EU agenda for the Mediterranean: more than speed dating?

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Announced early December 2020, the “New Agenda for the Mediterranean” of the EU was delivered on 9 February.

That’s what fast delivery is about! Announced early December 2020, following the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Barcelona Declaration, the joint communication by the European Commission and High Representative Borrell entitled “A New Agenda for the Mediterranean” was delivered on 9 February, just over two weeks after the conclusion of a public consultation. Let’s hope the EU had enough time to digest the inputs received in such a short notice.  

EuroMedRights welcomes the communication since it focuses on the Southern Mediterranean, while the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) leans primarily towards Eastern Europe. It presents a holistic overview of the policies relating to the region, with a vision that coincides with the EU’s long-term budget for 2021-2027 and a mid-term review foreseen in 2024. It also contains some promising initiatives, although it is less encouraging to see the recycling of some well-known problematic elements of the past, most notably the recent Pact on Migration and Asylumand a few concepts used as mantras, such as stabilisation (mentioned in the 2015 ENP) and resilience (see 2016 Global Strategy). 

A welcome initiative, but… 

Also welcomed is the fact the first stated priority deals with human development, governance and the rule of law, with an explicit reference to the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. The latter reference was already included in the ENP as reviewed in 2015yet none of the Partnership Priorities signed with the partner countries mention it. The fight against disinformation and support to human rights defenders constitute another positive note, as well as the re-establishment of the “more for more” principle by virtue of Article 17 of the proposed regulation of the new financial instrument for the neighbourhood (NDICI)This principle underpins an incentive system on the basis of progress towards democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Yet, Article 17 also refers to cooperation on migration, a conditionality that many, including EuroMed Rights, would like to see removed. 

The agenda predominantly focuses on economic recovery, migration management and green transition, in many different ways: the flagship projects listed in the accompanying working document on economy and investment go in all directions, ranging from school renovation to justice reform, from promoting the voluntary return of migrants to seawater desalination! Other cross-cutting priorities include support for the youth and women, although the commitment towards women empowerment is not detailed. 

Common concerns, shared interests. Really? 

The involvement of civil society in policy development and evaluation, and as beneficiary of capacity building actions, is emphasised but without making civil society a key implementing partner. The EU mainly intends to support partner countries, inviting them to work closely together, assuming that these partners have common concerns and shared interests with the EU. 

In the area of peace and security, there is little EU commitment other than supporting UN efforts, playing its convening and diplomatic role – with a subliminal call on Member States to speak with one voice – and enhancing security cooperation. The EU sees the recent establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and a number of Arab countries, under the Trump administration, as an opportunity to improve the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution. The threat of annexation of the West Bank may have been temporarily lifted, but it is a mirage that does not change the reality on the ground, that of a de facto annexation. 

Partnership Priorities to be revisited 

If the EU has tied up its agenda at top speed, conditions for its implementation cannot be met with speed dating. The Partnership Priorities jointly agreed with five countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan) need to be revisited as they have come to an end. And the negotiations are likely to be difficult with certain partners such as Egypt.

The implementation of this agenda will be closely monitored by EuroMedRights and its members. Civil society must be included, not as secondary protagonist but as full partner. The challenges facing the Euro-Mediterranean region are numerous, difficult and yet also hopeful, 25 years after the commitment to make it a common area of peace and stability. 

 Vincent Forest 

EuroMed Rights Advocacy Director