A Synthesis of Javier Albarracin’s opening session about the Euro-Mediterranean relations

Conference Report: Javier Albarracín, IEMed, 12-14 september 2013

By Thomas Gondran, M1 AlterEurope, majeure Géographie

 It would be misleading to view the relations between countries south of the Mediterranean and the European Union as a well-defined unilateral link. It is important to take into account the extreme diversity of the former; diversity in terms of nations, political regimes as well as ethnic and religious groupings. This heterogeneity can be analyzed by considering six important actors around the Mediterranean Sea. The Maghreb group comprises Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. These ex-colonies still have specific links with Europe. Then follows the Mashriq, which is composed of all the non-Arabic countries from Egypt to Iraq. These countries have numerous religious and national minorities and are facing an internal crisis. They are also more linked to the Gulf, a new actor in this area due to its huge oil revenue. The fourth actor is Turkey. In spite of the fact that it has nothing in common with the other actors because of its history and resilient economy in the face of the global economic meltdown, it is a new actor that plays a key geopolitical role in the region. Israel is another actor that is linked to the USA and is a huge geopolitical issue in the region through its membership of alliances. Finally, the European Union (EU) is still the biggest investor in the region. Geopolitical changes and the economic crisis, nevertheless, affect its policies and the EU has to change the way it deals with its neighbors in the South of the Mediterranean. Indeed, the Arab Spring has been a very quick and unexpected event and such an occurrence requires an adapted and prompt response from Europe. It is against this backdrop that new actors are competing with Europe to invest in the Mediterranean region. What kind of issues and problems is the European Union facing and how can it change its policies to be more adapted to the status quo in the Mediterranean?

I. A traditional cooperation with the EU challenged by many issues.

The EuroMed cooperation has existed since the era of decolonization. The first aim of the European Economic Community (EEC) was to control the economies and promote the necessary political development of their ex-colonies. The EEC created a framework for its policies towards the Mediterranean to preserve its historical link with a key region for geopolitical reasons, within the context of the Cold War. Even though the aims and the situations changed in the relations, for example, with the denunciation of neocolonialism, economic cooperation is still very important due to a large number of frameworks belonging to the EU. In this context, the EIB (European Investment Bank), created in 1958, still plays a major role, particularly through the FEMIP (Facility for EuroMed Investments and Partnerships, created in 2002) which is the most important Mediterranean investor: €2.6 billion invested in 2010 and €3.5 billion after the revolts. Other institutions want to establish not only a financial dialogue, but also political and socio-economic linkages. The European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), for example, gives priority to questions of security while tying these to the socio-economic and political development of its southern neighbors. The objective of the Union for the Mediterranean, created in 2008, is to build a more profound union between North and South, with free trade area and common projects as two cardinal channels.

II. The aims and limits of these policies

Indeed, the development of the Mediterranean region hinges upon three key factors. Firstly, the stability of the region is very important to secure investments and this security in turn depends on the area’s socio-economic situation. With Europe seeking to limit immigration, it is imperative to improve the living conditions in the region. Furthermore, because these countries share a sea, the ecological factor is becoming a key component of inter-regional cooperation. Pollution and climate change endanger both North and South to the extent that environmental issues are associated with security and even migration, resulting from the risk of forced migrations due to climate change. Lastly, there is the need for improved communication and removal of clichés. This is the main aim of student exchanges and the Anna Lindh foundation.

Aside the aforementioned concerns, several other factors inhibit efficient cooperation among the Mediterranean countries. The socio-economic heterogeneity of these countries stops any effective dialogue and prevents the adoption efficient policies at the global scale.  The EU itself is also facing an economic crisis that reveals its dissensions through the fatigue of Brussels for Mediterranean issues. It is noteworthy that the structures of cooperation are intergovernmental but the interlocutors of the EU have often followed a dictatorial approach, guaranteeing security instead of democracy. The Arab Spring is, therefore, a clarion call and the EU has to define new policies.

III. The momentum of the Arab spring reveals the weakness of Europe in facing new actors

The initiation point of the “Arab Spring” revolts is hard to make out because they were sudden after a long period of quietude. But beyond the initiating events, these revolts have deep-rooted causes and central in this respect is the quest for democratic rule. Indeed, democracy had become a priority for the young and educated middle class who demanded more transparency and political reforms. The EU tries to support democratic transitions, for instance with the principle of “more for more”, to incite the country to make more reforms in order to have more loans from the Union. But these reactions are late and do not take the real measure of the events.

The revolts have revealed new actors that Europe must take into account. Firstly, the Islamic parties have shown they were an important political force, with a political and socio-economic agenda to access power. Although they may not yet be prepared to govern, the EU must collaborate with and not ignore them as transpired during the implementation of its dictatorial policies. Secondly, Turkey has turned out to be an important internal actor, thanks to its booming economy. For instance, it gave €2 billion to Egypt to pay its civil servants and thus avoid the collapse of the country. In furtherance, the Gulf Cooperation Council invests a lot of money in Mashriq and wants to, above any other goal, preserve the stability of the region. Lastly, China has a well-defined approach targeting natural resource-rich countries the world over because it needs these raw materials for its economy. This explains why it has become an important economic partner and investor in the Mediterranean countries.

Facing difficulties and the emergence of new actors, it is incumbent on the EU to change its policies towards its southern neighbors because a process of transition has just begun and must be supported. To do this, a deep geopolitical analysis of the issues related to the different parts of the Mediterranean is crucial.