Bringing the shores closer

Marseilles: national parliaments revive the Euro-Mediterranean partnership

Ten key areas to boost Euro-Mediterranean partnership in the framework of "democratic transformation in the southern Mediterranean countries and of the economic and financial crisis affecting the EU Mediterranean countries". At the end of their summit in Marseilles on April 7 the presidents of Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) released a joint statement submitted to national governments and supra-national institutions. The next Euro-Mediterranean summit is scheduled to take place in Brussels on April 11-12.Joint commitments. "Euro-Mediterranean cooperation will be among parliaments and citizens, or it will be nothing", said EP President Martin Schulz, who convened the initiative, at the end of the summit. In the debates and in the final "decalogue" participants convey joint concerns (the economic downturn, terrorism, surging radicalisms, poverty…) and renewed commitments, such as those in the area of infrastructures, education and training, health, environmental protection. The UfM (established in July 2008 to relaunch the Barcelona process and Euro-Med partnership) "born under a purely intergovernmental aegis", argued the presidents of elective assemblies, is tasked with stepping up its democratic structure, allocating the necessary resources to tackle the problems affecting European North-African and Middle-Eastern citizens.Relaunching the partnership. The summit, attended by the presidents – or delegates – of elective assemblies (Syria’s participation was suspended by the UfM), had been conceived to "relaunch Euro-Mediterranean partnership" through the cooperation of its member countries thus "filling the political void" of the UfM brought about by the economic crisis that followed its creation. In the meantime political upheavals in South-Mediterranean countries, from Lybia to Egypt to Syria, seemed to have caused a standstill in national governments’ initiatives. British MEP Charles Tannock, who followed the organization of the summit in Marseilles, said: "the EU is very keen on making sure our Mediterranean neighbours are stable, prosperous and democratic". Tannock adds that, all actions should be based on the "more for more" principle: "The more such countries build sound democracies that protect the fundamental rights, the more aids they will receive from the EU". Politics, investments. The final statement of Euro-Mediterranean meeting in Marseilles consists of two main chapters. The first enlisting its underlying principles while the second presents a set of ten actions needed to strengthen the partnership between UfM partner countries from the EU, Africa, and the Balkans. The document highlights common concerns on the ongoing social and economic crises, democratic stability, regional conflicts (notably in the Sahel-Sahara region), human rights. The signatories of the declaration stress the "lack of political commitment to and financial support for the ambitious projects envisaged at the UfM summit in Paris in 2008". The document equally highlights that "representative democracies with strong parliaments representative democracies with strong parliaments are best placed to respond to political and economic challenges and to prevent divisions emerging between leaders and citizens"; it states that citizens, civil society, local bodies and regions have a primary role in social and political initiatives; it addresses the theme of cooperation between member countries with the aim of carrying out joint projects and infrastructure in key-areas such as transport, the environment and energy. Furthermore, the Speakers of the Parliaments of the countries of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), regard as a priority "the establishment of a Euro-Mediterranean area of vocational training, higher education, science and research". A dedicated chapter focuses on the respect of human rights and gender equality. An identikit of the UfM. 42 countries are members of the UfM. These are: the 27 European Union member states plus Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey and Tunisia (Syria is self-suspended and Libya is present as "observer". Heads of State that were later to be deposed by the Arab Spring, such as Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian president Ben Ali attended the inaugural session of the UfM in July 2008. That opening meeting was also attended by Syrian president currently hailed as ‘dictator’ by the Syrian polulation. The current partnership is a continuation of the so-called Barcelona Process launched in 1995 to boost cooperation between the South and Northern shores through concrete economic, social and cultural development projects. Summits of UfM heads of government or state are meant to take place every two years, but they were not convened. An UfM parliamentary assembly is tasked with "strengthening democratic processes" within the EU.

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