Riding The Euromed

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.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Europe and the world and tagged , , , , , , , , , , by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

13 thoughts on “Riding The Euromed

  1. Edward, I thought I read that the “Med” side of the partnership failed to show up for the conference.

  2. Regarding “emotional intelligence”. Something I find quite fascinating about China is that pretty much every Chinese (including HK, Singapore and Taiwan) person I know who interacts with the US (lives in the US, studies here, has substantial business dealings) has adopted a western name in addition to their Chinese name, and has no problems with using it with Westerners rather than giving them a Chinese name they can’t pronounce or remember. No nonsense about “my opium name” (cf “slave name”) or similar; simply a pragmatism about what’s important in the larger scheme of things and what’s marginal.

  3. “”Med” side of the partnership failed to show up for the conference.”

    Well their leaders did fail to show up, apart from Palestine and Turkey, but there were delegations on lower levels. That’s what I mean by saying that the EU leaders weren’t humiliated, they just carried on. Next time there will be more leaders from the other side of the Med, and the time after even more.

  4. “And Blair has suddenly come up with the idea of a Mediterranean free trade zone by 2010”

    Not suddenly. And not Blair. The formation of a free trade area by 2010 was the main goal, when Euromed started in 1995.

    “Naturally the present meet has its fiasco side, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

    Euromed is ten years old. I think it is not presumptuous to expect some progress in a decade.

    So the question is did Euromed achieve a reasonable amount economic prosperity, stability, democracy, freedom, human rights and peace in the Southern Mediterranean since 1995? Did the EU reduce its agricultural subsidies in the last ten years?

  5. avaroo, Joerg: you’re failing to display the ‘consensus’ attitude so important to EU progress.

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the success of France in assisting the Algerian government’s ‘El Salvador’ plan for dealing with the FIS in the past 10 years.

  6. Pierre and Joerg,

    Great, you’re very good at looking backwards. I think I prefer to look forwards.

    I think my argument is that this entity has just spent ten years in the doldrums, but now maybe, just maybe we could move forwards with this.

    Those Greek roots that so many seem to go on about were in fact Mediterranean ones, so this is also an interesting area for all of us to explore.

    Of course (and thanks for correcting me Joerg) the trade area isn’t a panaccea, this won’t be without problems, but I think it would be much better for all of us to have one than not to.

    Basically I think it is a much better idea to reach out across this frontier than it is to turn our backs on it. Of cousre its always easy to laugh and be cynical, but what about some good old pragmatism for a change.

  7. Edward,

    Yes, I am primarily looking backward. I can’t help it. I am German 😉

    Last night I wrote another comment about the high ambtions and perhaps unrealistic expectations the EU had, when Euromed was started in 1995. (I included some links and therefore the comment is held for approval.) Still, as far as I know, most observers are disappointed by the achievements in the last ten years. And even the EU commission has repeatedly called for reinvigorating the Barcelona process.

    “I think my argument is that this entity has just spent ten years in the doldrums, but now maybe, just maybe we could move forwards with this.”

    The Barcelona process is supposed to contribute to democratisation in the Southern Mediterranean (=the partners of the EU). The Third Basket is about promoting civil society, human rights, rule of law, elections etc. The climate to advance this political liberalization was better before 9/11. Today the EU is more concerned about terrorism and seeks anti-terrorism cooperation and does not pressure the Southern Mediterranean countries so much on democratization. I could be wrong of course. Perhaps the EU and the American Wider Middle East Initiative will put more pressure on democratisation and liberalization.

    I am just disappointed that these days everybody is talking about the condemnation of terrorism in the Euromed declaration, but not about political liberalization in the Southern Mediterranean countries. Many Arab countries wanted to exclude resistance to occupation from this condemnation. Once again the Arabs managed to put the focus on Israel and divert attention from their authoritarian style of government and the need to reform their own countries.

    Re the free trade area: First, agriculture remains largely excluded so far. Second, the EU works hard on creating a free trade zone with the Southern Mediterranean by 2010, but does not do much to promote free trade between the Southern Mediterranean countries. This reinforces a hub and spoke relationship, i.e. the EU countries can export to all Southern Mediterranean countries without tarriffs, but the Southern Mediterranean countries only have free trade access to the EU, but not to each other.

  8. “I included some links and therefore the comment is held for approval”

    Sorry, I think that was my negligence. Rectified.

    “I am just disappointed that these days everybody is talking about the condemnation of terrorism in the Euromed declaration, but not about political liberalization in the Southern Mediterranean countries.”

    Basically I don’t disagree with you, I’m just trying to put a more positive spin on things. I think also they would move things forward better if they focused on more concrete proposals instead of looking for the big declarations.

    At this stage I just think it is important that the process is kept alive, because I do think it could become something important.

  9. Edward,

    I agree with your last two sentences.

    I appreciate it that afoe covers the Barcelona process, which does not get as much critical in-depth coverage by the MSM as it should.

    Increasing prosperity, stability, democracy etc in North Africa is of vital importance for the EU’s future.

    Reporting about Euromed should be at least as important as reporting about the mess in Iraq. But that won’t happen, because only if bleeds it leads.
    What Euromed is doing in North Africa and what the US is doing in Iraq are both supposed to be about democratising the Middle East etc.

  10. Edward:

    So it won’t appear that I only show up to rain on your parade:

    Joerg’s comments about democratisation are spot on, I think. Yes, Europe has a very imortant part to play, especially in the Maghreb.

    But I am disappointed that so much was promised in 1995 (10 YEARS ago) and so little has been acomplished either in trade liberalisation or in democratisation, and what progress has been made (excepting Algeria, but the elections in Morocco, Libya’s suddent volte face) seems to have at least as much to do with American pressure as European.

    It’s instructive that the one country where a horrendous security situation has improved, by means of European assistance with COIN operations (dirty as it may have been) is Algeria. That elections (of a sort) have been again held is a good sign, but it’s important that the momentum for a political solution be maintained.

    It’s also important that Europeans who desire democratisation realize that sometimes the former desire has to be met with the will and the means to get your hands dirty.

    And in the case of Algeria, with its political sensitivities inside France and with France preoccupied with its internal problems at the moment, it’s neessary for the EU or some other major European states to step forward and fill the void.

  11. “So it won’t appear that I only show up to rain on your parade:”

    Well thanks for this Pierre. I guess it shows that if we all try hard enough we can find things to agree about.

    I think I slighly misunderstood the force of your earlier comment about France and Algeria. I have such a knee-jerk reaction these days when people mention France…. I must try and correct that.

    Really I don’t know enough about what the French actually got up to during the 90s in Algeria to pass any sort of comment. Actually I don’t have the most favourable impression of French ‘cloak and dagger’ operations, and again their history in Algeria puts them in a difficult position there today. But I do agree with the substance of what you say, that the EU shouldn’t simply turn its back on something like what happend in Algeria, we do need to take sides, and we do need to support those who are threatened with being engulfed.

    But obviously none of this is ever easy. Look at Vietnam, for example. I have not the slightest shadow of doubt that had South Vietnam survived the people there would now be living much better than they are. But outside intevention, in the end, seems to have guaranteed that it wouldn’t survive. I think you need to be careful here that you don’t feed the extremism you want to defeat.

    Longer term I am relatively optimistic about North Africa, especially Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt: just look at the demographics. They are all entering, or near to entering, their ‘good moment’. That’s why I think the trade thing, and institutional reform, and opening to investment is so very important.

    Ironically it is Palestine – who actually sent their president – which has the huge demographic problem (one of the highest birth rates on the planet), and I am not optimistic you can really get peace and stability there till the birth rate falls. Too many loose adolescents with nothing but time on their hands.

    I don’t disagree with Joerg about hub and spoke, but I just don’t see what they could trade with each other in any real living-standards-raising sense, while I see plenty of possibilities with the EU and the rest of the OECD.

    I think opening to agricultural products here will be important.

Comments are closed.