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Jun

Euro-Mediterranean relations call for a ‘mental revolution’ on the European side in order to truly understand and react to the wave of changes that are extending throughout the Arab countries and transforming their societies’ political culture.

By Haizam Amirah-Fernández (Associate Professor at IE School of Arts & Humanities) and Eduard Soler i Lecha


 North African and Middle Eastern countries are undergoing rapid transformations after decades of apparent immobility and misleading stability, with Tunisian and Egyptian protesters being the first to force their corrupt Presidents to leave. The results of social uprisings vary from one country to another, but transitions towards a new relationship between state and society and new forms of governance are already underway across the southern and eastern Mediterranean. Euro-Mediterranean relations require a ‘mental revolution’ on the European side in order to truly understand and react to the wave of changes that are extending throughout the Arab countries and transforming their societies’ political culture.

Arab societies have chosen 2011 as the year of the fall of the ‘wall of fear’ from kleptocratic and brutal regimes. North African and Middle Eastern countries are undergoing rapid transformations after decades of apparent immobility and misleading stability. Under different circumstances, but driven by the same fundamental feeling, millions of Arabs have put their physical integrity at risk to call for dignity, opportunities and good governance. The entire world witnessed how Tunisian and Egyptian protesters were the first to force their corrupt Presidents to leave in a peaceful and non-ideological manner, assisted by the new information technologies. The results of social uprisings vary from one country to another, but transitions towards a new relationship between state and society and new forms of governance are already underway across the southern and eastern Mediterranean.

Uprisings in the European Union’s (EU) southern neighbourhood caught many by surprise both within and beyond the region, including European governments and institutions. The rapid spread of the social protests that broke out in Tunisia at the beginning of 2011 to virtually all Arab countries has challenged the ability of European institutions and national governments to predict, analyse and react to the unfolding events. This has led to hesitant, late and uncoordinated reactions –if not unfortunate statements by European politicians– to the democratic demands expressed by Arab societies. The close ties between Western governments and the toppled Tunisian and Egyptian regimes, as well as other authoritarian Arab regimes that still cling to power, have significantly conditioned European positions and contributed to damaging their image.

Euro-Mediterranean Relations in a Changing Region
Euro-Mediterranean relations call for a ‘mental revolution’ on the European side in order to truly understand and react to the wave of changes that are extending throughout the Arab countries and transforming their societies’ political culture. The reasons are manifold. The sociopolitical changes that are brewing in those societies have to be considered in combination with the ineffectiveness of some of the European initiatives conceived in recent years towards the Mediterranean. The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), pompously launched by President Sarkozy in 2008, is trapped in a stalemate virtually since its earliest stages. The initiative’s aim was to bridge the results, visibility and co-ownership deficits of previous European policies. However, its implementation has resulted in an obstacle- and boycott-ridden political dialogue, poorly functional institutional structures and a generalised confusion regarding its objectives and the means to achieve them.

Although the EU’s image in the Mediterranean is not in its best shape and Euro-Mediterranean cooperation has not generated excessive enthusiasm among European governments for years, it is impossible to turn a blind eye and ignore what is happening in the EU’s southern neighbourhood. The Euro-Mediterranean region has been and will always be a central area in the Union’s external and proximity relations. Successive initiatives have been rolled out in the region, orchestrated to a lesser or greater extent by European institutions. Among them are: (1) the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, also known as the Barcelona Process, launched in 1995; (2) the integration of Mediterranean countries in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) as of 2004; and (3) the unsuccessful attempts to turn the UfM into an instrument for regional transformation. Despite the different tools and approaches involved, all these initiatives share the goal of promoting political, economic and social convergence to prevent the Mediterranean from becoming the ‘iron curtain’ of the 21st century. Read more…

Haizam Amirah-Fernández is a Senior Analyst for the Mediterranean and Arab World at the Elcano Royal Institute, and Eduard Soler i Lecha is a Research Fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB).

As published in www.realinstitutoelcano.org on June 10, 2011.

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