Sami Naïr, Member of the European Parliament and Chairman of its Delegation for relations with Mashrek countries and the Gulf States, gives us his view on the strengths and weaknesses of the euro-Mediterranean partnership and the relationship Europe has with it own backyard.
Café Babel : What is your assessment of the euro-Mediterranean partnership?
Sami Naïr : It is still too early to give a comprehensive analysis of the euro-Mediterranean partnership. All the partnership agreements between the Union and non-member countries have been signed, with the exception of Syria, but this should be signed by the end of the year. The majority of these agreements have entered into force. This is definitely a mark of progress. However, economically speaking it will be several years before we see any results. The partnership should therefore be judged in the light of the following questions: has the free trade zone stimulated development, increased the diversification of production systems, attracted direct foreign investment and boosted growth in non-member Mediterranean countries? Has there been widespread improvement in the standard of living and an increase in social development (education, health care access, development of social security systems etc)?
At the moment, if we look at the longest standing agreements (those with Morocco and Tunisia), these objectives are far from being met. More serious still, the conditions required for a successful free trade zone – i.e. an increase in private investment – do not seem to be materializing. According to the most recent report from CEPII (‘Centre d'études prospectives et d'informations internationales’, a leading French institute for research on the international economy), ‘the net contributions of private capital in the Africa-Middle-East region in 2002 were practically nil’. The partnership should, however, have been a sign from political leaders to the markets to encourage a re-channelling of funds towards this part of the world. Without an enormous effort from the private sector, economic expansion in the southern Mediterranean risks being eclipsed by a deepening of the economic and social crisis.
What bearing does the resolution of the Israeli-Palestine conflict have on the partnership?
One of the objectives of the partnership is peace and security in the Mediterranean. Although the objective is quite general in the Barcelona Declaration (1995), it goes without saying that the Middle East has a serious impact on relations between Europe and the Arab world. The American intervention in Iraq showed just how divided Europe is on which policy to conduct in this part of the world. European impotence is disastrous, because Europe could serve to build a world founded on the principles of multi-polarity, respect between nations and economic solidarity. An efficient partnership is unthinkable without peace in the Near East and solid ties laid down between the southern Mediterranean countries and Europe.
What action should Europe be taking in the Mediterranean?
From a strategic point of view, Europeans should fight for the founding of true multi-polarity, respect for international law and reform of the UN to make it a more efficient organisation. In the Middle East the key European objective should be the restoration of justice and security in Palestine along with the creation of a viable Palestinian State. Economically speaking, the partnership needs to refocus on stimulating social development and not simply opening up the southern markets to European products. The Commission’s proposal for a ‘neighbourhood policy’ with the countries bordering the new enlarged Union is an interesting one. It would extend the concept of the single market to these countries. If the establishment of this market can be sensitive to the specific exportation, cooperation, and financial and technical assistance requirements in the southern Mediterranean, then the partnership could result in long-term benefits for both parties.
What might the reaction be to American policies in the region?
As the United States and the Mediterranean are not neighbours, American policies in this region are purely operational. Also, as the world superpower, the United States adopts a more imperialist approach, taking little notice of international regulations. Europe, on the other hand, is a next-door neighbour, closely affected by southern economic development, and so needs to instigate relations based on trust and solidarity. Whatever view we have of today’s American government, the use of force can only ever lead to failure. The situation in Iraq is testimony to this. Europeans are divided on issue of this failure and the spread of chaos in the Middle East. Europe could, however, conduct a policy of solidarity and mutual respect between nations in this part of the world. If Europe cannot achieve this, it is essential that nations in favour of multi-polarity – France, Germany and Belgium etc along with all other countries who support them – are able to pursue their policy without hindrance from Europe. The quest for a European consensus on the United States or the Middle East conflict should not be an obstacle to those Europeans who want to maintain relations with the Arab world that are based on trust rather than the paranoia of the ‘fight against terrorism’. The impotence of Europe as a whole should not force the impotence of its members. Did not France, throughout the Iraqi crisis, show that another route is possible for Europe?