Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Southern Mediterranean tries to break free from its borders with the EU

Those countries knocking at the EU's door - part 2

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Wednesday, November 25th 2020 à 11:56 | Read 336 times

Ten southern countries are eligible for the European Neighbourhood Policy developed by the EU since 2004 under the Barcelona Process. But today it seems that the Mediterranean is no longer a priority for the EU.

The Euromediterranean no longer has the wind in its sails (photo F.Dubessy)
The Euromediterranean no longer has the wind in its sails (photo F.Dubessy)
MEDITERRANEAN / EU. The Treaty on European Union stipulates that the sacrosanct title of Member State is only open to European countries. Morocco paid the price for this with its application in 1984, and the EU is now a member state of the European Union.... rejected three years later by the European Council. Massive argument: it did not come from a European country. However, this definition, which is purely geographical, seems quite vague. And even with variable geometry, as the various declarations on Turkey over the last few years prove.
However, anxious to establish good relations with its neighbours, the EU has created other statutes opening up certain rights to them, notably trade and customs rights. This European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), launched in 2004 and revised in November 2015, is the fruit of the Euromed partnership. It is based on association agreements forming the legal basis for bilateral relations between the EU and various countries, with three priorities: economic development, the security dimension and migration and mobility.

The ENP is financed by the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) which will be part of the future Neighbourhood, Development Cooperation and International Cooperation Instrument (NDCI) still under discussion, as Ana Pisonero-Hernandez explains. "The planning of cooperation with the Southern Neighbourhood for the period 2021-2027 and the related funding will be based on the areas included in the future "Joint Communication for a renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood" as well as on the ongoing consultations with the partner countries of the region in the framework of the reflection on a strengthened partnership. The financing of cooperation also depends on the finalisation of the negotiations on the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the next Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), which are still ongoing", says the European Commission spokesperson.

For 2014-2020, the ENPI was allocated €11.2 billion to develop activities with the EU's Southern Neighbourhood. It is structured around six objectives (see box below) and includes bilateral, multi-country and cross-border programmes.
The ENP benefits from two arms, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The EU's external action is based on four axes and as many large financial envelopes: economic and social development, good governance, security cooperation, energy security and climate action.

The 6 objectives of the European Neighbourhood Instrument

  • Strengthen human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, equality, sustainable democracy, good governance and a prosperous civil society.
  • Achieve progressive integration into the EU internal market and improve cooperation, in particular through legislative approximation and regulatory convergence, institution building and investment.
  • To create conditions for the proper management of mobility of persons and the promotion of people-to-people contacts.
  • Encourage development, poverty reduction, internal economic, social and territorial cohesion, rural development, action against climate change and disaster resilience.
  • Promote confidence building and other measures contributing to security and conflict prevention and resolution.
  • Improve sub-regional, regional and neighbourhood collaboration and cross-border cooperation.

Eight association agreements signed between the EU and its southern neighbourhood
Today, ten Mediterranean countries (Western Balkans and Turkey have a different status) are entitled to benefit from it, to varying degrees. Eight have association agreements: the Palestinian Authority, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority, however, has to make do with an "Interim Association Agreement on Trade and Cooperation" concluded in 1997 and an Action Plan dating from 2013.

For completeness, it should be added that Syria did indeed sign an Association Agreement with the EU just before the civil war in 2011. But it was never initialled. "In accordance with the conclusions of the Council of the European Union of 16 April 2018, the EU will only be ready to contribute to the reconstruction of Syria once a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition, negotiated by the Syrian parties to the conflict on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva Communiqué of 2012, has really begun. The EU will continue to support the resilience of the Syrian people and Syrian civil society", comments Ana Pisonero-Hernandez.  

Libya has no agreement with the EU, but receives financial support through the ENP. "The EU is committed to supporting the UN-led Berlin process, the only viable framework for relaunching the political process. The EU's objective is to help Libya regain peace and resume its transition to stability, security and prosperity," the European Commission spokeswoman said.

The ENP does not foresee any extension to other countries at the moment.

Morocco, the most advanced country

Ten Mediterranean countries benefit from the European Neighbourhood Policy (map: EU Neighbours South Portal)
Ten Mediterranean countries benefit from the European Neighbourhood Policy (map: EU Neighbours South Portal)
"The Mediterranean is not a concept. It is a geographical reality and a proximity. Everything that happens on one side interacts on the other. We are trying to harmonise each other's efforts," assures Nasser Kamel. The Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) will host the 5th Regional Forum of the UfM on Friday 27 November 2020 in Barcelona, the day after an EU-Neighbourhood meeting, in the presence (overwhelmingly virtual) of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the forty-two UfM Member States. They will, in the words of the organiser, "reaffirm their attachment to the principles of the Barcelona Process and reiterate their commitment to Euro-Mediterranean dialogue and cooperation".

As Ana Pisonero-Hernandez points out, "the EU is taking the opportunity of the 25th anniversary of the Barcelona Process to officially launch its process of reflection and consultation with a view to a strengthened partnership with the countries of the southern neighbourhood". This will involve a series of consultations, which will begin on Wednesday 25 November 2020 with civil society and will continue with the Member States and partner countries in the region. "They will feed into the 'Joint Communication for a renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood', which is expected to be adopted by the College of Commissioners in the first quarter of 2021," the European Commission spokesperson said.

"The European Neighbourhood Policy with the South is currently no longer a priority issue. For it to become one, it would first have to be rethought as a whole, i.e. to renew a dialogue with Russia in the region", said Henry Marty-Gauquié. Honorary Director of the European Investment Bank (EIB). "The EU no longer has a Mediterranean vision as a region. The only ones who still believe in it are the Union for the Mediterranean and the MIC! The Mediterranean appears too divided. The divide between the Maghreb and the Middle East is widening. And what's more, it is the only region in the world that does not have regional governance".

France, Spain and Italy will present their vision of the southern neighbourhood.

For the period 2014-2020, the EU planned €824m for Southern Neighbourhood regional programmes (excluding bilaterals) compared to €906m for Eastern Neighbourhood regional programmes. A deceptive equity. Nine countries in the South (with Libya) participate in this partnership, against six, much less populated, in the East (Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan).

EU leaders must recover from the failure of the Arab Spring, which had raised so many hopes. Tunisia remains the only country to pursue this path abandoned by all the others from the outset (Algeria), buried under the rubble of civil wars (Libya, Syria) or subjected to back-pedalling (Egypt). As with enlargement to the East, the Brexit shock, the financial crisis of 2008 and today the Covid-19 can also explain this lack of interest.

Blanca Moreno-Dodson, Director of the Mediterranean Integration Centre (MIC-World Bank), remains optimistic: "It is in the interest of the European Union to consider the Mediterranean area in the development plans of its new generation. She cites the importance of this opening for "key sectors such as renewable energies, food security or digitalisation, in connection with migration policies and humanitarian aid".

On Wednesday 25 November 2020, Nasser Kamel assured us of "the EU's understanding of the importance of the Southern neighbourhood for the future of Europe from an economic, geopolitical and security point of view". According to him, "investing in the South creates wealth for both shores". The Secretary General of the UfM told us that "France, Spain and Italy will present a comprehensive vision of the Southern neighbourhood to the EU". However, he acknowledged that the concrete projects carried out through the UfM are "mainly carried out by Germany, Sweden, and even Norway, which is not a member of the EU".

Updating the EU-Mena agreements

The ENP aims to bring Europe closer to its neighbours. Morocco has come the furthest in this direction. Its geographical proximity to Spain does not explain everything. In the Mediterranean, it alone benefits from advanced status since 2008 and a strengthening of cooperation, within the framework of the ENP, since 2013. Rabat is currently negotiating a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with Brussels and another on visa facilitation and readmission.

The Hakama programme is an example of what can be achieved through an association agreement. Launched in January 2018, this twinning between the EU and Morocco, which was intended to "support the conduct and deployment of training in the various themes of the LOF (Finance Law) for the benefit of all public managers", ended on 17 November 2020. Financed by the EU to the tune of €1.2m, it involved cooperation between Expertise France (French agency for international technical expertise) and the Budget Directorate of the Moroccan Ministry of Economy and Finance and Administration Reform.

Tunisia has had an association agreement since 1998. Its Jasmine revolution in 2011 has accelerated the rapprochement with the EU translated by the establishment of a "privileged partnership". Discussions have been going on since October 2015 to reach a deep and complete free trade agreement.
Egypt has had an Association Agreement since 2004 (with a set of priorities for 2017-2020) and Algeria since 2005. Further east, Israel has been "associated" with the EU since 2000. The country cannot claim "advanced status" without progress in the Middle East peace process. A dossier badly engaged with the support of the American plan by Israel at the end of January 2020 and its immediate rejection by the Palestinian Authority. In 2013, the EU offered Israel and the future Palestinian state a "special privileged partnership", subject to a future final status agreement.
Jordan has also been negotiating an "advanced status" agreement since 2010. Like Lebanon, it has been "associated" with the EU since May 2002. The two countries signed a pact with the EU in 2016.
For Blanca Moreno-Dodson, "the regionalisation of value chains and the Covid crisis underline the need to consolidate the vertical block Europe-North Africa-Sub-Saharan Africa. Regional trade, likely to increase along this vertical axis on the basis of existing assets (raw materials, geolocation, renewable resources, human capital...), could contribute to the development of the less advanced countries in southern Europe", she continues. To this end, the director of the CMI advocates "updating the trade agreements between the EU and the North Africa and Middle East region to make them more symmetrical and inclusive".

Read also the first part of the survey on "Those countries knocking at the EU's door - The introduction of new Member States stuck in the European funnel".

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