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EuroMed to tackle southern 'strategic challenges'

Spanish diplomat argues Barcelona summit 'offers a chance to transform concern into optimism'

The EuroMediterranean Summit in Barcelona on November 27-28 will enable the heads of state and of government of the European Union, for the first time in its half a century's existence, to meet their counterparts from the southern and eastern Mediterranean.

This in itself makes it a historic event, considering that the EU holds summits with almost every great country or regional bloc, except for those in the neighboring south.

But what gives the event its significance is our will to tackle the challenges that are a matter of concern for the citizens of Spain and also of the EuroMediterranean region, which in its southern dimension is facing strategic challenges that could become problems or opportunities for the future, depending on how we deal with them.

The Barcelona Summit, organized on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Barcelona Process, seeks to be much more than a commemoration. It will be a moment to reflect upon the achievements and the shortcomings of this process during the first decade of its existence, but it will also be the birth of a commitment for the future.

The situation in the Mediterranean offers cause for both optimism and concern. We will discuss the common threat of terrorism, which has struck on both shores of the Mediterranean basin, in London, Casablanca, Madrid and Istanbul or Amman, but we will also discuss creating a common space for welfare, economic progress and education. We will try to find shared, balanced and humane ways of managing migratory flows, and we will study how to turn the demographic complimentary nature between the two rims into opportunities. We believe that our southern partners must intensify the economic and political reforms in their countries, but we also believe that the European Union must go beyond the 1995 agreements. Those who are willing to continue to move forward on the path of modernization must be offered a common destiny, a clear association with the European project via the new Neighborhood Policy that will complement the Barcelona Process.

Spain has collaborated actively with the British Presidency of the EU in the calling and organization of this event. We have done so out of conviction and out of necessity, as we know our destiny is also determined by the development of the Maghreb and by the achievement of peace in the Middle East. With the event only a few days away, we can feel reasonably optimistic and can say that there is wide agreement regarding the need to ratify the philosophy of the EuroMediterranean Partnership. The current difficulties and the complexity of the problems we are facing have confirmed the need for a multilateral, inclusive, progressive process such as the one begun in 1995, which enables step-by-step progress. The time has come to move from the process to the project.

Spain is committed to this project from the standpoint of a Mediterranean vocation that has gone hand in hand, for the last 25 years, with our identity as a democratic country and a European nation. The background of what would later become the Barcelona Process lies in the "complementary system" propounded in 1980 by the foreign affairs minister at that time, Fernando Mor‡n, with the aim of promoting peace and stability in the Mediterranean. Our accession to the European Communities in 1986 meant that Spain joined the group of countries that were the most active in Mediterranean policy.

In 1989, in an article published in a national newspaper, I insisted on the need for Europe to have a genuine Mediterranean policy that went beyond the bunch of trade agreements that had been revised after Spain and Portugal's accession. In that article, entitled "The Mediterranean: a neglected sea," I defended a global approach which would outline the general principles but also operational actions and projects for the Mediterranean. This was the beginning of the conceptualisation of what later became the EuroMed Process.

The 1991 Madrid Conference, to promote peace between Israel and the Arabs, and the one in Barcelona were the main achievements of a decade of great initiatives. This was a genuine policy of state, promoted by the governments of Felipe Gonz‡lez and supported by the majority of the other political forces. Spain promptly understood that its interests in the region are better defended by means of a multilateral policy, without excluding the development of its own bilateral relations.

The 1995 EuroMediterranean Conference was the clearest expression of this will to shift Europe's center of gravity. We must prevent the - fortunately demolished - Berlin Wall from being replaced by another wall, which inequality, misunderstanding and tensions of all kinds threaten to build up between ourselves and North Africa. The Barcelona Process came about by making the most of a window of opportunity that was briefly ajar but soon closed again. More difficult times came, marked by the blocking of peace in the Middle East, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and self-absorption on the part of a Europe that was concentrating all its

efforts on preparing the enlargement. Nevertheless, despite this adverse context, during the Spanish EU Presidency of 2002 the Process was activated in several spheres, among them that of cultural dialogue. The Spanish initiative was decisive in the creation of the Anna Lindh Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures at the Ministers' Conference held in Valencia.

It is logical for the Mediterranean to be one of the cornerstones of our international action, together with Europe and Latin America. As Braudel recalled in his magnificent study on the Mediterranean in the times of Felipe II, geography proposes but it is the people who dispose. No other European country listens so closely to the feelings and desires of North Africa. Only 14 kilometers away from the Moroccan coast, we can daily see for ourselves that our destiny and that of the southern Mediterranean countries are united. We know this through geography, but also through history, with its abundant conflicts but also abundant trade, cultural exchanges, flows of people and ideas that have shaped a relation with the Arab world that is unique in Europe.

The government of JosŽ Luis Rodr’guez Zapatero is firmly committed to promoting and developing its Mediterranean policy. We will soon mark the passing of 20 fruitful years of diplomatic relations with Israel. We share with Turkey the leadership of one of the most exciting projects of the current political moment, the Alliance of Civilizations. These features have been acknowledged by our European partners and by the United States, and Spain will contribute them toward the relaunching of the Barcelona Process, at the November Summit, with the perspective of a peaceful and prosperous Mediterranean, capable of contributing to Europe the critical mass we need to face up to the challenges of globalization.

Jesus Santos Aguado is deputy head of mission at the Spanish Embassy in Beirut.

Beirut,11 21 2005
The Daily Star
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