Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1274, (10 - 16 December 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1274, (10 - 16 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Revisiting the Barcelona Process

Al-Sayed Amin Shalaby examines the achievements and failings of the Barcelona Process on Mediterranean Partnership

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Union for the Mediterranean celebrated the 20th anniversary of the launch the Barcelona Process in November. The milestone calls for a look back both at the Barcelona Declaration and the Union of the Mediterranean, which emerged in 2007 as a continuation of that process.

This article examines the foundation of the two institutions, their original objectives, to what extent they achieved their goals, and whether the Union for the Mediterranean is still valid.

THE BARCELONA DECLARATION: Between 27 and 28 November 1995, 15 foreign ministers of the European Union (EU) and representatives of Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority met in Barcelona to discuss possible economic, social and political collaboration. The result of this conference was the Barcelona Declaration, which established a policy package called the European Mediterranean Partnership (EMP).

The Barcelona Declaration set down three main goals for the partnership: the definition of a common area of peace and stability through the reinforcement of political and security dialogue; rapprochement between peoples through social, cultural and human partnership; and addressing the ongoing armed conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, which has clouded the Mediterranean and the “wider Middle East” for decades, and which is foremost among the region’s security concerns.

Although it does not pose a direct security threat to the EU, the conflict has important negative consequences for EU interests. It serves to radicalise public opinion, and thus creates a breeding ground for extremism.

Since the Barcelona Declaration, the EU and nine Mediterranean countries have been engaged in negotiating association agreements. The overall objective was to create, by 2010, a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area from the whole combination of association agreements already in place.

Up to now, bilateral agreements have been concluded with five Mediterranean partners: Tunisia, Israel, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt. All of these agreements have entered into force. An interim agreement has also been concluded with the Palestinian Authority.

One of the main features of the process was a partnership in social, cultural and human affairs. The Barcelona Declaration signatories agreed to develop human resources, promote understanding between cultures and facilitate exchanges between civil societies.

They also recognised that a dialogue between cultures, with exchanges at the human, scientific and technological levels, was essential for bringing peoples closer together, promoting understanding between them and improving their perceptions of each other.

The three pillars of the Barcelona Process were not equally strong: the economic and trade pillar was solid, but more had to be done in the political, cultural and social fields of the partnership. This being said, one should not underestimate the achievements that have been made. Education, as a priority sector, in particular benefited between 1995 and 2005 from financing for nine major educational programmes.

As for culture itself, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership developed and financed programmes in the audio-visual and cultural fields. However, critics noted, within the first ten years of the Barcelona Process, that there was a need for the governments and societies of the South Mediterranean to do something about the economic and social chasm between rich and poor, and to focus on cultural and political reform.

Mistrust across the Mediterranean can be transcended only through cultural dialogue. Some commentators argue that the East-West division has been replaced by a North-South one, which includes the division between the West and the Arabs. The two worlds differ in culture, religion, levels of development, population and migration, and economic patterns.

THE MEDITERRANEAN UNION: Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy proposed the Mediterranean Union during his 2007 elections campaign. Sarkozy said that the union would be modelled on the European Union, with a shared judicial area and common institutions.

Sarkozy saw Turkish membership in the Mediterranean Union as an alternative to membership in the European Union, which he opposed, and saw the proposed union as a forum for dialogue between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

The Mediterranean Union was enthusiastically supported by Egypt and Israel. Turkey strongly opposed the idea and originally refused to attend the Paris conference until it was assured that membership of the Mediterranean Union was not being proposed as an alternative to membership of the EU.

However, the European Commission and Germany were more cautious about the project. The European Commission said that while initiatives promoting regional cooperation were good, it would be better to build them upon existing structures, notable among them being the Barcelona Process.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Mediterranean Union risked splitting and threatening the core of the EU. In particular, she objected to the potential use of EU funds to fund a project that would include only a small number of EU member states. When Slovenia took the EU presidency at the beginning of 2008, then Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša added to the criticism by saying: “We do not need a duplication of institutions, or institutions that would compete with EU, institutions that would cover part of the EU and part of the neighbourhood.”

Other criticisms included concern about the relationship between the proposed union and the existing Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (or Barcelona Process), which might reduce the effectiveness of EU policies. Duplication of policies from the EU’s judicial area was a further worry.

At the end of February 2008, France’s minister for European affairs, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, said, “There is no Mediterranean Union” but rather a “Union for the Mediterranean” that would only be “completing and enriching” existing EU structures and policy in the region.

Following a meeting with Merkel, it was agreed that the project would include all EU member states, not just those bordering the Mediterranean, and would be built upon the existing Barcelona Process. Turkey also agreed to take part in the project following a guarantee from France that it was no longer intended as an alternative to EU membership.

The Union for the Mediterranean was launched at the Paris summit of 13 July 2008, gathering 43 heads of state and government from the Euro-Mediterranean region. It was presented as a new phase of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, with new members and an improved institutional architecture that aimed to “enhance multilateral relations, increase co-ownership of the process, set governance on the basis of an equal footing and translate it into concrete projects, more visible to citizens.”

The four chapters of cooperation developed in the framework of the Barcelona Process remain valid: politics and security, economics and trade, socio-cultural issues, and justice and interior affairs. The objective to establish a free trade area in the Euro-Mediterranean region by 2010, first proposed at the 1995 Barcelona conference, was also endorsed by the Paris summit of 2008.

In November 2008, 43 ministers of foreign affairs gathered in Marseilles and identified a number of concrete projects to enhance the visibility of the partnership, including de-pollution of the Mediterranean, maritime and land highways, civil protection, development of alternative energy, enhancing higher education and research, developing the Mediterranean business development initiative, foregrounding young women as job creators, and enhancing governance and financing for the Mediterranean water sector.

The November gathering also agreed on biennial summits of heads of state and government that should produce joint declarations addressing the situation and challenges of the Euro-Mediterranean region, and that ministers of foreign affairs should meet annually to monitor implementation of summit declarations and to prepare the agenda of subsequent summits. The host country of the summits would be chosen by consensus and should alternate between EU and Mediterranean countries.

The Euro-Mediterranean countries agreed to hold the second summit in Barcelona on 7 June 2010, under the Spanish presidency of the EU. However, on 20 May, the Egyptian and the French co-presidency, along with Spain, decided to postpone the summit in a move that they described as being intended to give more time to indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that had started that month.

Spanish media, however, blamed the postponement on the Arab threat to boycott the summit if Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s minister of foreign affairs, attended the foreign ministers conference prior to the summit.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of November 2010 the peace talks stalled and the Egyptian co-presidency conditioned the convening of the summit on a gesture from Israel that would allow negotiations to resume. According to some experts, Binyamin Netanyahu’s announcement of the construction of 1,300 new settlements in East Jerusalem ended all possibilities of holding the summit on 21 November.

Due to its seriousness, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict deeply affects the Union for the Mediterranean. As a result of Israel’s operation against the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, the Arab group refused to meet at a high level, thus blocking all such meetings scheduled for the first half of 2009.

In addition, the refusal of Arab ministers of foreign affairs to meet with Israeli counterpart Lieberman resulted in the cancellation of two foreign ministers meetings in November 2009 and June 2010.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not the only source of difficulties facing the Union for the Mediterranean. There was also the conflict between Turkey and Cyprus that was responsible for a delay in the endorsement of the statutes of the unions’ secretariat.

Western Sahara, meanwhile, is a source of conflict between Algeria and Morocco. The lack of diplomatic relations between these two countries, along with the unresolved dispute over the sovereignty of Western Sahara, prevents the implementation of any intra-Maghreb projects.

In the view of Fathallah Sijilmassi, secretary general of the Union of the Mediterranean, 2015 represents an ideal opportunity to examine the outcome of the Barcelona Process and to set its future goals. In assessing the environment of the Euro-Mediterranean cooperative space, Sijilmassi noted that today’s situation differs in terms of illegal migration, terrorism, the escalation of tension in the whole region, rising racism and hostility towards Islam.

In defending the record of the Union of the Mediterranean, Sijilmassi argued that the union convened between 2013-2014 six strategic conferences for regional cooperation on energy, economy, climate change and the status of women, together with pursuing 30 joint projects at a total value of five billion euros.

The secretary general is correct to say that the Euro-Mediterranean space is more complicated today, given the escalation of extremism and terrorism, a situation that necessitates a more dynamic cultural dialogue aimed not only at elites but also the masses — the youth, universities and trade unions.

As for the original goals of the Union for the Mediterranean, it is vital to concentrate on activating concrete projects that will enhance the visibility of Mediterranean partnerships. The South Mediterranean countries have to table their priorities and engage actively in implementing proposed projects in the context of an overall developmental plan.

It was encouraging that the EU communicated for the first time with its partners in the South Mediterranean and the Arab League to formulate a joint union for a new European Neighbourhood Policy, responding to the aspirations of the people on both sides of the Mediterranean.

The Arab vision was expressed by Nabil El-Araby, secretary general of the Arab League, when he emphasised that the real success of the partnership should be based on a balance of interests and a new vision of the European Neighbourhood Policy, away from unilateral policies and conditionality in the form of “more for more” and “less for less” relative to assistance and reform.

He also emphasised the need to respect the cultural, religious and social particularity of South Mediterranean societies, as well as their sovereignty in internal affairs. El-Araby highlighted the security threats from a new generation of terrorist groups that benefit from the collapse of state institutions in some Arab countries, as well as the marginalisation of Arab communities in some European countries amid rising Islamophobia.

El-Araby called for joint policies to face those threats, adding that the central issue for the Arabs is the Palestinian issue and its negative regional repercussions, underlining the urgent need to reach a peaceful settlement.

El-Araby has raised issues that the European partners in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership should give serious attention to. While the Union for the Mediterranean has achieved some of its objectives, others have not been achieved.

Is this due to the political dimension and the failure to convene three summits? Or it is due to the failure to implement developmental projects in the southern Mediterranean, due to a lack of finance, or the reluctance of private sectors to be involved in these projects?

Or it is due to the lack of response of South Mediterranean countries, beset at times by their own political problems? The absence of former French president Sarkozy, who was the driving force behind the Union of the Mediterranean, also hasn’t helped.

The writer is a former Egyptian ambassador and member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

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