Think EU-MED

Monday, December 29, 2008

Iran: An Unpredictable Variable

Iran’s aggressive foreign policy, coupled with its incipient nuclear program, is a serious concern and currently one of the most pressing problems in international politics and diplomacy. This article focuses briefly on Iran’s international standing and the origins of the tension between this country and the western world. In the end, it gives some personal remarks on how the conflict might be solved.
Iran is a country of special geostrategic importance due to its central location in Eurasia. In addition, the country has large reserves of petroleum and natural gas. Despite the advantages gleaned from its location and energy stores, Iran faces difficult internal problems (e.g. a high unemployment rate and inflation) and enormous diplomatic conflicts with the western world. Even though political relations between the West and Iran have been tense since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, these relations have significantly worsened in recent years. One cause of the increased tension is the renewal of a Shiite radicalism in Iran under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian leader is developing intermediate range missiles that have the ability to strike Israel, and he is a strong proponent of the nuclear program. Ahmadinejad continues to call for Israel’s destruction, proclaiming that a nuclear war with Israel will bring the return of the last Shiite Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, to earth. Teheran is sharply critical of the US invasion of Iran’s former chief rival, Iraq, as the state is worried about US hegemony in the region.

Iran’s Nuclear Program
Iran has moved ahead rapidly with its nuclear program. The Persian nation has been steadily increasing the number of centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plants, which according to Teheran officials, will solely be used for peaceful purposes. Iran is insisting on its inalienable right to enrich uranium and build centrifuges for peaceful power generation. In opposition to this declaration, the West is accusing Teheran of seeking to enrich uranium to levels high enough for use in nuclear weapons. In particular, Israel sees the nuclear ambitions of Iran as a threat to their existence and fear that Teheran’s program could drive other states in the Middle East to pursue nuclear power for armament and weapons.
Various diplomatic incentives have failed to halt Iran’s nuclear program, which is currently under surveillance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, the means of the IAEA have shown to be inadequate for detecting countries that have clandestine enrichment programs, such as Algeria, Libya and Syria.

Copyright (C) 2000,2001,2002 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

Equally ineffective are the sanctions by the United Nations Security Council. Recently, a United Nations Security Council resolution imposed a series of sanctions on Iran after the state declined an international offer that would require the suspension of its nuclear activity in exchange. Russia’s role is important here because this country has veto power in the UN Security Council, where sanctions need to be approved unanimously by the five permanent members. Oftentimes, Russia has threatened to boycott the decision due to recent tensions with the United States. Russia is a nuclear supplier and it supports Tehran's nuclear program for constructing the Bushehr reactor and selling its nuclear expertise. Furthermore, Moscow sees Iran as a strategic partner against an American presence in the Middle East, and is supportive of like-minded forces such as Hamas, Shiite Hezbollah, and Syria. If Russia is further willing to deepen ties with Iran, ( e.g. within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO); a military alliance, seen as a counterbalance to NATO, between Russia, China, and several Central Asian former Soviet states in which Iran has observer status) there could be a dangerous redistribution of power in international politics.

How to Deal with Iran?
What are the options for dealing with Iran? Should we accept a nuclear-armed Iran and live in a more insecure world where Israel’s existence is endangered? Should we bomb the country and have a “second Iraq”? There are different suggestions about how to react to Iran’s aggressive foreign policy. Israel is willing to attack Iran’s nuclear installations. The Bush administration oftentimes discussed using force to stop the rapidly expanding Iranian nuclear program, but there is hope that Barack Obama will attempt to solve the crisis diplomatically. Obama is generally inclined towards a worldwide nuclear disarmament.
Admittedly, diplomatic activities with Iran have not been a great success, thus far. However, military action should not be the preferred means of dealing with Iran. The western world has to pull out all the stops to prevent an armed conflict or even another invasion in the region. The European Union (EU) should strengthen its “soft power” agenda in the case of Iran. The EU could be effective because of its good reputation for international diplomacy and its good relationship with Russia. A security community that involves the EU, US, and Russia as equal partners could be the key solution to the current friction. With the committed support of the European states, Obama could be empowered to reinitiate direct diplomatic policy with the Persian state. A common strategy of a mix of “carrots and sticks” is most appropriate. Offering economic incentive packages and permitting a nuclear program under control of the international society could persuade Tehran to suspend its uranium enrichment program. If direct talks and “carrots” will not halt Iran obtaining nuclear material, Europe and the US must act in concert to put international pressure on the Iranian economy to prevent Ahmadinejad’s next win in the polls; Ahmadinejad will most likely win the 2009 Iranian presidential election, mainly because of the support of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The western states have to make it clear to the Iranian people that a moderate policy towards Israel and the rest of the world is necessary and more beneficial for themselves. Another victory of Ahmadinejad would make productive policy changes regarding Iran’s nuclear program nearly impossible.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Immigration and the European Union – Reflections on the New Pact

On October 15, EU heads of state endorsed the 'European Pact on Immigration and Asylum'. The Immigration Pact, one of the centerpieces of the French EU presidency, mandates common approaches for handling future European immigration and provides a roadmap for implementing these policies. It sets out five priorities for action: legal immigration and integration, a European asylum system, control of illegal immigration, effective border controls and development. The EU will introduce a 'Blue Card' for the purpose of attracting highly-skilled migrants from developing countries. This new work visa, which is based on the US Green Card, will come into force by mid-2010.

Since October 2007, when the Blue Card plan was first tabled, difficult bargaining was needed to reach an agreement. The member states have very diverse requirements concerning immigration. Despite the member states’ differences regarding various policy details and frameworks, there were also converging viewpoints. All member states have to tackle the demographic change, need to be competitive in the global market and most importantly have a common interest in maintaining strong external Community borders. Furthermore, Europe’s ongoing integration in many fields such as the labour market, has created the situation where member states affect one another. Europe has a mutual solidarity, and the states understand that immigration is a pan-European issue that must not be handled simply as a domestic matter.

However, the asylum policy questions this "solidarity" within the member states. While, for example, the number of asylum seekers to Central Europe is low and declining every year, hundreds of asylums are arriving at the coasts of southern Greece, southern Spain, and Malta every day. Nevertheless, the EU does not want to introduce a quota to distribute the asylum seekers in Europe, so those countries taking in large numbers of asylum-seekers will just receive money to solve this problem. On November 7, the European Commission adopted the multi-year program under the European Refugee Fund to give Malta 4.8 million Euros in assistance between 2008 and 2013. But it is unclear whether the financial solidarity will be enough.

Finally, the EU states agreed on adopting a balanced pact between regulating illegal immigrants/asylum-seekers and welcoming skilled workers. The Blue Card allows an immigrant to work just in one EU country, without having the right to move to another country for work purposes. The immigrant can not move freely within the EU, as this worker must apply for a new Blue Card when moving to another EU country. This restriction on labor mobility will make the scheme less attractive. Therefore, the Blue Card is not the right scheme to compete, for instance, with the US market for the best minds. In the US, similar market restrictions are not posed on any states, and also, there is not the disadvantage of having many different languages, as is the case in the EU.

The immigration pact is both a legitimate means of discouraging illegal immigration and enabling Europe to become more dynamic in its welcoming of highly qualified immigrants. It foresees stricter rules on the unification of immigrants' families, and also aims to make returning home easier. It will be harder for member states to grant mass amnesties for illegal migrants, like Spain did this for around 600,000 illegal immigrants in 2005.
Thus, the new immigration pact is both selective and also more controlled, with more returns of illegal immigration. So, some experts are wrong for assuming that the period of security minded policies of the European Union is over. The more than 100,000 illegal immigrants who reach the EU member states every year from the southern Mediterranean states can not easily controlled by this measure. The entire northern Mediterranean shore is a transit point for thousands of Africans refugees and migrants who are fleeing war or poverty in the Horn of Africa. Most of them arrive in Libya, where trafficking gangs transport help them for many dollars to reach Europe's coast. And all the thousands of people who reach Europe's Mediterranean shores, dead or dying of thirst, will not stop either with this EU Pact. Not to forget that immigration is not just an economic issue but also has a moral obligation. The EU can not just pick the best educated minds in order to fill a gap in the employment market and then send them home after a couple of years. This selective immigration is not only too unattractive for highly skilled people but also creates a brain drain on human resources in the developing states.
The EU pact on immigration and asylum is not a turning point in a common strategy. The "European fortress" is not only still alive, it is now the "Europe of the 27 fortresses".

• Council of the European Union: European Pact on Immigration and Asylum
• European Commission: European Refugee Fund 2008-2013 - Malta

Further information on the Blue Card Watch Eurinfo

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean" -First ministerial conference

Flag of the Union for the Mediterranean

The first Ministerial Conference of the "Barcelona Process: Union for Mediterranean" was held in Marseilles on November 3rd and 4th. The conference brought co-chaired by the French and Egyptian foreign affairs ministers, Bernard Kouchner and Ahmed Aboul Gheitheld, brought together the ministers of foreign affairs of the 43 member countries.The work programme of the Union for the Mediterranean for the year 2009 was adopted which foresees the implementation of specific, regional projects in the following six areas:

  • Civil Protection
  • De-pollution of the Mediterranean
  • Alternative Energies and Mediterranean Solar Plan
  • Higher Education and Research – Euro-Mediterranean University
  • Supporting Business
  • Maritime and Land Highways

  • Apart from the adoption of the Paris summit work programme, just few outcomes will become visible from the first Ministerial Conference. Barcelona was officially presented as the headquarters of the Secretariat of the Union and the post of secretary-general should go to a southern member. In addition, the Ministers decided that the League of Arab States should participate in all meetings of the Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean.
    Wait up! There is indeed one important decision taken. In exchange for the seat of the headquarters in Barcelona, Spain agreed that the “Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean’’
    may now just be called “Union for the Mediterranean”. In the name of all journalists, bloggers and readers: Thank you, really!

    Monday, October 27, 2008

    Barcelona's Candidature for the UfM Secretariat Seat

    Barcelona, which hosted the birth of the Process in 1995, could become the central reference in the creation of a space for dialogue between the northern and the southern rim of the Mediterranean. The city was elected as appropriate candidate for the seat of the secretariat of the new Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean(UfM). The Spanish and Catalan governments and Barcelona City Council have initiated the promotion of Barcelona’s nomination.

    At the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean (13 July 2008), the heads of state decided to create a Secretariat for the Union for the Mediterranean.
    The Government of Spain presents Barcelona’s candidature on a new website. There you can find the main arguments in favour of this candidature. Barcelona is characterized as ideal site for the Secretariat because of its open, multicultural and cosmopolitan being and its geographical location. Barcelona "shares with the peoples of the Mediterranean basin a long history of influences, dialogue and cooperation" and "boasts a vibrant, participative civil society that believes in peace, democracy and human rights".

    On the website created by the IEMed institution based in Barcelona, you will find a presentation of the buildings, where the Secretariat would be located and further information (Opinions, news and reference documents) about its candidature.

    The odds are in favour of Barcelona as Valetta has not got enough support for its candidacy. The other competitor Tunis has withdrown already its candidacy to host the UM's headquarters.

    Visit the website:

    Wednesday, October 1, 2008

    Middle East Quartet Criticized

    Acoording to a report by leading humanitarian and human rights organisations published on 25 September, the Middle East Quartet (EU, Russia, UN, USA) fails to make progress towards improving the lives of Palestinians nor improving the prospects for peace. The report, using data gathered by the humanitarian and human rights organisations that work on the ground, is questioning if the the Middle East Quartet is further required in future when they can not improve their outcome.

    The report focuses on 10 political issues in the region which are considered to be of vital importance for the broader peace process. The Quartet failed to improve the situation in five of the ten Quartet’s objectives. In the cessation of violence in Gaza, the agreement on reinvigoration of the private sector, the fulfilment of donor pledges, and Palestinian security sector reform and increasing fuel to Gaza there has not been a significant progress or an actual deterioration in the situation.
    This report provides recommendations to Quartet members on how best to respond to ensure urgently needed progress.

    Middle East Quartet is failing, warn aid agencies

    Monday, September 1, 2008

    EuroMed Info Centre

    The EuroMed Info Centre is a project on the European and Mediterranean partnership. The project was initiated by the European Commission and is financed by the MEDA Regional Information and Communication programme.

    Its main aim is to make the MEDA Regional Programme and the EU's partnership with the Mediterranean more visible to the general public and opinion leaders (political, institutional, business, industrial, in civil society and the media) in all areas covered by the partnership. EUROMed presents the advantages that the European Union’s genuine partnership with the countries in our neighbourhood brings. They deal with requests from EC Delegations, support Mediterranean journalists and help MEDA-funded civil society campaign managers seeking to disseminate information on their work.

    With the launch of its newly designed website, anyone interested in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, in regional and bilateral projects, or in the European Neighbourhood Policy can get a great package of information in three languages – including Arabic.

    Visit the Website:

    Friday, August 15, 2008

    Institute of the Mediterranean

    The Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed) based in Barcelona calls itself a "think tank specialised in the Euro-Med Relations" and an actor in the dialogue between the EU and the other Mediterranean countries.
    On the website you can find in four languages (CAT,ESP,ENG, FR) various information and links in the sectors Politics, Economy, Migrations, Society and Cultural dialogue. To each section, the IEMed does provide academic lectures, seminars or cultural activities, which take place predominantly in Spain.

    The journal "Quaderns de la Mediterrània" belongs to the series of projects of IEMed. It is aiming to be a forum of debate between the two shores of the Mediterranean Sea and aims to force the dialogue. The research project concerns topics such as migration and sociological, economic and political processes of the peoples in the Mediterranean area.
    In the current issue the key subject is the intercultural dialogue. With articles on current events, cultural, anthropological and sociological aspects and a book review section it aims to contribute to the intercultural understanding between Europe and the Mediterranean.

    Visit the website, it is worth

    Friday, August 1, 2008

    The launch of the Union- Concepts and Contents

    The French EU presidency launched the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) on Sunday July 13, in a pompous event in Paris' Grand Palais. For France, the launch of the Union is one of the centerpieces of their agenda.
    Nevertheless, there are fears that after the extravaganza is over, the Union will center its attention on more symbolic policies than on substance. The new UfM must prove that it is more than a symbolic draft without soul and principles. The launch confirmed the previous doubts that the Union is ineffective, as it was rather a symbolic show than a decision-making meeting.

    We should not forget that the original purpose, as designed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was substantially changed. Originally, the Union was intended to be restricted to countries on the Mediterranean Basin, which, despite having fewer members, would have created a stronger coalition. Sarkozy's proposal was watered down by the EU and it became incorporated into the already existing Barcelona Process. The Bloc's leaders agreed to include 44 countries, including the EU's 27 members, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Mauritania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Monaco, Montenegro, and Albania.

    The UfM is set up to handle specific regional projects, including water and waste management, as well as a joint program for managing immigration and cultural exchanges. The Union aims to work on a series of practical projects such as tackling pollution problems in the Mediterranean Sea, improving infrastructure, and launching a solar energy program. Although the goals sound ambitious, the EU's budget for the Union during 2007 to 2013 would not surpass 7.5 billion Euros. However, as the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) presented, the "de-pollution" projects would already cost about 2.1 billion Euros. For other projects like improving the use of solar energy, building land and sea motorways, enhancing cooperation on civil protection, and founding the Euromed University, billions more Euros would be needed. Compared to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership’s (EMP) budget of 5,350 billion Euros between 2000 and 2006, the projected increase will be slight.
    José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, has warned that little should be expected from the EU –budget, considering the amount of money that would be needed to complete the projects. In addition to the aforementioned programs, the UfM should work also as a tool for improving diplomatic relations.
    Therefore, the UfM needs to attract private funds to provide a solid foundation for these projects. However, it is not yet clear who will finance the projects. Dorothée Schmid, a specialist of Euro-Mediterranean relations at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) in Paris, said in an interview to Euractiv, "Regarding private funds, we don't know yet who will get involved. It is not easy to attract the private sector on long term projects, which, by nature, tend to rather mobilise public funds."

    Already, there has been some tension about what the summit can and should achieve. One point of contention is the forced cooperation in the Union between Arab states and Israel, which Arab leaders fear because it could "normalize" the ties with Israel. Another issue concerns Turkey, which worries that its membership in the Mediterranean Union could block it from gaining entry into the EU. Finally, yet importantly, there is tension with Libyan leader Gaddafi because he appeals to the Arabic states that do not to support the weak and Western orientated project.
    It is evident that programs related to controversial issues, such as immigration and terrorism, have been predominantly omitted. Maybe the new setup tries to avoid the failures of the Barcelona Process, which has been terminated due to political apathy.

    Scepticism about the strength and quality of the UfM can be understood by taking into account that very few concrete decisions were made at the launch. For example, France and Egypt will serve as the Union's first co-chairs, which will manage the summits and annual foreign affairs ministerial meetings; this is in accordance with the requirement that there be representation from one northern and one southern nation. The heads of states and governments will meet every two years and a permanent joint secretariat will be established to promote and follow up the projects. This joint secretariat is, according to Schmid, another controversial subject as the "French government would like the secretariat to play a more political role but the Commission would like to limit it to a more technical role." The Union's institutional architecture cannot be overestimated. The Union needs is own powerful institutions to push its policies in a dynamic but not too administrative way.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008

    Inside Story - Mediterranean Union - 13 July

    AlJazeeraEnglish asks if the Union for the Mediterranean will work...

    Sunday, July 13, 2008

    Assad's Comback on International Stage

    Ahead of the launch of the Mediterranean Union Summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy hold talks with key Mideast leaders in Paris. The meetings marked the beginning of a weekend of intense diplomatic efforts for the French president. After a meeting with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on July 12, Sarkozy met later in the day Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and the new Lebanese president Michel Suleimann.
    The reception of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the meeting in Paris marks his comeback to the international stage and Syria's break from diplomatic isolation. Syria is suspected of being behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, and has long been accused by the international community of interfering in Lebanese politics. France and many other western countries have shunned Syria in recent years, accusing Assad of destabilizing neighbouring Lebanon and fomenting unrest across its borders with Iraq.

    Sarkozy used the meeting to improve the tense relations between Damascus and Beirut, following the forced withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in mid-2005. The talks may have been effective considering thatLebanon's President Suleimann and Assad have agreed to open embassies in each other's capitals after talks with Sarkozy. Lebanon and Syria broke off diplomatic ties after former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005. Beirut accused Syria of being involved.

    Sarkozy also discussed other issues with his counterparts from Syria and Lebanon during talks in the Elysee Palace, such as Iran's nuclear programme and peace efforts between Syria and Israel. French officials said it is important to re-establish high-level ties with Syria and declared that its recent decision to restart indirect peace talks with Israel shows that attitudes are changing in Damascus. Although the conditions were not yet right for direct Syria-Israel talks, this meeting can be seen as a diplomatic victory for Sarkozy. The French president booked his first success when Syria and Lebanon agreed to relax their often stressed relations. "We can say that Lebanon has moved from being a zone of turbulence, a war zone, to a more pacified zone where the Lebanese, and only the Lebanese, have the right to determine their own future," said Assad after the meeting with Suleimann.

    We all know that the French president is keen to push the Middle East high up in the EU's agenda, but to mark a major shift in policy towards Syria might have surprised some French and other Europeans.
    Assad's reception in Paris and his invitation to attend Monday's Bastille Day military parade have been criticized by human rights activists. Critics say it is too much of a reward when there are still serious question concerning human rights in Syria and its alleged role in the killing of Mr Hariri. Even French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stated that this does not make him "especially comfortable."

    43 Nations form historic Mediterranean Union (AP)

    Saturday, July 12, 2008

    Press Freedom Groups criticize Sarkozy

    A coalition of international press freedom organisations raised concerns with French President Nicolas Sarkozy about ignoring human rights violations in Tunisia as he seeks to create a Union for the Mediterranean at the summit meeting on 13 July. According to the World Association of Newspapers and 17 press freedom organisation Mr Sarkozy underestimates the tendency to resort to censorship, intimidation and
    violence in Tunesia.

    In a letter to Mr. Sarkozy they wrote: "It seems essential that the French government does not underestimate the seriousness of the human rights violations in Tunisia." And “it is furthermore essential that France adopts and promotes a policy in accordance with the values of the Republic, by inviting the Tunisian authorities to respect their international human rights obligations, specifically those in favour of freedom of expression and the press."

    Members of the Tunisia Monitoring Group include: Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (Egypt); ARTICLE 19 (United Kingdom); Canadian Journalists for Free Expression; Cartoonists Rights Network International (United States); Egyptian Organization for Human Rights; Index on Censorship (United Kingdom); International Federation of Journalists; International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions; International Press Institute; International Publishers’ Association; Journaliste en danger (Democratic Republic of Congo); Maharat Foundation (Lebanon); Media Institute of Southern Africa; Norwegian PEN; World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters; World Association of Newspapers; World Press Freedom Committee; and the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN.

    Read the full letter

    Does the Union for Mediterranean lack of an human rights agenda?

    Amnesty International raises concerns about the agenda of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) initiative.
    The new Union might bypass human rights as there is no reference to human rights in the current proposal. According to Amnesty International the increased cooperation and dialogue will be based purely on commercial and financial terms. Unlike the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership which put an emphasis on the human rights dimension, the EU is maybe taking out this paragraphs to avoid problems with the partner states.

    If the fact is right that the EU bypasses human rights "we are facing a dangerous precedent: it not only undermines core principles of the EU’s relations with third countries but openly allows human rights to be sidelined for the sake of business," said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s EU Office.

    In a letter sent to the French EU Presidency, the Amnesty International EU office demand from the EU’s external relations initiative the following:

    "-Reaffirm the EU's commitment that human rights principles govern all EU external relations
    -Ensure that the EU holds to its commitment to systematically raise human rights concerns in all bilateral and multilateral dialogues, to mainstream human rights into all external policy areas, and to fully involve civil society
    -Develop human rights monitoring mechanisms within the Union for the Mediterranean, to examine human rights concerns in all countries, in order to address the current human rights deficit"

    Monday, June 30, 2008

    European Neighbourhood Journalism Network

    The European Neighbourhood Journalism Network is a new website developed by the European Journalists Centre, which went online on 4 June 2008. The project operates within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). It is a follow-up to the "Europe for Mediterranean Journalists" initiative. The project funded by the EU is part of the European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument (ENPI) Regional Information and Communication Programme, designed to raise awareness and understanding within the beneficiary countries of the ENP. The ENP consists of the southern Mediterranean, eastern European and southern Caucasus countries. The Network offers on its website news, the main policy areas and basic info on the EU and country profiles.

    The European Neighbourhood Journalism Network will facilitate networking with the goal of building bridges within the EU’s neighbourhood. A network on-line community also exists, to which one can register. At the community site you can inform about project updates and news. Until now, just few people have found their way to this site. Within the small registered group there is not any discussion yet. So we all hope that this might change quickly as “building bridges” without any solid fundament existing of active and enthusiastic people could be hard to maintain.

    The project also claims to provide training and support on EU affairs to journalists, editors, producers, and other media professionals from the ENPI countries. In addition the programme aims to support journalists in utilizing their newly acquired skills and knowledge in their job by developing a complementary programme for their media (editors, manager, owners). Although this objective sounds important and the trainers are the skilled experts of the Thompson Foundation, there are not any training possibilities and complementary programmes visible on the website right now.

    The European Neighbourhood Journalism Network convinces with its concepts and objectives. We hope that they can fulfil their high expectations like building up a high skilled and active network of journalists from the European neighbourhood where they exchange experiences and learn from one another.

    Visit the European Neighbourhood Journalism Network website

    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    EU Approved the Principle of the Union for the Mediterranean

    The European Council approved the principle of a Union for the Mediterranean which will include the Member States of the EU and the non-EU Mediterranean coastal states. It invited the Commission to present to the Council the necessary proposals for defining the modalities of what will be called "Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean" with a view to the Summit which will take place in Paris on 13 July 2008.

    Read the Conclusions of the European Council

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    Democracy in the Arab World? The Western Position between Interests and Ideals

    How could the western world solve the incompatibility between its ideal of promoting democracy and its interest in enhancing stability in the Arab region? From an idealist point of view, you might think that peace and security in the Middle East goes hand-in-hand with the expansion of democracy and freedom. However, from a realist point of view, you would answer that the western world could only negotiate peace with a stabilized government. A rapid democratization pushed from outside could create civil disorder, radicalism, and stop the process of political reformism.
    When there is not any strong movement towards democracy in the Arabic countries themselves, promoting democratisation might bring the opposite results.

    Eva Bellin, Associate Professor of Political Science at Hunter College,
    reviewed two books on this theme: Freedom's Unsteady March, by Tamara Cofman Wittes, and Beyond the Façade, edited by Marina Ottaway and Julia Choucair-Vizoso.
    Both books explore the US interests in promoting democracy in the Arab world.
    According to Bellin, promoting democracy from outside cannot replace "the work of forces on the ground who daily make their own calculations of the costs and benefits of mobilizing collective power and challenging the status quo".
    Therefore, the best proposition for the US and also for the EU is that outsiders "cheer from the sidelines, pressure allied regimes to make space for these local forces, and provide material and technical assistance where possible. . . . Washington must narrow its efforts to the protection of political freedoms, . . . press reluctant regimes to include Islamists in the political process, and make aid and trade conditional on performance on these more limited goals" says Eva Bellin in regard to the books’ proposals. In addition, she says that this should be done "without the slightest hope of cashing in any political returns in the near term".

    But is the devil not in the details?
    First, for example, the movements of the Muslim Neighbourhood were impeded by mostly non-democratic governments that were backed by Washington and Brussels. How could the western governments now give preference toward Islamists in the political process while they were declaring that combating the 9/11 terrorist’s cells in the Arab world was the major task? If the western world is willing to tread this brave path then they need to stop the rhetoric war against the "Islamists enemies" and completely change their policy toward the Arab world.
    Secondly, since the beginning of the Barcelona Process, the EU has been trying to make aid and trade conditional on their making reforms regarding political freedom, state of law, and human rights issues. However, as the EU cannot offer lucrative prospects (as done in the East Enlargement with the EU Membership), the current proposal is far too unattractive for the Arab governments to accept and thereby risk their own political power. The EU should talk with the leaders at eye level to better understand what the autocratic leaders really want.
    In the last years, the EU has rather worsened their image and authority in the Arab world by implementing similar policies within the ENP (European Neighbourhood Policy). For example, as Belarus might be a potential EU member state candidate in the future and because of its geographical important status between Russia and Europe, there are many arguments as to why a conditional policy might work. North Africa and the Middle East have no chance to become member states of the EU, and even more importantly, there would be neither chance nor recommendation to split off the region in either EU favoured or non-favoured states. As Gaddafi outlined a few days ago, the Mediterranean Union should be a common strategic policy. If this cannot be made clear to the Arabic partner states, the tragedy in the EU-Med relations will continue and undemocratic governments will be supported with an even stronger Islamic opposition.

    Some critics suggest that the idealistic proposals presented in the two books are fundamentally flawed and, perhaps, naive. One of the strongest arguments for this is the following: Who really believes in western politics where the long-term goals are prioritised before the short-term ones? It is too easy for politicians to hide behind the rhetoric of long term goals and to close their eyes to the present.

    Foreign Affairs

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Gaddafi Opposes the "Union for the Mediterranean"

    Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi opposed the proposals for a Mediterranean union at a mini-summit in Tripoli where the leaders of Algeria, Syria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Morocco, and Syria met. The summit was convened to discuss the ambitious proposals by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy for a Mediterranean bloc modelled on and linked to the European Union. These initiatives aimed to promote a regionalist concept with North Africa and the Middle East, but they were strongly criticized by Gaddafi.

    In Gaddafi’s opinion, the French initiative 'Union for the Mediterranean' might harm the “Arab and African unity efforts". The European States should understand that the Arab league similarly will not accept the destruction of its own unity. Gaddafi stated, "we are member states of the Arab League and also the African Union and we will not take any chances with damaging Arab or African Unity." Gaddafi has labelled the participation of African countries in the Mediterranean project a "violation" of resolutions by the African Union. The Libyan leader, who came to power in 1969, and has become the Arab world's longest serving leader, accused the EU of wanting to dominate its southern partners that were once under European colonial rule. According to the AFP news agency, Gaddafi said: "We are neither hungry nor dogs to be thrown bones”.

    The Tripoli meeting came ahead of a broader gathering and launch ceremony for the 'Union for the Mediterranean' in Paris, scheduled for July 13 of this year. Gaddafi had already made it clear that he will not be present at the meeting.
    Although no decision was formally adopted on the summit, the meeting sorts out differences over the EU plans. Just two countries are strongly supporting the "Union of the Mediterranean". First Egypt, because the EU has offered it co-presidency with France, and second Tunisia, which has been promised it could host the initiative's Secretariat. One of the dividing issues, which could also be seen as a major obstacle in the whole Barcelona Process, is the presence of Israel in the Union. Another more organisational point is that some Arab countries have requested clarifications from the EU over a number of issues relating to the new EU-Mediterranean structure, such as administrative structures, financing, and decision-making process of the Mediterranean Union. With some reason, Arab states fear that Brussels will dominate the decision-making process, which has already happened with the stalled Barcelona Euro-Med process.

    So, it is not surprising that Gaddafi said that the Mediterranean Union proposal was just another "passing fad", which would make no more progress than the so-called Euro-Mediterranean partnership process launched in Barcelona in 1995. He may well have a point regarding the EU proposal after the modest outcomes of the Barcelona Process. However, playing a two way political game, like Gaddafi is doing with the European Union, does not helping one’s credibility as political leader. On the one hand, in July 2007, Gaddafi signed a number of bilateral and multilateral agreements with the EU; however, on the other hand, Gaddafi raised the idea of an African Union that was loosely modeled on its European counterpart. This dual strategy did not exclude his country from the economical benefits of the coming free trade zone with the EU, but also made him the glorious unifier of the African continent. Gaddafi’s game is simple, but for Libya, this might be an important opportunity to profit from both regional blocs.

    • AFP: Kadhafi opposes Mediterranean Union plan
    Gulf News

    Thursday, June 5, 2008

    Should the EU talk to Hamas?

    Is it time for the EU to consider talking directly to Hamas? Several European governments believe that the current policy of isolating the Hamas and so weakening the extremist has failed if not even has strengthened support for Hamas among Palestinians. On the other hand the Fatah has suffered from their role as more modest and open minded party. So what shall the EU do?

    On June 11th Dr. Mark Heller, Director of Research and Principal Research Associate at the Institute for National Security Studies, pointed out his view on this question at the European Parliament. Heller has written extensively on Middle Eastern political and strategic issues and published numerous book chapters and articles in prestigious journals.

    In the debate MEP Jana Hybaskova and Emanuele Ottolenghi, Executive Director of the Transatlantic Institute, considered a constructive dialog with the Hamas in the future as possible.
    In opposition to that Dr. Mark Heller neglected any dialog-cooperation between the European Union with Hamas as long Hamas is “using violence and hanging with terror, and so long they don’t accept the reality and existence of Israel in Middle
    Heller warned the EU that talking to the Hamas means to legitimate and tolerate the terrorist organisation which doesn't respect any conditions or international agreements. He underlined that “it will give wrong impression to all the states in the Middle East that Europe accommodates to the force of the Islam terror rather then be opposed to its brutal means".
    According to Heller, only Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the help of Egypt can successfully solve the issue of this Islamic organisation. However, any engagement of the EU would discredit the European values and standards.

    Visit the Transatlantic Institute here to get more information

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008

    The Socialist Group present their future of Euro-Mediterranean relations

    The Socialist Group in the European Parliament, PSE, has published in April 2008 its report “The Future of the EU-Mediterranean Relations”. The PSE proposed in their document to re-launch the EU-Mediterranean relations and underlines the potential which remains to be optimized.

    The main objectives are:

    • Consolidate the spirit of the Barcelona process by re-affirming its conceptual framework in view of the construction of the establishment of a community of values, interests and destinies, breaking with the security logics of the Mediterranean stakes.
    • Announce a real policy of democratisation and promotion of human rights via a visible support to the civil societies and political organisations.
    • Launch an agenda of economical regional and sub-regional cooperation in order to lower the social and economic disparities between the two shores and anchor the region into the global economy.
    • Participate with our proposals in the debates and initiatives which aim at reviewing and developing the EU-Mediterranean cooperation by strengthening them in the framework of the existing institutions. In this perspective the European Parliament will have a major role to play. At the same time, the EMPA will assure the parliamentary dimension of the Barcelona Process. Finally, civil society must find its place within the EU-Mediterranean decision making mechanisms.

    Read the hole pdf-document of the PSE "The future of the EU-Mediterranean Relations"

    Friday, May 23, 2008

    The Union for the Mediterranean is Coming Closer –What Will Come?

    The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (also Barcelona Process)was initiated in 1995 to improve and develop the EU’s relations with neighboring Mediterranean states. The goals and ambitions of this multilateral project have, thus far, not fulfilled the high expectations. One of the reasons for the lack of success may be due to the failure of the Mediterranean States to cooperate with one another (no wonder, as Israel is also part of the Barcelona Process). Perhaps the most essential origin for the shortfalling lies in the uncertain and shy policy of the EU itself. The EU did too little to attract the southern neighbors from executing economic and political reforms. Now, a new "Mediterranean Union" shall continue the Barcelona-Process with some modifications in the design.

    The French president Nicola Sarkozy first proposed the idea of a new Mediterranean Union during his national election campaign in 2007. This resulted from the conclusion that the Barcelona Process failed in achieving its goals and that EU external relations focused rather on the Eastern European neighbourhood.
    Sarkozy's proposal should be a kind of exclusive club between the Mediterranean neighbors and five EU member states (France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Malta). Not only would this Union keep out the other EU states, this plan would also indicate that it would be more beneficial for Turkey to join this Union than to join the EU. So, this proposal would have fulfilled Sarkozy’s goals to improve the relations with the French-speaking states in Africa and to keep out Turkey, as he is a strong opponent of Turkey's EU membership.

    Sarkozy's proposed Mediterranean Union

    While this proposal attracted support from the EU Mediterranean states, other EU states, especially Germany, criticized the plans because the new union could compete with the EU or the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and split the EU down the middle.
    In addition, why let pay Europe for a project that would mainly help French companies acquire lucrative contracts in water management, sea purification, and nuclear energy that do not have German Chancellor Angela Merkel's support? Merkel wanted more EU focus and funds placed into the Union's expansion to the east and did not want to shut the EU-door for Turkey. Also, some Mediterranean partner states, especially Algeria, backed Merkel's efforts.

    After long negotiations between Sarkozy and Merkel, both agreed on a revised union with the participation of all 27-member states. The new agreement, entitled 'The Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean', would be managed by a rotating co-presidency involving one EU and one Mediterranean partner country. Nevertheless, it also stated that all 27 EU countries would be eligible for co-presidency under the Commission's plan, and the Commission has also made clear that this project is not directed against Turkey’s EU accession ambitions.
    The Union’s main areas will be energy, environment, civil protection and transport, and a focus on crime, terrorism, and illegal immigration. Potential projects of the forum are new sea traffic routes, depollution of Mediterranean waters, improvements to maritime security, and exploitation of solar power in North Africa to help meet the energy needs of the region.

    Although EU leaders backed the “Union for the Mediterranean” at a summit in March, the final design of the Union still remains uncertain. The EU-Mediterranean summit in Paris on July 13, under the French EU Presidency, must bring clear results as the EU leaders could adopt a final version at their summit to be held in Brussels on June 19-20.

    European Commission: Euro-Mediterranean Partnership/Barcelona Process

    Tuesday, May 20, 2008

    EuroMed: Building bridges across the Mediterranean

    Politicians from across the EU and all the Mediterranean countries meet to discuss the situation in the Middle East, the world's biggest free trade zone, climate change, energy and the strengthening of the EuroMed Parliamentary Assembly. Athens, March 2008.

    Sunday, May 18, 2008

    Europe for Mediterranean Journalists

    “Europe for Mediterranean Journalists” is an 18-month long project financed by the European Commission. The European Journalism Centre, the International Federation of Journalists, the Thomson Foundation and BBJ Consult are running the website. Sixty media organisations from Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey are taking part in the project. All journalists from these sixty media teams are participating in the programme and will form the network; but also journalists from the Mediterranean region and from Europe are invited to join if you are involved in the media.

    The initiative aims to teach journalists from Southern Mediterranean countries how to gather information about European affairs. The program consists of conferences, workshops, and seminars about the relations between the EU and the Mediterranean countries, and of training in new media technologies and methods.

    On the trilingual (English, French and Arabic) website, journalists is provided information on specific aspects of the cooperation and relations between the European Union and the Mediterranean region. Journalist from the Southern Mediterranean countries may become part of the journalists’ network section. There you can build up a network within you have the opportunity to contact partners and colleagues from the region for help, advice or exchange of projects and ideas.

    In my opinion the creation of a network among journalists in the region is important to reinforce co-operation among media. However, the website gives hardly information about the status of the project. As the website stated, the project started on May 29-31. However, in which year it came into practice, I could not find out. The latest news on the website was written in the beginning of 2008. If it is still running is unclear; maybe a small notice about would be worth.

    Europe for Mediterranean Journalists

    Thursday, May 15, 2008

    New Civil War and Old Conflicts in Lebanon

    Fighting has largely ended between predominantly Sunni supporters of the government and the Shiite opposition group Hezbollah. Last week, the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah turned against its own people to wrest more political power from the western oriented government. During their violent occupations and armed clashes, the Hezbollah militia brought much of Lebanon's capital, Beirut, and surrounding areas under its control. Its forces controlled most of western Beirut and blockaded the city's port and airport. At least 80 people have been killed and over 200 have been wounded in the recent fighting, which is the country's worst civil crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. After six days of clashes between Hezbollah fighters and pro-government gunmen, the previously neutral Lebanese army stepped up patrols to restore order.

    The strife erupted after the government, under the US-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, sacked the pro-Shiite head of security at Beirut airport and announced it was taking action against Hezbollah’s private telephone network on May 8. The government declared Hezbollah’s military communications network as a threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, labelled the government’s decisions a “declaration of war”, as the phone network was an essential part of Hezbollah’s weapon campaign. The actions of Lebanon's Shiite militant Hezbollah movement against the Lebanese government tend to be understood as a confirmation of who has the power in the state. The government's decision to withdraw the measures against Hezbollah marks a significant short-term victory for the Shiites.

    What are the reasons for the crisis? Over the past three years, there have been continuous political problems between the government and Hezbollah. The situation worsened after the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005, and the following Cedar Revolution that lasted until 1976 and ultimately ended the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon. Further assassinations of members of the parliament and public officials spilled over into violence in the streets of Beirut. The wider political divisions and ongoing unstable situation has forced the Lebanese Parliament to postpone a vote to pick a new president. Lebanon has been without a president since Emile Lahoud gave up the post last November. In Lebanon, there is an agreement that the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the National Assembly is a Shiite Muslim. The Christian group makes up about 39% of the total population and are mainly Maronite Catholic and Greek Orthodox. The biggest religious group is Muslim, which accounts for almost 60% of the population (Shiite, Sunni, Druze).