'The peoples of Europe do not believe in the “clash of civilizations”'

Article published on Oct. 20, 2003
community published
Article published on Oct. 20, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Interview with Alejandra Martinez Boluda, Head of the EU's Euro-Med Youth Programme.

With the Enlargement Process to the East barely underway, the EU is already turning attention to its Southern flank. But are we succeeding in building bridges with our Mediterranean partners? One week after the Euro-Med Youth conference at Malta, we spoke with the EU Head of the Programme, Alejandra Martinez.

Cafe Babel: Could you briefly describe the aims and goals of the Euro-Med Youth Programme? Are there any upcoming events that our readers might be interested in?

Alejandra Martinez: The aim of the Euro-Med Youth Programme is to offer young people from Mediterranean countries and EU Member States the possibility to build projects that will widen their minds and break down their prejudices. Through youth exchanges, voluntary services, training courses and seminars where young people are directly involved, we try to achieve the three basic aims of the programme: to stimulate the democratisation of civil society in the Mediterranean partner countries; to improve mutual understanding and cohesion between young people across the Mediterranean region; and to promote the exchange of information, experience and expertise between youth organisations.

There are constantly activities going on in the framework of the Euro-Med Youth programme - check out http://www.salto-youth.net for information on the Euro-Med youth training courses. Alternately, contact Marcos Andrade (Marcos.Andrade@coe.int), who is responsible for a set of Euro-Med training courses led by the North South Centre in Lisbon. These training courses are based on human rights education for young people.

In addition, a thematic regional meeting is foreseen in January 2004 (to be confirmed) in the context of the new Euro-Med Youth Platform. This event will be targeted to organisations directly dealing with the theme proposed, and will involved no more than 50 associations.

The Barcelona Process is one of the few international processes in which both Israel and Palestine participate. Has this led to any difficulties by the two parties in their participation in the activities and meetings of the Youth Programme?

In the Euro-Med Youth Programme we have several projects where young Palestinians have participated alongside Israeli Jews. The Commission supports this cooperation as one of the main aims of the programme is to develop mutual understanding. Our aim is not only to increase North-South cooperation but the South-South cooperation as well.

We frequently face problems with the participation of Israel in a project. In some cases Lebanese and Syrian participants refuse to participate. This creates some difficulties. The Commission has limited room for maneuver, except to remind partner governments that they have signed a declaration and that they are part of a process.

How have the events following Sept 11th affected relations with European and Arabic youth? Would you say that it has divided them, or in some way, perhaps more recently, brought them together?

Following September 11th, it was clear that cooperation should not only be focused on economics but also get in touch with people in society. The European Commission decided to increase such cooperation by supporting programmes within civil society. Youth exchanges, seminars and training courses within the programme have the capacity to put people from different cultural and religious backgrounds together. Through respect and knowledge of others, the cultural divide can disappear. The Euro-Med Youth project has shown us that this is possible. As the President of the Commission recently said in Alexandria, the peoples of Europe do not believe in the “clash of civilizations,” but in a proximity based on peace and dialogue. The increased political will to develop dialogue and to increase the human dimension of our Euro-Mediterranean cooperation has developed major and recent actions: the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean foundation for intercultural dialogue (to be confirmed in the Foreign Minister’s meeting in Naples in December) as well as development programmes on Higher Education (Tempus Meda) among others. Against the rise of Islamic Neo-fundamentalism, the European Union increases dialogue and cooperation based on respect for the other, equality, freedom of conscience, solidarity and knowledge.

What new features does the present Euro-Med Youth II add to the previous programme?

The priorities established for this second phase are training courses and networking. The aim is to develop the capacities of organisations in the south of the Mediterranean. The Commission decided to develop several support activities to tackle these needs, creating a Resource Centre (SALTO Euro-Med) where support is provided to organisations on training and to the National coordinators and National Agencies on the implementation of the programme. A covenant with the Council of Europe focused on Euro-Med training has been developed, and finally the launch of a new platform, where organisations coming from both shores of the Mediterranean could debate, discuss, network and exchange good practices and experiences.

These measures have led us to a consolidated phase of the programme that has been reflected by a higher number of applications and a increased quality of the projects. A new evaluation will be launch in 2004 in order to define the needs for the third phase of the programme according to the coming years. A new challenge will be added in the coming years (already in 2004) with the enlargement strategy and their full participation in the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. In order to prepare the coming phase, organisations are also welcome to share their opinion on the programme through the space created on this by the secretariat of the Euro-Med Youth Platform.