Barcelona, November 2005: time for the 35 participant countries of the Euromed agreement to take stock. In 1995, the objective of this innovative partnership, based on the values of human rights, peace and prosperity, was to restore the balance of relations between Europe and the Middle East and to contribute to the development of the countries of the Southern Mediterranean. It recognised the enduring link between both shores of the Mediterranean and brought the geographical and cultural role of the region to the foreground. In the wake of the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Euromed created a political framework that allowed Israel to integrate itself into the region and the Palestinians to assert their independence with a view to creating a Palestinian state. Finally, it comprised a bilateral dimension, based on the Association Agreements between the EU and each partner country: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestinian Authority, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Turkey (Cyprus and Malta have since joined the EU) – as well as a multilateral dimension based on regional programmes.
Ten years later, however, the situation seems critical to say the least. In terms of human rights, the rule of law and democracy, the Euromed Partnership has had very little influence on the authoritarian regimes of the region. The suspension of the Association Agreements, as defined in article 2, has not been employed to punish violations of human rights and international law committed by partner countries. Similarly, the gap between the values pronounced by the Partnership and the policies that have actually been put in place has continued to grow, as illustrated by the case of Tunisia. In addition, the Partnership has shown itself to be powerless to stop the dramatic aggravation of the situation in Palestine/Israel over the past five years. Neither has it contributed to the resolution of other regional conflicts (in the Western Sahara, for example). The word ‘security’ continues to prevail over the word ‘peace’.
The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership can, however, take credit for the stimulation of trade and the development of infrastructure as well as, more recently, the consideration of major environmental issues. But the medium-term effects of the so-called free-trade zone on markets and employment in the Southern Mediterranean seem likely to prove disastrous. What’s more, the difference in wealth between the North and South has increased rather than decreased over the last decade.
Cultural and human exchanges have also been threatened, due to lack of planning and appropriate methods, but also as a result of the security policy employed at European borders, marked by suspicion and closure; veritable restraints to the mobility of people. As far as civil society is concerned, since its creation the Partnership has offered non-governmental actors a setting – the Euromed civil forum – in which to meet, form links and work together. But it is a setting over which they had little leverage. Civil society, too often used by governments that are wary of it, has long been deprived of the role it is intended to play.
Future in the hands of civil society
Despite its many weaknesses, the Partnership nevertheless remains irreplaceable and indispensable, thanks to its multilateral and regional dimensions. It is also all the more strategically important now that the United States are actors in the region, where they are establishing a new zone of influence. Over the last two years, the first steps have been taken towards granting the Partnership the credibility it deserves.
Two institutions have come into being: the Anna Lindh Foundation for dialogue between cultures and the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly. Significantly, a third actor has established itself: the Euro-Mediterranean Non-Governmental Platform. This network of civil society networks was formed in February 2003 in order to back up civil society’s participation in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The Platform has built its legitimacy on a process of self-organisation supported by a regional network of NGOs and trade unions, such as the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, and the non-governmental local networks that it has given rise to. In two years it has successfully reformed the Euromed civil forum, for which it now has responsibility, and has lead the Euromed authorities to accept the principle of permanent consultation that does not jeopardise their autonomy.
These positive evolutions are, however, not enough to constitute a strong Euro-Mediterranean policy. The stakes are high. The Barcelona Process should be utilised to its full potential. Civil society organisations, local authorities and politicians must contribute to a policy which is no longer the responsibility of states alone, but which involves our common future.