Think EU-MED

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

one year old and already out of time... The Union is another example of ineffective EU policy towards the Mediterranean states. Chapeau and Congratulations!