Everyday tales and stories from the border regions of Europe and beyond, with the aim of explaining why we border-crossers are as obsessed as we are about this subject, why it is important to all of us, and why the co-operation community needs a little bit more visibility than it normally gets.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Just what is to be done with the Mediterranean?

As promised a couple of posts ago, we return to the subject of co-operation in the Mediterranean. Or perhaps we should say "non-co-operation" as it is not a pretty story. 15 years on from the start of the Barcelona Process, any hopes for real co-operation are bogged down in undiplomatic squabbling about who will be Secretary-General or Deputy Secretary-General or head tea lady of the successor structure, the "Union for the Mediterranean" (UfM). There has been no real progress on delivering actual content on the ground, and the UfM looks like a talking shop with not much talking going on. (They do, according to Wikipedia, have a flag - how on earth did they agree on that?)

So what has gone wrong? Well, I suspect there are two basic problems. Firstly, there is an insufficient history of co-operation among the countries of the Mediterranean. Of course, if you go far enough back in history, you can find much co-operation and many shifting borders, but among the states that exist today, there are simply not enough close linkages to form a solid base for co-operation. The gold standard here is the Baltic Sea, and the huge network of international organsiations established over the last 20 years.

The second problem is that, in the Med, the countries have mixed the political level with the practical level. The UfM is trying to be all things to everyone, and is only succeeding in being nothing to no-one. Looking again at the Baltic, the political dimensions are separated off into the Council of Baltic Sea States or the Nordic Council, while delivery is left to other groups. Have a giant political grouping of all countries if you want (43 members!), but have a delivery system for content which focuses on the countries around the Mediterranean.

Of course, Sarkozy's original plan was to have the political level involving Mediterranean countries only, but Merkel and others didn't like that idea. However, very quietly, the French are looking at recovering some of this lost ground. They have suddenly become extremely interested in the European Commission's current work on macroregional strategies in the Baltic and Danube regions, and are beginning to encourage the Commission to consider a Mediterranean strategy next.

Based on the assessment above, on first glance this looks a reasonable proposition. On second glance, it is less attractive. Firstly, the amount of work involved in creating these strategies is huge. It seems doubtful that the Commission could prepare two at the same time - the Danube is going to prove enough of a challenge as it is.

Secondly, while a Mediterranean Strategy would provide a more focussed delivery system for results, it cannot overcome by itself the first problem identified above - the lack of a real history of co-operation. For a strategy to have any chance of success, there must be something solid to build on.

So, what to do? Quite simply, let's focus on building trust, on building real, long-term partnerships with good results. And here the EU has already provided the tools. There are two Mediterranean co-operation programmes operating - the cohesion policy MED programme (http://www.programmemed.eu/) which supports co-operation mainly among the EU Member States along the north of the Mediterranean, and the ENPI Mediterranean cross-border programme (http://www.enpicbcmed.eu/) which focuses more on north-south links. Both programmes have around EU 200 million between 2007 and 2013, which offers huge opportunities to start working together effectively. If all that funding can actually be put to good use, maybe - just maybe - there will be a case to be made for a more strategic approach in future.

But I'm not holding my breath.

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