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A next phase for the Euro-Mediterranean partnership

The Mediterranean, north and south, is forming a single economic unit under the auspices of France and Egypt: Europe should make this “Club Med” a powerful one. Under imperial Rome, the roads in cold, wet Britannia were no straighter than those in sweltering north Africa. The same sestertius could buy a lampful of oil. Across the southern Mediterranean and northern Europe alike, Latin was the lingua franca - 1,500 years before anyone had coined the term. Under the Treaty of Rome, however, the European Union has behaved as if the Med were a frontier, rather than an organising principle. As often as not, it has turned its back on the crescent that stretches from Morocco to Turkey, as a cradle of instability and terrorism. Sometimes the southern Med’s main export has seemed to be boatloads of illegal immigrants.

Last month at a summit in Paris France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, wants to heal the rift. Some 40 heads of state and government from the EU and the southern and eastern Mediterranean will meet to create a new club, called the Union for the Mediterranean. Despite Mr Sarkozy’s bombast, Club Med will have a modest start: the French propose a secretariat, which they will jointly head with Egypt, and money to help finance ventures on solar energy, anti-terrorism and the inevitable cultural exchanges. Beyond the platitudes and projects lies the germ of a brilliant idea. Something is stirring around the Med as globalisation takes root. Growth and investment have leapt. There is a new openness to trade and foreign money. The members of Club Med no longer need to glower across the table at each other. Instead, there is the prospect of the youth and vigour of the southern Mediterranean combining with a rich, ageing north. Despite the recent surge, the southern Med still takes less than 10% of all the FDI from the EU. This offers a tantalising prospect - though one reason why it matters is that it is fraught with dangers.

The EU has looked south before, in an initiative called the Barcelona Process, which dates back 13 years and failed to live up to its promises. Hopes are higher today, however, because the politicians gathering in Paris are following a path that is increasingly well trodden by business. FDI in the countries along the Mediterranean shore, from Morocco to Turkey, has grown six times since the turn of the century, to $59 billion in 2006 - ahead of Latin America’s Mercosur ($25 billion) and not far short of China ($69 billion). At the same time, the growth in the region’s GDP is running at 4.4% a year - slow by China’s standards, admittedly, but it has been accelerating as Europe has slowed.

Although Turkey, Israel and Egypt still dominate, most of the region has shared in this prosperity. Oil and gas are partly to thank, but investment is spread among financial services, telecoms, retailing and construction. Look at the car factory Renault and Nissan are planning in Morocco. Or the new container port outside Tangiers that will soon be bigger than Long Beach, on America’s west coast. Much of the money comes from Europe, as did the €8.8 billion ($12.9 billion) France’s Lafarge invested in Egyptian cement. But Americans are making aerospace parts; Arabs are spending petrodollars on property and construction; Brazilians are investing in fertilisers and textiles; Indians in IT and pharmaceuticals.

There is strength in such diversity, and there needs to be. The resurgent Med has a lot still to overcome. With exceptions, notably Israel, the region is plagued by poor infrastructure, an ill-educated workforce and unemployment. Unlike eastern Europe, which built trading links under communism, the Med countries barely trade with each other, so they lose the benefits of specialisation. And then there is the politics. The Europeans are right to look askance at the crisis of succession in Egypt, beleaguered Israel, unborn Palestine, divided Lebanon, fundamentalist Islam in Morocco, bombs in Algeria, Muammar Qaddafi’s bizarre Libyan autocracy, the risk that the Turkish courts declare the ruling party unconstitutional. That unfinished list is already depressingly long.

The EU is not free of troubles either. Those who favour Turkey’s membership of the EU fear that Club Med is designed to fob it off with second-class citizenship. At first Mr Sarkozy schemed to include only the EU countries with a Mediterranean coast - a ploy to create a French-dominated counterbalance to the apparently German-dominated east. After a vicious row with Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, Mr Sarkozy agreed to include the entire EU. That was right, if only because Germany pays much of the EU’s bills. That summit matters, because it is a step towards healing such wounds - and because it sets the tone. Will the Mediterranean union seize the moment, or will it be strangled by southern politics and European squabbles?

The first test is whether Mr Sarkozy is willing to see Club Med as more than a scheme to burnish French glory. If he wants the new union to thrive, he will have to accept that it is for everyone’s benefit, and let business do its work. This means a free-trade area that opens the EU to goods and services from the south - including the farm produce that France is making a fuss over in the world trade talks. The second is for the EU to use its patronage to boost spending on infrastructure, promote trade in the region and clean up politics. One lesson from eastern Europe is that, with incentives, countries will start to sort themselves out. For the Mediterranean, those incentives should include access to funds and markets. The logic of enlargement is that it could even include the faint possibility of membership of the EU itself. But none of that will count for much unless the southern Med chooses prosperity.

The world sometimes writes off Europe as the old continent, well past the vigour of youth and doomed to gentle decline; at the same time it condemns many of the teeming economies of the southern Med as chaotic backwaters. Old and young can make a powerful combination. The creation of the Union for the Mediterranean is hardly the rebirth of imperial Rome, but it may just be the start of something exciting.

Dit opiniestuk verscheen ook in The Economist.

Meer over deze Euro-Mediterraanse samenwerking op

4 Reacties:

At 05:17 A lament for Europe said...

Land of the Setting Sun
Caldron simmering in hungering desperation
To regain the smacks of the Past.
You seek to lunge ahead
On the energy of Your logic
And hopes not yet lionized.
You call upon Your histories
To lend strength to Your phantasies.
You coil up hard on Your proud self
Wrinkled and weather-beaten.
You struggle to nurture new flowers
On the dry rot of Your haunted memories.
Your youth, sniffed upon by strapped canine squads,
Rape-hate in Your stadiums
Striped with electronic rejoinders
To press softly-pliant, gaily-tinged plastic buttons.
Your elderly curl their ways to bankrupt health ministries
Where physicians fool with forms
And fill in football pools.
Your neighbors to the East—
Brazen, sordid—
Yank towards You
Roughly extracting for exacting theirs craved for.
You, Europe, sit pickled—
Soused in the juices of Your scummy heretofore.
Your dabblers in politics set flags unfurled
And their powers shame—
This Our world.

At 14:12 Larry Hayes said...

As pointed, Sarkozy chooses a certified dead horse (Mediterranean unity) to feel important and introduce a second-class citizen back door into the EU. Its main purpose is to derail Turkey's accesion and I fear The Economist bought it.

The EU, like the Roman Empire, should one day extend its advantages (and obligations) to Northern Africa, but on the basis of equality, which will be attractive to Africans. A second-class talk-shop is just a reinforcement of the divide.

The next step for the EU is Turkey. The alternative is to admit the EU has a religious agenda.

At 14:13 R. O'Sullivan said...

I believe this is a useful discussion that is long overdue. Turkey should be admitted to the EU as a first step and as a sign of good faith to the eastern and southern Mediterranean countries. It would give Europe the opportunity to show leadership in solving the problems in Lebanon and Israel created by its own shameful past.

Israel could be persuaded to pursue a one country solution with the Palestinians if they were offered membership of the EU. The Palestinians would benefit from compensation for their lost lands from the EU and of course the benefits of membership.

Europe would then have access to the gulf oil and gas and wean itself of their dependency on Russia. A single armed forces for the EU would then guarantee the security of all citizens as would the democratic institutions of the Union prevent ethnic strife.

So after admitting Turkey the next steps should be the admission of Lebanon and a single Israel and Palestinian entity before further expansion onto the southern shores of the Mediterranean. If Mr Sarkozy was to articulate this vision he would be making an enormous contribution to improving both the European Union but also reducing tensions in the Middle East.

At 20:46 Anoniem said...

Are these comments from the States? Americans haven't got a notion of the islamisation of Europe. Incredibly naive notions in the above comments.


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