I used to think that Euromed was simply the name of a train which rides the Barcelona-Valencia run. I was wrong. It is also the name colloquially being given to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (aka the Barcelona Process) which was infact launched in Barcelona in 1995. As the blurb tells us, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership comprises 35 members: 25 EU Member States and 10 Mediterranean Partners (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey). In addition Libya has observer status since 1999.
Well, the parties are back in Barcelona this weekend, and of course the meet has been getting a fair amount of press coverage.
Somehow or other I associate this initiative with the name of the former mayor of Barcelona (and now President of Catalonia) Pasqual Maragall. In the days when he was still mayor of Barcelona (and host to the 1992 olympics) Maragall went to work to try to create some sort of open Mediterranean space. This is hardly surprising since historically Barcelona has always felt its identity was that of a specifically Mediterranean city, and I think culturally we in Barcelona feel ourselves to be – for obvious and not so obvious reasons – much more a Mediterranean people than a North Sea one.
I would say that one thing which it is important to understand is that this whole conception of Europe’s southern fringe pre-dates 09/11, and pre-dates what has been recently taking place around the metallic walls which encircle Ceuta and Mellila and which now constitute Europe’s southern frontier. I think that this reality should be born in mind when looking at all those headlines about difficulties with the definition of terrorism, or failure to agree on an immigartion initiative. Here is something which transcends and goes much further than all these important contemporary issues.
Also anecdotally I would say that this Barcelona process has been given a new lease of life for the rather ‘path dependent’ reason that the Spanish government these days depends for its votes on Catalonia. As I said, Pascual Maragall (whose grand-dad was the most famous Catalan poet of all time), is now President of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia (a bit like being the head of the Scottish Parliament in UK terms, or governor of California in US ones). Also, when Berlusconi came out with his ‘clash of civilizations’ statement this gave Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (who let no-one underestimate, he is a very capable and combative young politician) here the perfect opportunity to grasp the nettle and argue for an “alliance of civilizations”. Since this fitted pretty neatly with work Maragall (and his nationalist predecessor here Jordi Pujol) had already been doing to project Catalonia ‘outside Spain’, the Barcelona process suddenly received a big push forward.
Indeed I think it is very impressive the way they have got all the rest of the EU leaders ‘on board’ here. Spain, for historical and cultural reasons, can be an important bridge for the rest of the EU with the Maghreb and beyond..
Naturally the present meet has its fiasco side, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. I also think the press is being rather short sighted to frame this as simply another ‘anti-Terrorism’ meet, eventually this can go much longer and much deeper.
One important detail is how all the big European leaders were there, and it seems to me that Turkey and Palestine are well on their way to being incorporated in the club. Ms Merkel even went so far as to offer to visit Turkey.
And Blair has suddenly come up with the idea of a Mediterranean free trade zone by 2010. Fantastic.
Of course some of the people protesting outside didn’t think it was so fantastic. A lot of people were, understandably, angry about the plight of the people from the Western Sahara (or Saharawis). I think the Saharawis are right to be angry. I think what Morocco (which is still more of a dictatorship than it is a democracy) is doing is inexcusable. But as with Turkey and the Kurds, I think the best strategy is to draw them into this kind of process, and then arm- twist to get the changes.
Of course this arm-twisting dimension is not to everyone’s liking, and the response of one Algerian minister, Abdelaziz Belkhadem , is revealing:
“We find it humiliating that the Europeans demand reforms from us in exchange for a few euros,”
Curiously the EU leaders were not ‘humiliated’ by sitting down with a much lower-level group of North African representatives. Maybe being humiliated is less important to them than getting results. Well done Merkel, Chirac, Blair and company is all I can say.
In this context ,I would say that when we come to think about what a social evolutionary process may be about we could start by thinking about the role of ’emotional intelligence’. The Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran wrote somewhere about how, when travelling around Spain by train, a very young Andalousian gypsy girl came to his carriage to sing. He was so moved and impressed he reached into his pocket and took out all his loose change (I don’t imagine he was very rich at the time) and gave it to her. She immediately proceeded to throw the lot of it onto the floor. Cioran of course loved this, so pintoresque!
I mention this story since when I first started coming to Spain 20 years ago these attitudes were still in evidence in relations between the (richer) North and the (poorer) South of Spain itself. The North was always much more pragmatic, and would accept money from anybody willing to offer, while the South wanted the money, but didn’t want to be seen to be wanting it, the South didn’t want to be ‘humiliated’: honour was important.
Twenty years later all this has changed. Indeed now that the North of Spain needs to hang on to more of its money to fund the health needs of an ageing population, the South has no particular shame in crying ‘foul’, we need your money. The point I want to make in relating all this is that I imagine twenty years from now the North of Africa will have travelled the a goodly distance along the same road. This weekend in Barcelona a start has been made, but it is only a start, and riding the Euromed for the whole journey is going to need time.