Mediterranean: Europe facing up to its responsibilities
By Michel Vauzelle (*) | Thursday 10 March 2011
“Rather than neighbourhood, which I do not feel is the right term, let us talk about a macroregional strategy.”
Beyond the bloody repression in Libya and the dialogue than needs to be established with rebel representatives on the help to be provided, what is happening over on the South side of the Mediterranean is once more forcing Europe to face up to its responsibilities, which it seems unwilling to assume.
People are aspiring for freedom, free elections, jobs, decent living conditions and respect. How can we assist these revolutions, this deep-seated movement? By respecting people who are liberating themselves, by respecting their sovereignty, their cultural and religious choices, without interfering. Democracy can never be imposed from the outside as President Bush believed, and we continue to see on a daily basis the disastrous legacy of his policy in Iraq.
For too long Europe has stood apart from the Mediterranean, and it is standing apart now from current events, trailing behind in what is effectively history in the making. The values on which it is based - peace, democracy, fraternity, solidarity - are becoming an aspiration for the youth of the Southern Mediterranean, and Europe is not even rejoicing in this news!
The fact of the matter is that Europe is focusing apprehensively on the ‘migratory flows’ that might invade it. It is revealing that Mrs Ashton only visited Tunis after the arrival of the first refugees in Lampedusa. However, the best way of guaranteeing security is by negotiating with each other on an equal footing and with mutual respect to build together an area of economic development, solidarity and fraternity, much more so than by deploying the police and the army.
This is what we, the Mediterranean regions, have long been calling for, especially in the report we adopted in Barcelona, in January 2008, that I forwarded to President Barroso and the presidents of the Union for the Mediterranean. Europe needs to place its South on the same level of social and economic convergence as its East. It needs to conceive a policy for aligning our living standards in order to solve among other things the pressure of migration of young people in distress.
Today’s events also mark the failure of the Union for the Mediterranean, which has had no real willpower or strategy to live up to the goals it claims to set out to achieve. National leaders have been incapable of laying the foundations for cooperation based on decisions taken not in Brussels by a technostructure, but as a community with all the people of the Mediterranean.
The accession of Balkan countries to the European Union could help to bring Europe closer to the Mediterranean, but a more Eastern Mediterranean. This should make us reflect on the advantage of having a strategy for the Mediterranean basin as a whole.
If tomorrow Europe still wants to be heard at the table of the world’s leading players - which in this historic period for the Arab world has not been the case - it must be sure to create a real Euro-Mediterranean community. The time for sentiment, technocratic regulations and indifference if not contempt, is well and truly at an end. Only this wide Euro-Mediterranean community with its demographic, economic and political influence will be able to secure peace and ensure that its common and specific values are heard and respected in tomorrow’s world.
We want more than just a neighbourhood policy with the Southern Mediterranean countries. The future neighbourhood policy needs to be joined up with the Structural Funds policy if we really want to stop considering the Mediterranean as a periphery or a ‘suburb’ of Europe.
Rather than neighbourhood, which I do not feel is the right term, let us talk about a macroregional strategy. This should not be an avatar of the Union for the Mediterranean or just another institution, but actually the area where all European interventions within the Mediterranean are combined and coordinated, giving more emphasis than at present to the added value of territorial cooperation and EU cross-border and transnational measures in the Mediterranean.
The idea to relaunch the Union for the Mediterranean, giving rise to reticence and wariness in the South, can only be regarded with scepticism. We need to break with the policy that has been led up to now by establishing the right conditions for dialogue and a new pact that could have the same framework as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean. This idea is one that needs to be taken up today and which is adapted to the new situation that has arisen in the Mediterranean.
(*) Michel Vauzelle is president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Region and president of the Inter-Mediterranean Commission of the Conference of Peripheral and Maritime Regions (CPMR)