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Foreign Ministers' meetings : The drinving force of Barcelona

New prospects for the Partnership ahead of the mid-term meeting in Crete

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership was created by a Conference of Foreign Ministers from 27 countries and territories around the Mediterranean held in November, 1995. Since then there were four further Euro-Mediterranean Conferences, as well as two mid-term Foreign Ministers’ meetings. The next such ‘mid-term meeting’ will take place on 26-27 May on the Greek Island of Crete in preparation for the 6th Ministerial Conference, scheduled for 2-3 December in Naples, Italy. Ministers will meet against the background of the Iraq crisis, of some renewed hope for a settlement of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and of enlargement of the European Union to mostly Central and Eastern European countries.

The European Commission on 11 March offered the non-acceding Mediterranean Partners to share with the EU “everything, but the institutions”, in the words of President Romano Prodi. This very ambitious prospect held out to the Partners, as well as to the eastern neighbours of the enlarged EU, can open a new phase in Euro-Mediterranean relations. The meeting in Crete will thus take place amid high hopes and challenges for the Partnership.

Within the European Commission’s External Relations Directorate General Christian Leffler is Director for the South Mediterranean, Near and Middle East. Euromed Special Feature asked him to assess the importance of Euro-Med Foreign Ministers’ meetings, and to spell out what prospects the forthcoming one in Crete can hold.


Euromed Special Feature: To what extent can Euro-Mediterranean Foreign Ministers’ meetings be described as the driving force of the Barcelona Process?

Christian Leffler: The Barcelona Process itself was launched at a meeting of Foreign Ministers, and 6 meetings of Euro-Mediterranean Foreign Ministers have taken place since then. The Partnership was thus re-invigorated as each time the 27 partners looked at what had been achieved, what obstacles had to be removed, and how further progress could be made. In Marseilles in late 2000 for instance Ministers decided to boost Euro-Mediterranean co-operation by linking further activities under MEDA more closely to the Association Agreements and putting more emphasis on using a sub-regional approach to co-operation. In Valencia a year ago a new Action Plan was devised, building on the achievements reached by that time. Foreign Ministers’ meetings are the instruments through which the political will of the 27 partners is expressed. It can be said that those meetings are vital to give impetus to the Partnership.

Do you think that in recent years those meetings have been crucial to the resilience of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, in the face of continuing crises in the region?

We must not forget that whatever the political situation in the Mediterranean region, even during the present violence in the Middle East, Euro-Mediterranean ministerial conferences have been held regularly, even if the Ministers of some Arab countries were reluctant to sit at the same table as the representatives of Israel. That is what happened at the Valencia Ministerial a year ago. I think nevertheless that these meetings are a unique opportunity for the parties directly involved to have a direct exchange with Europe and with each other to find a solution to the conflict. Even with the extreme tension of last spring, an Action Plan was approved unanimously at Valencia, which has resulted in substantial advances in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Partners on both sides of the Mediterranean have never failed to realise that during those meetings issues of primary importance to them and to their future were discussed.

The meeting in Crete will partly be a stocktaking exercise a year after adoption of the Valencia Action Plan. Can you briefly recall the main achievements and the main shortcomings?

Progress has been made on putting in place and implementing the Association Agreements. In this respect the setting up of sectoral sub-Committees under the Agreement with Morocco should be underlined, as these should serve as a model for facilitating implementation of the Association Agreements in the other Partners. Tariff dismantling is proceeding. On South-South integration the initialling of the Agadir Agreement has been a decisive step forward. Co-operation activities involving the whole region have developed in several areas, particularly making a start with the approximation of the Partners’ legislation to the EU’s Internal Market, and they have deepened in others such as statistics or Information Technologies. New Regional programmes are in preparation, ranging from transport. Concerning the cultural and social aspects of the Partnership we have continued our important programmes (Heritage, Audiovisual, etc) but new ones have been launched like the one on co-operation in the fields of Justice, Police and Migration or Euromed Dialogue. Others like the programme “The role of women in economic life” and “Education and Training for Employment” are under preparation. Of course much remains to be done: two major areas where we must do more are political reforms, and the setting up of a Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for intercultural dialogue. The economic reforms in some Mediterranean Partners need to be accelerated. I hope that, in Crete, Ministers will recognise these achievements and also agree to move faster on what remains to be done.

Could you give us some figures on co-operation in the framework of the Euro-med partnership and their impact?

Let me start with the private sector. Indeed, on investment the situation has been improved by the creation last October of the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP) within the European Investment Bank (EIB), the allocation of more resources to the Mediterranean Region, and the focus put on private sector development. EIB loans signed in 2002 for the Mediterranean Partners amounted to a total of € 1.6 billion, and € 1 billion was disbursed, with nearly one third in favour of the private sector. EU assistance under MEDA and other EU aid to the Mediterranean region has improved considerably since EuropeAid Co-operation Office, created within the European Commission in January 2001, has been fully operational. A record € 685 million was paid out last year, which raised the implementation rate to 90%. In addition, devolution to the Delegations in the Partners has brought the management of aid closer to the beneficiaries.

The Wider Europe – Neighbourhood proposal will be high on the agenda of the meeting in Crete. Can a political agreement on the new Neighbourhood Policy be reached there?

The Commission will present its Wider Europe initiative in Crete and the role of the Mediterranean Partners in the new neighbourhood policy will be discussed there. Central to the debate will be how to seize the opportunities presented by the forthcoming enlargement of the EU, and to face the challenges enlargement entails. There will be a discussion on how to fully implement Association Agreements and how to go beyond them in an ambitious framework of enhanced co-operation . What the EU offers the Mediterranean Partners through the European Commission Communication on Wider Europe is closer association to all areas of European policy, including sharing in the benefits of the EU Internal Market. The Communication goes quite some way towards relieving the Partners of their fears less than a year ahead of EU enlargement. In Crete Foreign Ministers could endorse the general approach of the Communication, and set out the path that the Partnership would have to go to gradually turn the proposals into reality, both in a bilateral and in a regional framework.

The goal of a Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area can be enhanced by the more ambitious prospect of a Euro-Med Internal Market as approximation of the Partners’ rules to those of the EU has already begun. How can such a change be brought about?

The establishment of a Pan-Euro-Mediterranean area based on common rules of origin, which is currently being prepared by a specific Euro-Mediterranean Working Group, is an important step towards building a Free Trade Area among the 27 partners, soon to be 35 with next year’s enlargement of the EU. Work being done within the MEDA funded Euromed Market regional programme is also crucial to this process, as it helps Mediterranean Partners adapt to the EU’s Internal Market rules in a number of critical fields such as competition, intellectual property, and standards. Some of the work started and envisaged is already more ambitious than a mere free trade area, and involves gradually integrating the Mediterranean Partners into the EU’s Internal Market. The Commission Communication on Wider Europe holds out the prospect of gradually extending the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital to the Mediterranean Partners. Moreover the proposals include the opening to the Partners of an ever larger number of EU Programmes which lie outside the scope of the Internal Market in a strict acceptance, and touch on areas such as research, education, culture, and the media.

Can any new initiatives be expected on investment, where the relative lack of attractiveness of the Mediterranean region is regularly deplored?

First of all it should be recalled that the Mediterranean Partners have the major responsibility to act for improving the region’s attractiveness to foreign investors. The Commission communication on Wider Europe sets out a range of measures which will bring the region to even closer integration with Europe and thus help to increase its attractiveness to investors both local and foreign. As far as EU support is concerned, the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP) has been in operation for more than six months within the European Investment Bank. Its performance and prospects will most likely be discussed in Crete. As you know, a decision on the future of FEMIP, particularly on whether it should be converted into a fully-fledged Euro-Mediterranean Bank, should be taken late this year on the basis of an evaluation by the Commission. Other measures are being contemplated, such as convening a meeting of a Round Table of Industrialists focusing on investment opportunities in the Mediterranean region. This is a method that has been used with some success within the European Union. Another meeting could bring together Central Bank Governors around a discussion of possible fiscal and monetary measures, and the implications of the Euro for the region.

Human Rights and Democracy are generally considered as areas where progress has been slowest. What sort of ideas can the EU put forward to effectively promote co-operation?

It is true that the situation of human rights and democracy in most of the Mediterranean Region leaves much to be desired, and has not improved as we would have liked it to as a result of the Partnership. The UNDP Arab Human Development Report drawn up by Arab academics and published last year said just that in its own words. We need to address these issues in the same constructive spirit in which we approach other areas of reform and co-operation. A Communication is going to be presented soon by the European Commission with proposals for a more pro-active engagement of the Union with its Mediterranean Partners on this subject. More specifically, the Communication makes recommendations for the best use of the instruments available to the EU and the Mediterranean Partners for effectively promoting democratisation and respect for human rights in line with Barcelona’s objectives

What do you envisage in practical terms?

We want to develop a closer dialogue with our Partners, allowing us to better assess the situation on the ground and to develop together a programme of actions to improve legal and administrative structures. Work with civil society organisations in each Partner, and at regional level should also be developed. As far as financial co-operation is concerned, MEDA could be used to help propose and support reforms in this area. Of course the need to prepare National and Regional Indicative Programmes for 2005-2006 will provide all Euro-Mediterranean partners with a good opportunity to enhance support for democracy and human rights. In the specific case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we will have to look at ways in which respect for human rights can be placed at the heart of implementing the Road Map and re-launching the Peace Process.

Dialogue between Cultures and Civilisations has been viewed by the EU as more necessary than ever in consideration of the situation created by the war in Iraq. Do you expect a message to this effect to be delivered by the meeting in Crete?

I think there is general recognition among Euro-Mediterranean Partners that dialogue across cultures and civilisations is the way forward. The simple fact that we meet regularly indicates that dialogue is the preferred option in relations between the two shores of the Mediterranean. Since Valencia implementation of the Action Programme on Dialogue agreed there has proceeded in several areas. The main programme Euromed Heritage has continued its implementation with more than € 47 million in the 27 projects already launched. On Youth over 8,000 young people from both shores of the Mediterranean have now been involved in exchanges and common projects under the Euro-Med Youth Programme. On Education the Tempus Programme of university exchanges has been extended to the Mediterranean Partners, and activities will start in the autumn. As far as the Media sector is concerned, the Euromed Audiovisual Programme has offered Euro-Med film professionals co-operation opportunities while raising the profile of European films in the South Mediterranean, and of Mediterranean films in the EU. In addition, an important information and communication programme called Euromed Dialogue is now starting.

Could you tell me something about President Prodi’s Expert Group or “Groupe des Sages”?

Yes indeed, dialogue between Cultures has been re-launched by President Prodi earlier this year in the form of the High-Level Expert Group composed of intellectuals from across Europe and the Mediterranean. Every major aspect of this dialogue is being examined by the experts, from the problems of Mediterranean immigrants in the EU to cultural problems among the Partners themselves. A report is expected to be presented to the Commission and to the Partners later this year. And at political level I think this shows clearly that both, civil society and Euro-Mediterranean Ministers are committed to such dialogue.

The Euro-Mediterranean Foundation is one of the Partnership’s projects where only slow progress has been made. Do you expect a new impetus to come out of the meeting?

Progress was made at the latest meeting of the Euro-Med Committee in Athens, where partners came closer to an agreement on the objectives and main tasks of the Foundation. I hope that Ministers will be able to reach full agreement on these aspects in Crete, so as to enable the partners to pursue discussions on the remaining issues, and to reach a comprehensive agreement at the Ministerial Conference in Naples late this year. There are still some difficulties to be resolved as to the financing and management structures of the Foundation, but we believe this initiative is an important part of efforts to foster the Dialogue between cultures and civilisations, and to better involve civil society in the Partnership. Its significance should therefore not be underestimated as it represents an ideal institution for the strengthening of the concept of co-ownership in the Barcelona Partnership.

Ministerial Meetings are always preceded by a Civil Forum, but the contribution of civil society to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership could be reinforced. What opportunities can you see of doing that?

NGOs and other civil society organisations met in Chania (Crete) earlier this month within the Civil Forum ahead of the Foreign Ministers’ meeting. A statement has been adopted then that clearly asks Euro-Mediterranean institutions to provide civil society with the legal and practical means of participating fully in the Partnership. I understand that the Greek Presidency will arrange for a representative of the Forum to present the text to Ministers, and I warmly welcome that initiative. This statement is in line with our own reflections, particularly as to how to help Euro-Mediterranean civil society to maximise its involvement on the activities of the Partnership. We envisage evaluating the extent to which those Civil Forum meetings have so far influenced the Partnership, and the ways in which the Civil Forum could develop into a stronger and more permanent structure for promoting civil society involvement more decisively. The Civil Forum statement will bring additional input into discussions at the Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Crete, and the European Commission certainly views the Forum’s concerns favourably. In addition, more specifically, Democracy and Human Rights are areas where the capacity of civil society and NGOs could be strengthened at regional level, linking activities under MEDA and under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights, which operates world wide.



· EU Enlargement: after the EU enlargement, the membership of the Partnership will grow from 27 to 35 which will offer new opportunities for partnership and cooperation. Ministers from the acceding countries will be invited to the meeting, which will be an opportunity to associate the acceding countries to the EU policy towards its Mediterranean neighbours.
· New EU Neighbourghood Policy: the participant will discuss the role of the Mediterranean partners in the new EU Neighbourhood Policy set out in its Communication on ‘Wider Europe - neighbourhood’. The new policy is also a means to reinforce the Barcelona Process, to develop closer co-operation based on the mutual recognition of common interests and to set objectives to fully implement the Association Agreements with the possibility of then going beyond them.
· Situation in the region: the meeting will take place against the background of an extremely difficult situation in the region. The effects of the conflict in Iraq on the EU’s relations with the Mediterranean partners, as well as future developments in the Middle East Peace Process, are issues that might come up significantly in Ministers’ discussions at Crete.

Key issues to be discussed:
· Speedy implementation of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements
· Deepening political and security co-operation notably against terrorism
· Improving respect for human rights and democracy by finding areas of common ground for legislative and regulatory reform and improving the standards of the forces of law and order
· Developing co-operation on judicial systems, police training and joint approaches to migration
· Bringing regulation gradually in line with the Single Market
· Supporting regional free trade and co-operation, especially the ‘Agadir’ Free Trade Agreement between Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan
· Assessing the effectiveness of the MEDA programme, noting the considerable improvements in its disbursement rate
· Using the EIB’s Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP) to boost private sector development and interconnection of infrastructure
· Enhancing the sustainability of the Partnership (environmental protection)
· Raising the visibility of the Partnership (through the ‘Euro-Med Dialogue’ programme)

Former Ministerials:
· Euro-Mediterranean Conference, Barcelona, 27-28 November 1995
· Second Euro-Mediterranean Conference, Malta, 15-16 April 1997
· Third Euro-Mediterranean Conference, Stuttgart, 15-16 April 1999
· Fourth Euro-Mediterranean Conference, Marseilles, 15-16 November 2000
· Mid-term Euro-Mediterranean Conference, Brussels, 5-6 November 2001
· Fifth Euro-Mediterranean Conference, Valencia, 22-23 April 2002

Conclusions of the Valencia Ministerial:
The conference was regarded as very successful, giving a new impulse to the Barcelona Process. An Action Plan for immediate implementation was agreed by all participants. This includes a number of short and medium term initiatives aimed at reinforcing the three chapters of the Barcelona Process:

· Within the Political and Security aspects of the Action Plan the Conference adopted guidelines on political dialogue, as well as on co-operation in the fight against terrorism.
· Under the Economic and Financial chapter the Conference noted that the four countries involved in the ‘Agadir Process’ expect to sign a free trade agreement shortly for implementation from the beginning of 2003; there was much interest in the new EIB investment facility for the region. In the Action Plan the European Commission is asked to pursue the work on trade matters agreed by the Toledo Ministerial meeting and to continue work on transport, energy and telecommunications interconnection, and internal market harmonisation. Emphasis is also placed on the need for a strategic framework for sustainable development in the Partnership.
· Within the Social, Cultural and Human partnership Ministers endorsed the Framework Document on ‘Co-operation in the field of Justice, in combating drugs, organised crime and terrorism as well as co-operation in the treatment of issues related to the social integration of migrants, migration and movements of people’. They also agreed to the principle of creating a Euro-Mediterranean Foundation to promote a dialogue of cultures and civilisations, and endorsed an Action Programme in the same area focussing on Youth, Education, and the Media.

Next Ministerial:
· VI Euro-Mediterranean Foreign Ministers Conference, Naples, December 2003.

Web site: http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/euromed/conf/cret/index.htm

Brussels,05 26 2003
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