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French Version

EU to stimulate ties with Mediterranean neighbors

Summit to focus on defense against terrorism

The European Union will seek to re-invigorate ties with its Mediterranean-rim neighbors next weekend, at a summit focused on boosting defenses against terrorism and cutting illegal immigration.

British Premier Tony Blair will co-host the summit in Barcelona to mark the 10th anniversary of the so-called Euro-Med process, which aims to boost ties with a group of countries stretching from Morocco to the Middle East.

Critics say the process has achieved little in concrete terms over the last decade, and EU officials admit to shortcomings - saying that is why it needs to relaunched.

Another aim of the two-day gathering in the northeastern Spanish city - where the partnership was launched in 1995 - will be to speed efforts to set up a free-trade area covering both the EU and the Mediterranean.

"We want to use [the summit] to re-engage with our Mediterranean partners and move toward a more results-orientated process," said the EU's British presidency, setting out its aims for the meeting next Sunday and Monday.

The Euro-Med partnership - also known as the Barcelona process - joins the 25-nation EU with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.

When the partnership was being forged in the mid-1990s, hopes were high for progress in the Middle East peace process after the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, and the EU was forging ahead with expansion plans.

But the decade since has seen sweeping changes on both sides. The Middle East was plunged back into violence, including not least the 2003 Iraq war, while the EU is battling with the worst crisis in its half-century history.

One of the changes has been the threat of terrorism, which entered a new era with the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. Both Spain and Britain, co-hosts in Barcelona, have first-hand knowledge of attacks.

"The summit should be a landmark in the fight against terrorism," said the British EU presidency.

Another summit theme will be immigration: Spanish Premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will no doubt highlight the deaths of immigrants trying to enter Spain's North African enclaves of Ceuta and Mellila.

More broadly, the Europeans are keen to promote both economic and democratic reform in their southern backyard.

A key tool to bolster the region's economies is the plan for a Euro-Mediterranean FreeTrade Area by the end of the decade. The EU has also poured some 9,000 million euros into MEDA cooperation programs and a similar amount in European Investment Bank loans.

Analysts acknowledge Euro-Med's successes have been at best limited.

"It hasn't done much damage, but it hasn't been the mechanism for transforming the states in questions," said Michael Emerson of the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies think tank.

"Fundamentally the process can't go faster than the partner states really want to," he added.

Beirut,11 28 2005
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The Daily Star
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