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Original in German

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Further articles on the subject » EU enlargement, » Economic Policy, » EU Policy, » Europe, » Middle East, » Africa, » South East Europe
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