News > EuroMeSCo Research Workshop "Competition and Complementarity: National and EU Policies vis-à-vis the Mediterranean"
EuroMeSCo Research Workshop "Competition and Complementarity: National and EU Policies vis-à-vis the Mediterranean"
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EuroMeSCo's latest research workshop was organised in collaboration with the Polish Institute for Public Affairs (IPA), and considered the issue of "Competition and Complementarity: National and EU Policies vis-à-vis the Southern Mediterranean". This workshop was held in Warsaw, on 31 March-1 April 2008.

Divided into four sessions, discussions analysed the foreign policies of selected EU member states and evaluated their degree of complementarity with current or emerging Euro-Mediterranean initiatives.

To view the full programme, please click here.

Prof. Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (IPA) and Dr. Tobias Schumacher (EuroMeSCo secretariat) introduced the participants to the theme of the workshop and it was remarked that one of the key features of Euro-Mediterranean relations is their high degree of intergovernmentalism, which allows governmental actors a very strong influence on the shaping, making and implementation of policies. While on the one hand, according to Schumacher, this high degree of intergovernmentalism is essential, particularly in view of the absence of supranational Euro-Med structures, and has contributed to the development of the Barcelona Process, the extent to which national interests are pursued has very often slowed down progress. Moreover, it has even proven to be detrimental to the full and proper implementation of objectives, as laid out, for example, in the Barcelona Declaration and the Association Agreements. In Schumacher’s opinion, examples of such an uncompromising privileging of national interests are manifold, and all indicate that there is a strained relationship in the competing pursuit of national agendas, the “Barcelona agenda” and EU policies vis-à-vis the southern Mediterranean in general. According to Schumacher, the most recent and prominent example in this regard is French President Sarkozy’s proposal to create a Mediterranean Union of sorts. This initiative did not only successfully play into the hands of those that claim that the EU is unable to speak with one voice, but what is more, it jeopardized, and in the view of Schumacher still has the potential to further harm, the foundations of Euro-Mediterranean cooperation in their current form, which remain – in spite of the many pitfalls and problems of the last thirteen years – collective region-building, and hence the creation of a common and democratic Euro-Mediterranean space.

The first workshop session on “EU Member States Old and New – Poland, Italy and Spain: National Policies between the EMP and the Mediterranean Union in-the-Making” was kicked off by Dr. Beata Wojna (PISM, Warsaw), who gave an overview of Poland’s position towards and perceptions of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP), the southern Mediterranean and the current French initiative. Reminding participants that Polish interests towards the Mediterranean should be analysed from the perspective of development cooperation, Wojna pointed out that Poland missed an opportunity in the early Nineties to adjust its foreign policy and to make it more Mediterranean-oriented in view of the wide-ranging decision to prioritize the transatlantic partnership. In her opinion, this led to a situation where Poland has no Mediterranean policy to speak of, yet is nonetheless a loyal participant of the EMP, which should remind the European Commission, as well as other governments of EU member states, of the need to balance policies towards the East and the South. With respect to the Mediterranean Union (UM), Dr. Beata Wojna argued that within Polish foreign policy circles the French initiative was considered a domestic political game, and according to her it was made clear by Polish government officials from the outset that no additional funding would be provided for it.

In contrast to the Polish position of benign neglect, Spain’s Mediterranean policy, as was pointed out by Dr. Eduard Soler (CIDOB, Barcelona), is characterised not only by its high degree of Europeanization, but also by its strong focus on North Africa and Morocco in particular. Whereas Spain was for many years one of the driving forces of a collective European engagement in the southern Mediterranean, most notably with the holding of the Barcelona summits in 1995 and 2005 respectively, according to Soler, this proactive engagement has been gradually replaced since late 2005 by a reactive approach that seems to give priority to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the UM, as both policies were supposedly perceived as detrimental to the EMP. In what regards the UM, it was interesting to observe that, in Soler’s opinion, although Spain has been concerned with the project’s potential repercussions for the EMP, in the light of upcoming parliamentary elections, Zapatero’s government put a strong emphasis on good relations with France, hoping that Germany, worried about potentially unilateral initiatives and French hegemonic aspirations, would defend the EMP. According to Soler, this was understood by other EU members, and although the successful efforts made by Spain at the very last minute to contain the UM and to direct it towards an alternative Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) were certainly appreciated by many, these remained insufficient to underscore and re-establish Spain’s role as a Euro-Med agenda-setter. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in a dispute between the Spanish and the German governments over the location of the UfM’s secretariat. Prof. Stefania Panebianco (University of Catania) enhanced this discussion by comparing the two cases mentioned with Italy’s foreign policy towards the Mediterranean. She pointed out that despite Italy being a strong supporter of the EMP, it does not have a proper regional Mediterranean policy. A bilateral approach often prevails instead, as happened in the 1990s when Italy pushed for a rapprochement with Libya and Iran, and later in its rapid reaction to the war in Lebanon in 2006. The economic interests of regional stakeholders strongly push for closer relations with eastern Europe, while the Mediterranean is mostly perceived as an arc of crisis. Panebianco argued that as a consequence, in the last years Italy has displayed a rather reactive attitude. The Italian government’s recent involvement in the Appel de Rome must thus be seen accordingly and understood as the government’s effort to make its voice heard in EU circles and, most of all, to ensure that the EMP continues to act as a stabilizing tool in the southern Mediterranean. During the subsequent discussion, it was agreed that it would be misleading to blame the EMP for its potential failures and incoherence, seeing as the Partnership is conditioned by the EU member states, as well as its southern partners, both of which will eventually utilize the recent Brussels compromise as an opportunity to activate the principle of reinforced cooperation, already envisaged in Valencia back in 2002.

In the second session, entitled “From the Barcelona Process to a French-inspired Mediterranean Union? Moroccan, Tunisian and Turkish Perspectives on Current Mediterranean Initiatives in Europe”, Abdessamad Belhaj (HIIA; Budapest) gave an overview of Moroccan relations with the EU. He argued that of late Morocco has increasingly had to balance its relations with Brussels, Paris and Washington, especially due to the US’ growing engagement in the Maghreb in the field of security and trade. The French initiative met mixed feelings in Rabat, not only because it seemed to ignore what is often described as “high politics”, but also because it meant that Morocco risked losing its privileged status, given that the French aimed to create a French-Algerian axis around which a future MU would be built. Prof. Ahmed Driss (University of Tunis), in his subsequent presentation, reminded participants that the UM was not an entirely new project, seeing as a similar project had already been proposed and detailed by a French senator in 1995. Yet according to Driss, in contrast to the plans of the mid-Nineties, the current proposal(s) have provided some southern Mediterranean partners with a welcome, and in their view, long overdue opportunity to openly express their criticism of the state of Euro-Mediterranean relations and to once again highlight the need for joint management. This point was followed up by Prof. Harun Arikan (University of Adana) and Kivanc Ulusoy (University of Istanbul) who questioned whether the MU/UfM will bring about true joint ownership of the EMP. Both remarked that neither the previous proposals of the French President nor the current UfM-in-the-making seem to provide southern partners with real benefits. In fact, the MU, originally envisaged by Mr. Sarkozy, could be interpreted in different ways – as a means to balance French-German power games and/or as a way to bring the United States and Israel into the political game. In particular, this last point was repeatedly addressed by participants, who stated that the MU could be considered a tactical move on the part of the French President to disguise growing tendencies in French Middle East policy towards a more friendly approach to Israel. This, according to one participant, corresponds with the fact that France is currently changing the foundations and entire structure of its external relations, resulting in increasingly evasive main parameters of predictability. In view of this development, the question was raised as to whether this development, in conjunction with present efforts to design a UfM, will have a damaging impact on the ENP and shift the focus back to negative conditionality.

The last two sessions of the workshop departed from the subject of the MU/UfM and expanded the focus of the debate by analysing the role new EU member states, such as the Baltic states and Poland, play in the southern Mediterranean and to what extent their engagement complements current EU efforts. Prof. Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (IPA, Warsaw) and Dr. Madalena Meyer-Resende (IPRI, Lisbon) considered Poland’s policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, arguing that Poland has Europeanized its relevant policy since the early Nineties and now seems more interested in reaching consensus within the EU rather than leading a policy of its own. Both speakers stressed the very close relations Poland has with Israel, managing nonetheless not to affect Poland’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority nor leading to negative perceptions of the country in the region. In view of the large number of actors already involved in the (Annapolis) Peace Process, consensus emerged that (seeking) greater involvement may perhaps be detrimental, and it was instead recommended that Poland should work in closer cooperation with those EU member states more experienced in development aid to achieve better coordination. This discussion was followed by a presentation by Tiago Marques (EVI, Tallinn) who argued that by adopting a twin concept of security dynamics that combines security governance – with security sector reform (SSR) at its core – and a human security doctrine, the Baltic states will find themselves better equipped to respond to diverse challenges related to security provision in today’s post-modern world. More importantly, Marques made the case for enhanced cooperation in this specific area between the Baltic states and Jordan, arguing that they share surprisingly similar narratives on security threats that stem from complex historical and political narratives. Hence, in his view, these two parties stand to benefit from shared “story-telling” as a means to better disentangle security discourses from potential security practices. He further added that while the role of external actors, such as the Baltics, in facilitating the implementation of a security governance agenda is commendable and desirable, local ownership remains vital for a sustainable political approach to security sector reform. Any external consultancy process in this specific area begs for a high degree of local commitment, this having very much been the case with the Baltic states. He concluded by stating that the increased securitisation of the so-called “new” security issues – failed states, organised crime, energy flows – may present a window of opportunity for the development of a multi-bilateral partnership agenda between the Baltic states and Eastern Mediterranean countries like Jordan.

The workshop was drawn to a close by Dr. Tobias Schumacher. Dr. Schumacher concluded that the debate on the MU of the last thirteen months has once again proven that despite fifteen years of Common Foreign and Security Policy, internal EU consensus as regards what should be done in the Mediterranean is still highly fragile. This fragility, it was argued, has lately grown, and in spite of the recent Brussels compromise, is bound to increase even further in view of the tendencies amongst some key players to re-nationalize their foreign policies, or at least advance their national interests in a more assertive way that is not based on consultation and coordination. In Schumacher’s opinion, the workshop suggested that new EU member states, such as Poland and the Baltics for example, whose foreign policy status has been upgraded in the last twenty years, stand to potentially play an important role in returning some degree of cohesion within the EU, not least because such efforts would benefit them by raising their “voice opportunity”. This in turn, however, requires that these recent member states abandon their prevalent attitudes of benign neglect and start working towards a new spirit of commonality and joint responsibility. Ideally, such shared understanding should lead to overcoming the unjustified and ineffective convolute of policies that are in place vis-à-vis the Mediterranean and promote the adoption of one single overarching policy approach. Yet, he concluded, even if such efforts were to succeed, any coherent EU single policy approach towards Europe’s southern neighbourhood may be limited in its scope by the small room for manoeuvre usually given to external actors by authoritarian regimes as soon as sensitive issues, such as democracy, human rights and good governance are concerned.


Pictures of the Research Workshop: