Almost eight years have gone by since the launch of the EuroMediterranean Partnership at the Barcelona Conference and in all honesty it is still difficult to detect real progress in relations between the European Union and the countries on the southern bank of the Mediterranean. Since the events of September 11th the region has been riven by various conflicts, serious economic instability and increasing socio-cultural tensions. It’s a pretty gloomy state of affairs and merits at least an attempt at an explanation.
The Middle East
The EuroMediterranean partnership has gone a step further than previous European initiatives (which have often been restricted to specific sectors or geographic areas) because right from the outset it envisaged multidimensional co-operation divided into three areas – political affairs and security, economic and financial affairs, and socio-cultural and human affairs. This approach reflects a development based on the concept of security and stability. Given the level of interdependence of various players in the Mediterranean, this can be achieved only if the quests for mutual understanding and social dialogue are added to the quest for economic prosperity. During the Barcelona Conference this kind of multidimensional approach – which might well have born fruit in the long term – was also vindicated by the positive development in the peace process in the Middle East (the Oslo Accords) as these had injected a good dose of confidence into the progress of co-operation in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, the deterioration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ended up by almost bringing the Barcelona Conference to a standstill, showing just how important the “security” element is in determining how well the process is going. At this point the “high priests of functionalism” responded that the EuroMediterranean Partnership was not thought up to resolve the conflict but only as a complementary and supportive instrument. From this point of view economic co-operation and co-operation in the field of social and human relations might have had a positive influence on the peace process. The hope was that economic relations might have had a snowball effect on the security sector, thereby bringing the functionality of the EuroMediterranean co-operation to an acceptable level.
A "European Commission" model?
This kind of desired effect did not come about and, on the contrary, following the crisis in the Middle East peace process, we have all seen EuroMediterranena Partnership stall both in terms of economic and social relations. The reasons for the difficulties are to be found mainly in the economic model of co-operation used in the Barcelona Process which is mainly based on structures and bilateral co-operation agreements – this inevitably led to fragmentation of co-operation and huge problems in co-ordinating the multilateral and bilateral institutional frameworks. Although the EU’s association agreements signed by almost all the Mediterranean countries have certainly improved commercial relations, it has not yet been possible to reach a multilateral agreement with a solid and efficient institutional structure able to facilitate relations between the Mediterranean countries themselves. Rightly, some maintain that you could remedy this state of affairs simply by improving the institutional structures delegated to manage co-operation, replacing sporadic ministerial meetings with permanent institutions which would have the remit to facilitate the convergence of choices of different actors and modify their expectations.
A detailed analysis of these early years of the EuroMediterranena Partnership would quickly reveal the prevalence of subjects relating to security over other issues. It is especially on these dynamics that we had the perception of sterility in the partnership, of its inability to tackle difficult situations. This difficulty led to the pursuit of economic and cultural objectives grinding to a halt and ended up by being a precise element in determining how the overall work went. This is where all the confused ideas that the traditional Community method - summed up by the prevalence of forms of economic co-operation which in turn promote political co-operation - could work for the Mediterranean. For the time being, we can only note an inverse logic. Issues of politics and security prevail and their permanent instability ends up by spilling over into the other initiatives that make up the Partnership.
That is why the success of a renewed EuroMediterranean Partnership depends both on the political will of the EU to create a real and structured framework for multilateral co-operation and dialogue as well as the capacity to produce a CFSP which is coherent and able to influence the world order.