For the third time, after 1995 and 2008, Europe tries to relaunch the Mediterranean Partnership.
EU has now two major challenges: the pandemic and the green transition. The first requires a coordinated approach between Europe and its neighbours. The second needs wide partnerships that can accompany strategies and investments. Why not Mediterranean, knowing that migrants and energy unite us more than ever? But this initiative comes with the problems of Libya and Syria still unresolved…
EU Enlargement marks the success of the EU
EU expanded a number of times. At the end of Post-Cold War, other obstacle to joint the European Union was removed and the will to pursue membership grew.
On 3 October 1990 the reunification of West and East Germany brought East Germany into the Community.
Then in 1993, Maastricht Treaty came into force and the European Community became the European Union. New EU accession procedures have been established. The EU set standards for new entrants so that their suitability could be assessed. These standards were written in the Copenhagen criteria: countries must be democracies, manage a free market and be willing to adopt the entire body of EU law already in place.
In 1993, the European Economic Area was also established with the EFTA member states, except Switzerland. However, almost all of them preferred to join the EU very soon, in order to enjoy all the commercial advantages for their additions.
Then on January1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU, marking the fourth EU enlargement.
The EU wants to conquer the Mediterranean and is expanding to the East
In the same year, following the wave of success that the EU was experiencing throughout the European continent, the EU signed the Barcelona Declaration, underlining the strategic imperative of the Mediterranean partnership. The Barcelona Declaration associated the EU and all the countries bordering the Mediterranean to develop a Cooperation Agenda. A very big ambition.
Meanwhile, between 2004 and 2013, the EU continued its enlargement to the East, welcoming 11 new countries of the former Soviet bloc, as well as Cyprus and Malta.
The enthusiasms cool down
While the Eastern EU enlargement was supported by geo-strategic needs following the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Maastricht Treaty, Mediterranean cooperation has never progressed significantly due to three major factors.
First of all, the perennial Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The writer has been a direct witness of the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians transferred to the institutions built around the Barcelona Declaration. All discussions ended up being monopolized by a very harsh confrontation between the representatives of Israel and the Palestinian community. Any attempt to bring back discussions on the development of an agenda to pursue the Barcelona process was frustrated, not least because of solidarity within the Arab world towards the Palestinians.
Then began the “Arab Springs” between 2010 and 2011, the contours of which are not yet known. New regimes replaced old regimes, or old regimes replaced themselves, but there was no progress of any kind.
Finally, the Arab world was deeply shaken by ISIS, a political-military organization that also affected the Western world.
Three events that first slowed down and then interrupted the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation promoted by the EU.
Not even the new cooperation promoted by France in 2008, perhaps more worried about the shift of the center of gravity to the East, through the Union for the Mediterranean. The French initiative was not able to relaunch the Barcelona process or prevent the disasters of the following years, despite EU invested many financial resources.
During that period the largest European political families (EPP, Socialists and Liberals) worked hard to promote parliamentary cooperation, the only way to give a more political and participatory dimension to the lame attempts of institutions and governments. The effort of European political families to bring together like-minded parties from the South of Mediterranean led to good results, supported by some important political foundations from EU countries. But the parliamentary process was interrupted by these three crucial events.
The new Agenda for the Mediterranean
And now after 25 years, the European Union itself takes over the initiative. Why?
There are many challenges that keep the entire southern Mediterranean Region on its knees: governance, socio-economic growth, environmental and climate , as well as security issues, many of which derive from global trends and require joint action by EU and Southern Neighborhood partners.
Pre-existing conflicts have continued since the signing of the Barcelona Declaration, inflicting terrible human suffering, causing significant forced
displacement, weighing heavily on the economic and social prospects of entire societies, particularly for countries hosting large refugee populations, and intensifying competition geopolitics and external interference.
Today there is a new urgency, the COVID-19 pandemic which, on the one hand, underlines our vulnerability and on the other, interdependence with our neighbors.
Thus, the new Agenda for the Mediterranean indicates new areas and forms of cooperation identified during last crisis (migrants and pandemic) and offers opportunities for new partnerships on the strategic priorities of the green and digital transition. These last appear to be reserved for the most advanced and mature societies for Industry 4.0, but the EU is convinced that sustainable prosperity and resilience can only be built in a strong partnership across the Mediterranean.
The EU wants the new partnership to be based on common values and dialogue. And he believes it can evolve if there is a commitment to work on a shared socio-economic and political agenda, including reforms in areas such as governance and the rule of law, macroeconomic stability and the business environment.
In practice, the ambition of the new Agenda for the Mediterranean aims to promote a recovery of the EU together with the Mediterranean. A recovery that is green, digital, resilient and equitable, as well as build on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement of 2015 and the European Green Deal of 2018. The three pillars on which the EU is re-establishing its mission.
The key directions of the new Agenda for the Mediterranean
An “Economic and Investment Plan for the Southern Neighbours”, with €7 billion under the Neighbourhood and Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI). This would help mobilise private and public investments of up to €30 billion in the Southern Neighbourhood. This financial resource should promote cooperation in the following area:
Fighting climate change, decrease harmful emissions, use resources sustainably and speed up the green transition. In practice, the EU will stimulate Mediterranean partner to share the EU objectives, by investing, regulate and promoting the transition.
A renewed commitment to the rule of law, human and fundamental rights, equality, democracy and good governance as the bedrock for stable fair, inclusive and prosperous societies, with respect for diversity and tolerance. Various initiatives will be launched by EU in those areas.
Jointly addressing the challenges of forced displacement and irregular migration and seizing the benefits of legal migration efficiently and effectively, through comprehensive tailor-made and mutually beneficial partnerships, protecting migrants and refugees’ rights, in line with the European New Pact on migration and asylum.