* The European Commission on 7 March approved a contribution of € 57.75 million for the year 2003 to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). The funds will provide support to UNRWA's education, health, relief and social programmes for 3.9 million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Commission's decision has been taken in the context of the EU-UNRWA Framework Convention, which was signed on 26 September 2002, providing € 237 million support for Palestinian refugees in the Middle East for the period 2002-2005.
* The European Commission on 10 March decided to increase by € 22 million the Risk Capital Facility for the Mediterranean Partners that benefit from bilateral MEDA funding with a view to upgrading their financial sector, making their industry more competitive, and supporting privatisation. The Risk Capital Facility is managed by the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the implementation of the Risk Capital Project takes place either through reliable local, regional or sub-regional financial intermediaries or through non-financial companies. The project is intended to help Mediterranean Partners pursuing economic restructuring by supporting the upgrading of local companies, notably outward-oriented businesses, the restructuring of financial intermediaries with a view to developing partnerships with Euro-Mediterranean counterparts, and the privatisation of state enterprises. The € 22 million will be added to the € 50 million already granted in 2001, and it is envisaged to allocate a further € 28 million in 2004, which would result in a total of € 100 million.
* European Commission Vice-President in charge of Energy and Transport Loyola De Palacio visited Morocco on 6 and 7 March. She met Prime Minister Driss Jettou, and a number of Ministers in his government, including Alternate Minister for Foreign Affairs and Co-operation Taieb Fassi Fihri, and Economy and Finance Minister Fathallah Oualalou. During her visit Ms De Palacio reaffirmed the EU's determination in helping Morocco with the implementation of structural reforms initiated by the present government. The Vice-President and Morocco's Transport Minister Karim Ghellab agreed on stepping up co-operation in sea and air transport. A MEDA funded pilot project on supporting reform is to be launched later this year. Ms De Palacio welcomed Morocco's commitment to approximating its laws on maritime safety with those of the EU, and announced she would push for a resumption of discussions for an agreement integrating Morocco into the 'Single European Sky'. In addition, she called on Morocco's co-operation to make sure that the newly created Sub-Committee on Transport, Energy, and Environment can start work before the summer break, which would help boost the development of the Trans-Euro-Mediterranean Energy and Transport Networks. On energy the Vice-President and Morocco's Minister for Energy and Mining Mohamed Boutaleb agreed to intensify efforts towards creating a regional Euro-Maghreb electricity and gas market. Moreover Ms De Palacio encouraged Morocco to make full use of EU programmes including MEDA to develop renewable energy sources. She also had discussions with Industry and Telecommunications Minister Rachid Talbi el Alami on the potential for Morocco of the European satellite navigation system GALILEO.
http://europa.eu.int (click on "Press release")
* Tunisia's Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia visited the European Commission in Brussels on 10 March. He met President Romano Prodi, and European Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten with whom he discussed the Iraq crisis, and the possible consequences for Tunisia of a war on Iraq. Mr Ben Yahia called for the EU's active support to help offset any substantial negative effects. In addition, the internal situation in Tunisia was discussed. The Minister was also received by European Commissioner for Trade Pascal Lamy with whom he discussed the trade aspects of implementation of the EU-Tunisia Association Agreement (including trade in services), the impact of the EU enlargement on Tunisia, and the Agadir Process of creating a Free Trade Area between Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia. Moreover Mr Ben Yahia had talks with EU High Representative Javier Solana about co-operation within the Maghreb region, the situation in the Middle East, and the Iraq crisis. Mr Solana underlined the significance of the Partnership between the EU and Tunisia.
* The first in a series of three thematic workshops held within the preparatory phase of the MEDA funded 'Education and Training for Employment (ETE)' Regional Programme will take place on 20 and 21 March in Brussels. Representatives of EU Member States and Mediterranean Partners will address the theme of 'ETE policy: a market-driven approach'. Case studies from Cyprus, Jordan, Tunisia, and Portugal will be presented, and three parallel working groups will discuss determination of labour market needs, the definition/co-ordination of policies and programmes, and the follow-up and evaluation of policies and programmes respectively. The ETE Programme's aims include combating and preventing unemployment, supporting the occupational integration of young people, and increasing co-operation among Euro-Mediterranean education and training institutions.
PROGRAMMES & PROJECTS
* WIDER EUROPE NEIGHBOURHOOD: A PROPOSED NEW FRAMEWORK
The European Commission on 11 March adopted a Communication setting out a new framework for countries who do not currently have a perspective of membership but who will soon share a border with the enlarged EU. This 'ring of friends' includes the Southern Mediterranean, as well as the countries to the East of the enlarged EU. The Commission proposes that a number of measures be implemented in the coming decade, notably approximating legislation and regulations to that of the EU Internal Market, perspectives for lawful migration, new instruments for investment protection and promotion, and greater efforts to promote human rights and the rule of law.
* UNIMED BUSINESS NETWORK FINAL CONFERENCE
The Final Conference for the MEDA supported UNIMED Business Network project was held on 11 March in Rome, Italy. It brought together business representatives from all Euro-Mediterranean partners to discuss the business community's proposals for a successful Euro-Mediterranean Partnership after the end of the UNIMED project, which has been implemented from April 2000 to March 2003. On this occasion Euro-Mediterranean business organisations called for a new momentum in the Euro-Mediterranean integration process. They called in particular on all parties interested in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership to take action in the areas of economic integration and the human dimension of integration. UNIMED has contributed to reinforcing the main business organisations of the 12 Mediterranean Partners through dozens of training and exchange actions including training seminars, visits, experts' missions, and internships. The project has also networked Mediterranean Partners' business organisations with their counterparts in the EU, notably through UNIMED's web site (http://www.unimedbn.org ). In addition, UNIMED helped set up the Union of Mediterranean Confederations of Enterprises (UMCE), which brings together for the first time business representatives from the 12 Mediterranean Partners. At the Conference UMCE and its sister organisation in the EU (UNICE) stated that they would 'continue to work alongside each other'.
* MEDSTAT 'NATIONAL ACCOUNTS' AND 'NON OBSERVED ECONOMY' SUB-PROGRAMMES
Experts from National Statistical Institutes of all 12 Mediterranean Partners, EU Member States, and the European Commission met from 3 to 6 March in Malta to assess three years' implementation of the MEDA funded MED-NA (National Accounts) and MED-NOE (Non-Observed Economy) projects. MED-NA and MED-NOE are sub-programmes of the MEDSTAT Regional Programme of statistical co-operation. Partners' National Accounts Systems, and ways of measuring the non-observed economy (also called 'informal', 'hidden', and 'illegal') were specifically discussed. In spite of the difficulty of achieving comprehensive measurement of national economic activity, both sub-programmes helped reinforce the harmonisation of the Partners' national accounts statistics through technical assistance in implementing the UN's 1993 National Accounts System. Under MEDSTAT's 2nd phase (MEDSTAT II) MED-NOE will be merged into MED-NA whose new objectives will be to widen the scope of accounts, to improve compliance with the UN System, and to enhance the quality of the Partners' national accounts data.
* CULTURAL TOURISM ON THE WEB
The MEDINA project (MEDiterranean by INternet Access) of promoting cultural tourism in the Mediterranean on the web will effectively be launched at the First Steering Committee Meeting taking place from 15 to 17 March in Caltagirone, Italy. MEDINA is part of the MEDA supported EUMEDIS (Euro-Mediterranean Information Society) Regional Programme, and one of four EUMEDIS projects focusing on tourism and cultural heritage. It aims at creating a 'MEDINA Portal', at developing National Web Sites, and organising 'virtual tours' across the Mediterranean region providing information on cultural tourism. The project involves 9 Mediterranean Partners (Algeria; Cyprus; Jordan; Lebanon; Malta; Morocco; the Palestinian Territories; Syria; and Tunisia), and 5 EU Member States (Italy, Austria, Belgium, France, and Greece). It is co-ordinated by Italy's Mediterranean Institute (IMED), and receives an EU contribution of over € 2.2 million out of a total cost of € 2.9 million. The meeting will bring together all the project partners, as well as project co-ordinators of related EUMEDIS projects. The first part will be open to the public, and the last day will be devoted to setting practical and organisational arrangements.
* KICK-OFF MEETING FOR VIRTUAL CAMPUS PROJECT
Partners in the newly adopted Avicenna project of creating a Euro-Mediterranean 'virtual campus' will meet for the first time on 17 March in Paris. Avicenna is part of the MEDA supported EUMEDIS (Euro-Mediterranean Information Society) Regional Programme. It is co-ordinated by UNESCO (United Nations Education Science and Culture Organisation), and brings together organisations from Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The project receives a € 3.7 million contribution from the EU.
Brussels,03 17 2003