Think EU-MED

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Israeli-Palestinian Movement “Combatants for Peace”

مقاتلون من اجل السلام / לוחמים לשלום

An open dialogue, cultural initiatives and exchanges between Palestinians and Israelis are rare and difficult to obtain. The ongoing military conflict, fixed prejudices and imaginaries, and a lack of openness in the region are hindering are joint dialogue for mutual understanding. However, there are a few civil movements who try to break down these collective barriers and raise the consciousness in both societies in regard to this bloody conflict.

The non-violent resistance group “Combatants for Peace” is the very best example that a jointly movement for a better relationship is possible. It is a civil movement jointly established by former Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers in order to promote a peaceful solution of two states (according to the Oslo Treaty) through dialogue and non-violent means. The bi-national movement “Combatants for Peace” leads a pacifist struggle against the occupation, fights for peace and justice in various joint actions. The activist’s goal is to enhance trust and solidarity between Palestinians and Israelis and, in the end, lead their societies out of the vicious cycle of conflict.

“Combatants for Peace” was formed in 2005 by a group of 12 Israeli soldiers from the Israeli army (IDF) and four former Palestinian fighters, mostly from the Fatah movement. Both sides took an active role in the violent struggle in the region and decided together to drop their arms.
They become convinced that a military solution to the conflict is impossible and motivated to talk to each other” "Initially we were full of fear, but we learned that we're all human and can talk together,” said Palestinian Fatah fighter Sulaiman al-Hamri to the Jewish Journal. After a series of meetings, the group of Israelis and Palestinians jointly expressed the desire to fight peacefully for a solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and formed the “Combatants for Peace on Pessah” in 2006.

Today the movement consists of more than 250 activists involving also non ex-military participants who gather in weekly group dialogue meetings. But dialogue is not the end in itself, but rather a starting point for a number of concrete actions and real change in the area. For instance, the movement engages to help Palestinian farmers who have limited access to their fields due to military presence or who face harassment from settlers. The Combatants remove road blockages that tears the Palestinian villages apart, assist in the re-building of demolished houses and provide cultural and social activities such as tours of east Jerusalem, lectures and nonviolent demonstrations.

In a press release Raed Hadar and Avner Wishnitzer, Palestinian and Israeli coordinators of the movement emphasise: “We believe that only by joining forces, will we be able to end the cycle of violence, the bloodshed and the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. We no longer believe that it is possible to resolve the conflict between the two peoples through violent means; therefore we declare that we refuse to take part any more in the mutual

Recently, the efforts of the “Combatants for Peace” were honoured with the 4th Euro-Med Award for Dialogue between Cultures 2009. The award, an initiative of the Anna Lindh Foundation and its partner Fondazione Mediterraneo, promotes the dialogue between cultures shared by the 43 countries of the Union for the Mediterranean. The official Ceremony was held in Stockholm, on 21st of September 2009, the International Day of Peace.

Please visit:
Jewish Journal: Former Israeli and Palestinian fighters push for peace—together

Anna Lindh Euro Mediterranean Foundation:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Italy and Recent Developments in the Area of Asylum

Lampedusa, Sicily or Sardinia... when you hear about these Italian islands in the Mediterranean you won’t automatically associate these spots with beaches and holidays nowadays but rather with floods of refugees, reception centres and human rights abuses. The Italian policy of intercepting migrants and refugees without giving them a chance to request asylum has aroused sharp criticism, as many legitimate refugees and asylum seekers are forced to get back to places where their lives are threatened. This rough immigration practices are also strongly criticised by the European Union, although the Union’s own incapacity to carry out a European solution is highly related with the problems in the Mediterranean Sea.

The European Union has so far failed to enforce a common European treatment of asylum claims and until there are not adequate systems to offer safety to asylum seekers and refugees who need it across Europe, the story will continue. Ten years after the establishment of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ), the achievements in the area of Asylum have been plain-spoken modest. The security discourses have taken precedence on the European agenda and the priorities have shifted towards issues relating to external frontiers and undocumented immigration, which has conjured up images of a “Fortress Europe”.

In 2008, there were nearly 240,000 asylum applications lodged in the EU and just 13% of applicants were granted refugee status. 193 690 first instance decisions were made on asylum applicants. There were 73% rejections, 13% applicants were granted refugee status, 10% subsidiary protection and 5% authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons. (Eurostat, 2009) The Hague Program called for an improved asylum regulation, common procedure and uniform status for asylum seekers as the so-called Dublin Regulation, defining that the first EU member state that a migrant enters examines the asylum application, has been unsatisfactory. Various approaches, such as the Asylum Procedures Directive, Reception Conditions Directive, or the Qualification Directive should harmonize the conditions, procedures, and the rights conferred on the status of refugees or asylum applicants in the different EU countries.

However, the level of harmonization is still relatively low and the national authorities and courts do not always correctly apply the EU’s directives. The situation is particularly critical for rejected asylum seekers who are often times forced to work in substandard conditions, exploited, or taken into trafficking networks. The EU’s measures to protect these victims of exploitation and trafficking are inadequate. The recent Employers’ Sanctions Directive proposal on Third country nationals (TCNs) working illegally and the proposal for a “Return Directive” illustrate the predominant trend to focus on illegal residence and working, and repressive security measures rather than on protecting the migrants’ rights.

Nevertheless, the Commission is pushing for standardization and, in December 2008, it presented an asylum package that should change the European legislation by setting minimal standards for asylum seekers at the point of their arrival - Measures to improve the asylum system and strengthening asylum seekers' rights specific standards must be guaranteed in terms of “housing, food, clothing, health care, financial benefits, and freedom of movement and access to work.” (European Parliament, 2009) Furthermore, the creation of a European Asylum Support Office and asolidarity” clause to unburden greatly affected EU members such as Malta, Italy, and Greece is foreseen. On May 7, 2009, the package was adopted by the European Parliament which called for a binding mechanism to be set up before 2012.

In the meantime, it is feared that unilaterally national initiatives will further gain ground and violate international law, as the case of Italy demonstrates. In May 2009, Italy started its highly controversial return policy with joint naval patrols in Libyan territorial waters and a bilateral agreement with Tripoli. In order to combat illegal immigration, Italy rejects every boat approaching the Italian coastal borders and the Italian coast guard sent all migrants back to so-called reception centres in Libya. A new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report illustrates the bad treatment and inhuman conditions in this Libyan centres to which all of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are sent regardless their official status in international law. Libya has not ratified the international convention on refugees and treats all returned people as illegal immigrants, regardless of their legal status. Many of them are refugees and asylum seekers from conflict zones such as Somalia or Darfur who would have a right to international protection. The Human Rights Watch Report stresses that 2008 about 75 percent of the people coming to Lampedusa were asylum seekers. As a consequence, the irregular boat migrants to Sicily, Lampedusa and Sardinia fell by 55 percent in the first six months of 2009 compared to the same period the previous year according to the HRW. Frontex statistics show a 31% decrease in the number of migrants detected heading towards Italy and Malta in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.

On 21 September 2009, a Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting was held in Brussels to discuss actions in the area of irregular migration, joint EU Resettlement Programme, asylum issues, unaccompanied minors and a report from the European Commission as a follow-up on the European Council conclusions of 18/19 June 2009. The Italian case was not high on the agenda despite of UN critics that fundamental human rights standards of refugees have to be respected. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, recently called the current European asylum policy “dysfunctional” and urged EU Member States to help refugees who are fleeing from conflicts in their countries.

Human Rights Watch: Pushed Back, Pushed Around
Eurostat: Data in Focus, 8/2009, Asylum applicants and decisions on asylum applications in Q4 2008 European Parliament: Press Release: 07.05.2009 Council of the EU: European Council conclusions of 18/19 June 2009
Council of the EU: JHA Council conclusions 21 September 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Europa Jaratouna - أوروبا جارتنا على

A new communication project of the European Commission, Eurojar, is officially being launched in Beirut on 24 June 2009. The project’s name “Eurojar” stands for Europa Jaratouna (Europe our neighbour) and aims to maximize the visibility of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The website, launched in May this year, has already published a series of articles on Euro-Mediterranean relations and the European Neighbourhood Policy. Articles, information, reactions and opinions are available on the website.

Eurojar is one of 13 projects funded by the Commission’s EuropeAid Regional Information and Communication Programme. The Eurojar budget amounts 1.5 million Euros and will last for at least one year. Europa Jaratouna seeks to increase awareness and understanding about the EU’s policies among the citizens of eight Arab countries, which are Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

A consortium of media networks is realizing the multimedia project:
The leader of the consortium is the Lebanese daily paper L’Orient Le Jour. Every Monday, the newspaper publishes an article or an analysis about EU-Mediterranean cooperation. So far, the articles of L’Orient Le Jour have dealt with the prospects for a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area, the European Neighbourhood Policy, and the Euromed Audiovisual programme.
Furthermore, the pan-Arab press company Al-Hayat group will publish 52 articles over a period of one year. The French-Lebanese Le Commerce du Levant will present once every month an analysis or an economic or socio-economic report on one of the aspects of Euro-med relations. Last but not least, a group of Lebanese and Arab TV channels, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), will broadcast 32 TV episodes on LBCI and LBCsat.

Web Links:
L’Orient Le Jour:
Le Commerce du Levant:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hibernation, Celebration and Revitalisation

The next 13th of July will mark the first anniversary of the Union for the Mediterranean. However, there is not an occasion to celebrate. Despite of the structural reforms with the establishment of the general secretariat in Barcelona and the Mediterranean University in Slovenia, the outcomes of this new framework are rather limited not only because the escalating conflict in the Middle East at the end of 2008 has slowed down any progress.

After six months of standstill there is some hope that the Union for the Mediterranean have come out of hibernation. Under French initiative, the delegations from the 43 members met in Paris on 25 June to discuss
a set of priority development projects in the field of sustainable development. The ministerial meeting addressed the main themes in the framework of the UfM, namely water and environment, transport, energy and urban development. A new impetus to regional cooperation is required to tackle drinking water shortages, pollution of the Mediterranean Sea, natural habitats and agricultural areas in the coastal areas which remain serious problems for the southern Mediterranean states.

The challenges in the Mediterranean region are today more demanding then ever. The proceeding of these transnational projects and an intensification of cooperation between Europe, North Africa and the Middle East is needed after the cooperation itself on the working level were put on ice and came to a near standstill for months. Since November 2008 no formal meetings among the heads of state and government have taken place. In contrary to the technical meetings of experts and civil servants in the framework of the Barcelona Process, the UfM framework foresees high level meetings. In the consequence, the meetings might have on the one hand a stronger political impact but can be on the other hand easier hindered by political events.

Although the member states have agreed to resume formal meetings, the financial crisis is now challenging the success of the planned projects. The financial crisis is hitting the real economy and businesses in the Southern Mediterranean are suffering from the recession. The gross domestic product growth for the Middle East is projected to decline from 6 percent in 2008 to 3.1 percent in 2009. Access to bank financing is increasingly difficult and investors hesitate to finance projects. The current EU budget for Mediterranean policy (16 billion euro from 2007 to 2013) is limited and many envisaged projects need further private loans and additional funding to be realized. Exceptions are projects in the field of energy as the expectations from the European side for an energy partnership are high. On initiative of Germany and France a solar plan was included into the list of projects of the UfM. The Southern Mediterranean countries are considered as a perfect source for solar energy due to abundance of sunshine. At least from solar power projects some results might be achieved if they bear fruit in the near future but this solely prospect is somewhat disappointing taking into account the high expectations in the UfM.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere

Copyright (C) Bruce Etling, John Kelly, Rob Faris, John Palfrey; 2009

The Internet and Democracy project at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society has produced a map of the Arabic blogosphere. In the report approximately 35,000 active Arabic language blogs were identified which are mainly organized around countries. According to the analysis the Egyptian blogsphere is the biggest which consists primarily of political opposition organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
This study gives an assessment about how issues of politics, media, religion, culture, and international affairs are discussed in the Arabic blogosphere.

Download the full report here: Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture and Dissent

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Obama offers a New Beginning

US President Barack Obama's speech at Cairo University marks an important step toward a new American policy in the Middle East.

Obama extended a hand to world Islam by emphasizing that a two-state solution is the only viable solution and that Israel will have to cease settlements. The message received different and contradicting reactions in the Arabic world. While many praised his speech others are demanding concrete actions to prove the credibility of his words and his supposed good intentions.

Trust is needed to build up cooperation between the United States and the Muslim world. This can not be achieved in one well-intended speech. Therefore, Obama's speech could just be a historic turning point when his words are followed with deeds.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Shared Euro-Mediterranean news –a shared destiny?

On 15 April, the European Commission launched a new media project to foster co-operation and dialogue with the Middle East and North African neighbours. The new television channel EuroMed-News aims to promote the EU’s neighbourhood policy and boost the visibility of EU-funded projects in the region. EuroMed-News is a 1-year project supported by the European Commission with €2.16m with a possible option for extension.

The cultural and political ties between the EU and its southern neighbours have not significantly improved since the Barcelona process and the launch of a Union for the Mediterranean last year. The new television channel EuroMed-News aims to strengthen the intercultural dialogue with the neighbour partners in the south and promote cultural diversity and gender equality. According to EU's external relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, "little by little, using these images, we can help these societies become more open."
In addition, the EuroMed-News seeks to increase the coverage of EU issues in the media and to raise the public opinion awareness regarding EU’s policies. The EU-funded project guarantees some media attention to improve the image of the Union in the neighbour countries. Thus, one of the central policies of the new channel is to foster the awareness among the local populations by providing information about European policies and actions supported by the European Union which benefit the countries in the neighbouring region.

The EuroMed-News project is jointly produced by the Arab States Broadcasting Union, Euro-Mediterranean media association COPEAM and the European Broadcasting Union under the leadership of France Télévisions. Furthermore, it gathers broadcasters and national TV stations from Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Libya und Algeria to reach a broad coverage. EuroMed-News will produce news topics, magazines and documentaries about North African society and the economy. The programmes will be broadcast on public television across the southern Mediterranean States and is available via the Internet.

It remains open whether the EuroMed-News can really create better cultural and social ties between Europe and the Southern Mediterranean States. Sure is, that both regions have much more in common than just the Mediterranean Sea. The executive producer Lyes Belaribi is hopefully right when he states on the website: "The Mediterranean plan, a shared destiny".

Visit the website:

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

European Neighbourhood Policy– Catalyst or Impediment?

Recently, the EU saw itself confronted with several conflicts in the neighbourhood – from the war in Georgia over the gas conflict in Ukraine to the Gaza war. In all conflicts the EU was not capable to coordinate a coherent policy approach and just monitored the status quo. The current neighbourhood policy of the European Union has several shortcomings due to the Union’s misguided perspective on how it should interact with its neighbours.
To be a strong international political entity and a key actor in the neighbourhood the EU needs to reassess its neighbourhood policy. The enlargement of 2004 expanded the Union’s area of geopolitical influence and put the EU into direct contact with new areas of strategic interest which would face the Union with new challenges that can not be answered with integration policy. Without an appropriate institutional set up to work out its relations with the neighbourhood its political reputation will be further undermined.

Neighbours becoming Members
The former EU’s neighbourhood integration strategy aimed to prepare candidate states for membership in the Union. In 1993 the European Council laid down specific rules and obligations for countries wanting to join the Community. The so-called Copenhagen criteria requires that an applicant nation adopt the acquis communitaire, have a functioning market economy and have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. During the EU’s eastward enlargement, the EU used conditionality to secure compliance from the candidates on a broad range of political, economic, and legal matters. The conditionality tool had powerful effects in the negotiation and reform processes and deeply impacted the public policies of applicant states. As the former external relations Commissioner Chris Patten stated, “…over the past decade, the Union’s most successful foreign policy instrument has undeniably been the promise of EU membership”. (European Commission, News European Neighbourhood Policy, 2003)

Copyright (C) CSS Analysen zur Sicherheitspolitik Nr. 10, März 2007

Prior to the last accession of new member states in 2004 and 2007, enlargement was one of the EU’s most powerful foreign policy tools. The “golden carrot” of membership was the most effective instrument for influencing neighbouring countries’ policies and for promoting peace, prosperity, and stability. As the EU’s borders advanced and neighbours became members during the eastward expansion, previously distant countries then became direct neighbours. These neighbouring countries are unlikely to be admitted to the Community in the short-term what forced the Union to change its concept of neighbourhood. The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) is the response to the shifting political climate between the EU and its surrounding nations.

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP)
The European Neighbourhood Policy was introduced by the European Commission in 2003 (Wider Europe) and further developed in the “Strategy Paper on the European Neighbourhood Policy” published in May 2004. Initially established with the purpose of providing its new eastern European neighbours a credible alternative to membership, the EU decided later to offer the same type of structured relationship to its southern neighbours (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syria and Tunisia). The objective of this new policy is to extend the reform stimulus of enlargement to the new neighbours and to prevent the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its neighbours. The ENP is directed toward the countries bordering the EU but it lacks the prospect of membership that was inherent in the former accession policy.
The ENP has ambitious goals for bringing security and stability to those countries and regions. The new foreign policy tool should handle the neighbours’ problems such as organised crime, trafficking, and illegal migration, which may have indirect and direct implications for the EU. The ENP framework is a combination of bilateral dialogue and cooperation. The bilateral relations are based on Association Agreements and jointly agreed Action Plans in which the EU and the partner states define a set of priorities covering a number of key areas for specific action. The result is that the EU may follow up on certain issues, particularly on those pertaining to good governance, human rights, and political reform in partner countries.

The ENP and the Mediterranean Partner States
Since the former policy towards the Mediterranean neighbourhood, the EMP (Euro-Mediterranean Partnership), had neither bilateral agreements nor effective use of conditionality, the ENP was seen as an advanced tool. In individual action plans described by the ENP, the principles of conditionality and joint ownership should be applied. In return for implementing policy reforms, the EU offers an increased participation in programmes, aid flows, and a stake in the EU’s internal market with the possibility of having a free trade area. However, the access to the European Internal Market is restricted in certain areas like the Common Agricultural Policy and the Free Movement of People which are of particular interest for the southern partner states.
The Mediterranean case shows that the ENP strategy of encouraging further reforms has been largely unsuccessful. The ENP has largely failed to meet the high expectations. In the view of the Mediterranean partners, the policy framework is mostly designed to pursue EU’s interests. Without the prospect of membership, the incentives for southern governments to adopt EU standards and to undertake political, economic and institutional reforms are insufficient. Especially if there is a risk of losing political power and popularity by implementing economic reforms or legislative reform is high. In addition, the EU has not used conditionality to push for political and economic reform, thus far, as it might create instability. As the EU preferred objective in the regions are stability and security, autocratic leaders were backed and a move to a free market democracy prevented. Thus, Europe is far away from a coherent policy because it does not know what it wants from the countries; stability and security or free markets democracy.
Without offering partner countries sufficient incentives for closer cooperation in various fields the consistency and effectiveness of EU conditionality on policy change is low. Economic incentives and increased partnership are not enough to encourage the level of political and economic change required by the EU.

The prospect of membership in the Union has promoted countries to undergo fundamental changes voluntarily in order to prepare for the accession. While conditionality during the enlargement process was a powerful instrument for dealing with candidate nations, the strategy of offering incentives in return for the will to undertake reform has not been successful with the new neighbours.
The EU’s neighbourhood policy was initially seen as a complement to enlargement. However, the ENP is not an adequate alternative to the enlargement instrument, as the primary objectives are not clearly defined and hardly realistic in some cases. Incentives of closer ties, a (nearly) free-trade zone and temporary agreements can not replace the “carrot” of membership for ENP partner countries. To date, the Union has no other carrots, but it has no sticks either.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Proposal for the establishment of European Asylum Support Office

On 18 February, the European Commission proposed a Regulation to establish a European Asylum Support Office (EASO) which could be running by 2010. The establishment of a new agency is in line with the Policy Plan on Asylum adopted by the Commission in June 2008 which proposed an extension of European legislation on asylum. The EU’s objectives are to build up administrative cooperation between the Member States and to abolish the differences in the national asylum policies.

With the increasing numbers of asylum seekers in Europe, the mayor tasks of the EASO will be to support Member States in their efforts to implement a more consistent and fairer asylum policy. The agency will support practical cooperation on asylum, assist Member States under particular pressure through possibly deploying asylum support teams and contribute to the implementation of the Common European Asylum System.

This regulatory agency will take the form of an independent European body without decision-making powers.
The Office's structure will consist of a management board, an executive director, an executive committee and a consultative forum. The management board will be composed of representatives of the Member States and the Commission. UNHCR will be present on the board, although without voting rights. NGO influence is only possible through the consultative body.

EU Press Release: Setting up of European Asylum Support Office proposed by the Commission

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Obama meets Al-Arabiya

On his first day in office, US President Barack Obama put an end to the controversial U.S foreign policy towards the Middle East during the Bush administration. Bush's "war against terrorism" should be replaced by a new diplomatic strategy of dialog and cooperation with the whole region including Syria and Iran.
The reactions in the Middle East were divided: some expressed pessimism about the capacity of the Obama administration to bring about real change in the region, others were optimistic that Barack Obama is able to devise a more balanced role in the region.

In Obama's first interview since taking office, the new president said that the U.S. are not the enemy of the Muslim world and that Israel and the Palestinians should resume peace negotiations. US President Obama offered to the Islamic world a "new partnership in mutual respect". In his "greater Middle East" strategy Obama will use credible and active diplomacy that employs "all instruments of US power".
The crucial question will be whether Obama will succeed in translating his words into direct actions for the benefit of the region.

The Middle East experts Amr Hamzawy and Marina Ottaway conclude in a publication of Carnegie Endowment:

"Obama’s election was a public diplomacy triumph for the United States, the first real success the United States has won in the Arab world in a long time, and probably the most important one since President Eisenhower backed Egypt’s efforts to regain control of the Suez Canal in 1956. Yet the success could prove short-lived: Arabs were reacting to concrete change, not to words, and are likely to revert to the old hostility unless Obama’s words are backed by concrete changes in U.S. Middle East policies."

Check out Obama's first interview with the Arab satellite station Al Arabiya: