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Mediterranean Challenges European Policies

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Credit: Informationsdienst Wissenschaft e. V.By René Steichen*
IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint**

LUXEMBOURG (IDN) - Long-held truths about North Africa and the Middle East have been swept away in 2011. The US and Europe have largely supported the regimes installed in the region as they considered them as a lesser evil as religious extremism.

Yet the evils these regimes had provoked, tolerated or installed swept them away. Youth unemployment, poverty, political repression, corruption cumulated in large protest movement that couldn’t be held up anymore.

The events in the region and the excesses they revealed are undoubtedly a challenge for European policies in this region.

The EU has been much criticized for having been to slow to react to the events in the Maghreb. This attitude will however have little impact on the outcome of the Arab Spring. The question will be whether the EU can adopt the right policies and programs to help the countries of the region to become stable, prosperous and democratic.

The Arab Spring calls inevitably into question EU policy towards the region as Stefan Füle, European commissioner for Enlargement and for the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) expressed it rightly some months ago:

“We must show humility about the past. Europe was not vocal enough in defending human rights and local democratic forces in the region. Too many of us fell prey to the assumption that authoritarian regimes were a guarantee of stability in the region. This was not even Realpolitik. It was at best, short termism – and the kind of short termism that makes the long-term ever more difficult to build.”

The EU had begun to think over the European Neighbourhood Policy  and understood that the key to a more effective ENP is that the EU must increase the offer that it makes to these countries, notably in terms of money, markets and mobility. It should also be stricter on conditionality – linking benefits to the performance – and make support for democracy a fundamental objective of the policy.

The joint communication of the European Commission and the EU’s External Action Service published on March 8, 2011 proposes a “Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity” with three objectives – democratic transformation, people-to-people contacts and economic development.

These good intentions may be hindered by the member states because of their reluctance to offer more visas and aid because some of them do not believe in promoting democracy. The governments will have to make efforts to persuade their citizens that more generous EU policies will be necessary in order to  make the Mediterranean countries less troubled and unstable.

If the EU wants to help those countries it needs to be able to make them a more generous offer. Given the fact that the EU cannot offer a membership in the Union it should offer in the words of Poland’s foreign minister Radek Sikorski “multiple small carrots, ideally timed to coincide with the electoral cycles of the partner concerned”.

The forthcoming framework for the period of 2014-2020 will not lead to a significantly larger budget of the EU. But within both the overall budget and the part of it devoted to external relations there is scope for increasing the amount spent in regions where the EU has a strong interest in stability, prosperity and political reform.

To fulfil its potential North Africa needs investment. The EIB (European Investment Bank) has been lending to North Africa for over 30 years but has carried out its work independently of the EU’s foreign policy objectives and has been inconsistent in applying political conditionality to its loans. In the longer term the EU should therefore – according to a report written by a group chaired by Michel Camdessus and published in 2010 – set up a special subsidiary for lending outside the EU which should follow broad guidelines set by the EU.

Access to European markets

Another powerful incentive is access to European markets.

Many Mediterranean countries are competitive in fruit, vegetables, olive oil, wine. These exports still face restrictions which the EU should give up. The EU should initiate Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs) so that it could bring them into parts of the single market. Some of the obligations for DCFTAs - requirements on standards in one sector at a time – not in all together, less requirements on poorer neighbours - should be made less strict.

The EU should also invite the most economically advanced southern neighbours to join the customs union that already exists between EU and Turkey. It would require the countries joining the customs union to lower their external tariffs to the same level as those of the EU and to eliminate tariffs among themselves. This is particularly important for the Mediterranean States which have only 10 percent of the region’s trade between themselves.

The above mentioned communication of the Commission and the High Representative of March 8, 2011 takes up the idea of visa facilitation and even suggests “gradual steps towards visa liberalization for individual partner countries.”

Although chances to make this idea accepted by member states are slim the Commission should push for it. I could in the same direction elaborate on the student exchange or an idea of the Commission to sponsor reception centres for asylum seekers.

Another policy should consist in inviting the neighbouring countries to join certain EU policies and agencies or to promote the convergence of their energy policies with EU policy, or to take part in the EU framework research program.

The EU should not only offer more benefits to the Mediterranean countries but also change the way it manages relations with them:

radically reform the Union for the Mediterranean  which obviously doesn’t work,

rethink the way the Union applies conditionality to its aid,

make democracy and human rights a more important objective, and

make the ENP more political and less technocratic.

These are in short term and in the given timeframe some suggestions on the European aid we may elaborate on.

*René Steichen is a Luxembourgian politician and jurist, who served as the Grand Duchy's European Commissioner, responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development. He is a member of the New Policy Forum's Board of Directors chaired by President Mikhail Gorbachev.

**This Viewpoint contains the text of a paper he presented at the International Conference 'Policymakers' Responsibility in a Changing World. The Mediterranean: The Waves of Change' organized by the New Policy Forum (Gorbachev Forum) on Nov. 24-25, 2011 in Montpellier, France. [IDN-InDepthNews – December 9, 2011]

Picture: René Steichen | Credit: Informationsdienst Wissenschaft e. V.

2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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