The behaviour and outlook of stakeholders in the UfM clearly reflects this shift. National diplomats now seem at ease with the UfM. Thanks to a range of sensible balancing acts, Euro-Mediterranean stakeholders have been able to cope with the fall-out from Israel’s Gaza offensive in late 2008, which was one of the main obstacles to the initial formation of the Union. But uncertainty still reigns in the Commission and in civil society. In the framework of the EMP, Euro-Mediterranean networks like the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, EuroMeSCo, and the Civil Platform badly need to look at the shift that is taking place from familiar EMP community territory to the UfM framework, where networks must now work directly with governments. The question the Commission should be asking itself is to what extent it should co-operate, especially on financial grounds, with UfM sectoral initiatives.
EW BACKGROUND BRIEFING
A difficult launch, and already the UfM may be watered down
The outlook for the Union for the Mediterranean took a positive turn in January this year when former Jordanian minister Ahmad Masa’deh became the organisation’s first secretary general. He is based at its Barcelona headquarters.
The UfM brings together the EU’s 27 member states and 16 countries from North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans. Funding for the UfM comes from the EU, national governments, the private sector and financial institutions like the European Investment Bank. The EU is to contribute €90m, €32m of which is for investment in business and €22m going for water management and a project to combat pollution of the Mediterranean Sea. The budget also sets aside €5m for a solar plan as well as €7.5m for the development of maritime and road networks. Other headline UfM initiatives include a Euro-Mediterranean University in Slovenia and projects to protect people from natural and man-made disasters.
Ahmad Masa’deh is to work with six deputy secretaries-general, including an Israeli and a Palestinian. Although the UfM’s stated aim is “to realise more closeness between North and South of the Mediterranean,” Israeli-Arab discord is unsurprisingly one of its biggest challenges. Before it was fully fledged, the UfM temporarily closed down at the start of 2009 because of the Gaza war, and last April UfM talks crumbled when an inoffensive discussion on water management veered into contentious political territory. Delegates had agreed 99% of a pan- Mediterranean water management plan, but when Israel objected to a draft text’s reference to “occupied territory” the talks collapsed.
Some 180m people in the Mediterranean region lack water, and estimates are that by 2025 290m people could be without enough water. Some commentators have proposed that the UfM should by-pass Israel and get a deal on water security among the other members.
Israeli-Arab tensions and inter-ethnic tensions in areas ranging from Kurdish areas of Turkey and Iraq to the western Sahara have dogged Mediterranean development efforts, including the Barcelona Process launched in 1995 that was the UfM’s forerunner. The EU has often been blamed in the past for not playing a more active role in conflicts in the Mediterranean region, and the UfM is now presented as a sign that it is now taking countries in the region more seriously.
The Commission and the networks are also asking themselves how to preserve the Euro-Mediterranean acquis. This acquis stems from civil society’s participation in the multi-lateral side of the Barcelona process, and concerns both the promotion of human rights and political reform in Euro-Mediterranean relations. But how will human rights and political reform be promoted by the UfM? The question touches on a range of financial and political issues. From a political point of view, co-operation between networks and national governments certainly won’t increase the autonomy of the networks, because south-eastern Mediterranean governments would try to interfere.
There has already been evidence of government interference. Last January, Egypt and other south-eastern governments opposed the publication of poll results by the Anna Lindh Foundation – a network of civil society organisations run by no less than 43 governments. The survey had to do with how people from different countries perceive each other, and the Egyptian government alleged the results could be interpreted the wrong way.
A number of other initiatives on the 2010 agenda also identified by some of these governments as too political and out of step with what they perceived to be the UfM’s exclusively technical and economic remit.
From a financial view point, it's unclear whether UfM governments will be willing and able to match EU funding levels to networks up until now. Some south-eastern Mediterranean governments think that the networks should be funded by the Commission and regulated by governments, a proposal which both the Commission and the networks are unlikely to accept. It is far from obvious how this problem can be dealt with.
These are issues that call for major changes. In its dealings with the Mediterranean, the EU should clarify its sub-regional institutional architecture and look to the UfM as an opportunity rather than a problem. When it comes to institutional architecture, the UfM should not be seen as an element of Mediterranean multi-lateralism, but the EU could also be more effective by including a multi-lateral dimension in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and by focusing a little more on this policy. The multi-lateral dimension of the ENP would be an intermediate layer in the overall EU Mediterranean architecture and would foster the Barcelona acquis between the intergovernmental UfM and the bi-lateral ENP.
Europeans would be well advised to look seriously at the UfM as a political opportunity. Even those who are nostalgic about the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) can’t deny that inter-state relations can be a helpful vehicle for co-operation. Europeans may begin to see the UfM as one way to put more effective multi-lateral strategies in place.
The UfM is emerging in a changed Mediterranean environment, and at a time when global tendencies are making the Euro-Mediterranean format obsolete. Because of globalisation the Mediterranean is not an autonomous, self-enclosed region. Rather the Mediterranean is fulfilling the role it once had as a crossroads between North and South. It would be naïve for the EU to aim at inner Mediterranean solidarity, but by cultivating co-ordination and co-operation among different regions it may find a way to engage more meaningfully with the Mediterranean along with other regions of the world. It is high time for the EU to connect its Mediterranean policy with policies that also embrace more distant regions of the world.
The EU's Mediterranean policy is therefore going through an uncertain transition, but it is still worth assessing what the future holds for the UfM. The debate about the UfM’s principal aims still gives rise to ambiguity; it is sometimes presented as a political endeavour and sometimes as an economic one. Of course, both political and economic factors contribute in different ways to the UfM’s mid to long-term aims. Politically, the UfM allows south-eastern partners to maintain their sovereignty and participate in a political community that places them on equal footing with other members.
In the UfM – unlike the EMP – the south-eastern Mediterranean partners have a real stake in the political community. While this may cause a few quarrels in the short-term, it is good for long-term political integration. Economically, the UfM promotes key regional projects and, unlike before, south-eastern partners don’t simply benefit from these projects, they own them. If chosen well, these projects can benefit citizens on both shores of the Mediterranean. In this way they will increase the consensus between Euro-Mediterranean partners and bolster the legitimacy of their co-operation. The UfM is a process like the EMP, although based on different assumptions. Any ambiguity regarding the UfM’s direction is only apparent.
The UfM would be well advised to start putting its bigger regional projects in place before pursuing long-term political objectives. It’s true that if these regional projects are going to succeed, they will do so on the basis of increased political co-operation. But for the time being, the regional projects should take priority over the aim of increasing political co-operation in the region.
Public debates about the UfM’s direction were common during its inception period in 2008. However, the UfM’s strategy was set out unequivocally in the UfM’s founding documents, the Declarations of Paris and Marseille. In this framework, it is important that the UfM should succeed, and that its Secretariat should prove an effective power able to put in place suitable projects.
The suitability of projects deserves more consideration. The six projects listed by the Paris Declaration are similar to projects being pursued by the Commission. Co-operation between the UfM Secretariat and the EU Commission is imperative for both parties. Of the six projects, one – the Euro-Mediterranean University (EMUNI) – is more a cultural project than a political one. UfM members should be cautious about non-economic projects like security, welfare and social as well as cultural projects. Firstly the UfM may not have the right capabilities. Secondly, if projects are politically sensitive they may cause rifts and disputes among UfM members. Civil society networks like those mentioned earlier are a case in point. There are also some non-economic projects where co-operation is surely feasible, like programmes that aim at preventing, mitigating and managing natural and man-made disasters. Although the agriculture issue obviously deserves attention, it is conspicuously absent both from public debate and from the current list of UfM projects. Last but not least, a judicious variable geometry will be essential if the UfM is to overcome the political differences that it can’t solve at present.
Political issues in the Mediterranean, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, won’t allow the UfM to act as a political stakeholder, at least in the short-term. For the time being the UfM should focus on implementing worthwhile projects and enhancing co-operation and integration in the region. In time, this success may give the UfM political credibility, but political credibility would in any case only take it so far. Reinforcing the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy is also necessary if the EU is to play an effective regional role. Nor until these conditions emerge with fruitful Euro-Mediterranean political co-operation become a reality.