The Mediterranean and Euro-Arab region: a rich and complex history
The Mediterranean region can only be apprehended in its wider sense of Euro-Arab sphere and is profoundly impregnated by the splendours and ruptures of our History. For two thousand years, punctuated by the successive rise, development and decline of the greatest civilisations, it was an area of conquests and confrontations.
In more recent times, the countries that today constitute the Balkans, the Near East, the Mashrek, and the Maghreb were lands greatly coveted by the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia and the United States.
The First and Second World Wars profoundly changed the region’s geopolitical characteristics but without the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire modifying significantly the behaviour of the European colonial powers who strove to maintain what they had acquired there.
This influence of the “North” has persisted until today through a multitude of agreements and partnerships linking the countries of the South and East Mediterranean to the European Union and the Western World.
In this first part of the 21st century, despite economic and financial globalisation, the Mediterranean region remains a privileged area for exchanges between the Atlantic, the Middle East, the countries of the Black Sea and the Far East. The riches of its subsoil still make it a key area for the economic development of many countries around the world.
Despite these structuring factors, the region remains particularly sensitive, a zone of religious conflicts, a line of economic and political fracture between the North and the South, between East and West. As for the Mediterranean, the “Mare Nostrum” for the Europeans or the “White Middle Sea” (El-bahr elabyad el Moutawassat) for the Arabs, it has become, depending on the Arab or European standpoint, at the same time a channel for immigration, hope and despair, and even a frontier.
Vain attempts at cooperation
Numerous attempts have been made since the 1980s to alleviate the tensions which have marked relations within the region since decolonization. Among these attempts, particular mention must be made of the Mediterranean Forum, the “5 + 5”, and the Barcelona Process which was initiated in 1995 by the European Union, with the aim of creating the biggest free trade zone by 2010.
No global free trade agreement was concluded, and the ambitious aim of drawing up a free trade pact was succeeded by a number of separate partnerships between the European Union and each of the Southern Mediterranean countries.
For their part, the United States outlined in 2004 plans for a “Great Middle East” which, while aiming to integrate all the countries in the region into a prosperous economic zone, was also supposed to ensure control of the different means of access to energy resources as well as control of water resources. This project has resulted indirectly in a Mediterranean dialogue between the Atlantic Alliance (NATO) and certain Arab countries together with Israel.
In 2007 France proposed to replace the Barcelona Process, which had in fact remained a dead letter, by a Mediterranean Union, an ambitious but clumsy initiative which immediately raised an outcry both to the north and the south of the Mediterranean. The French project was subsequently converted into the “Union for the Mediterranean”which should be understood as a return to a widened Barcelona Process, comprising the 27 countries of the European Union. President Sarkozy’s initiative never materialized but nevertheless it put forward two interesting ideas: the attribution of a seat to the Arab League and the idea of a co-presidency, shared between the countries of the North and the South.
What defines all these attempts is the will of the North to extend to the countries of the Southern Mediterranean the same economic rules which shaped the construction of Europe and which also determine the flow of trade. These attempts were negotiated at the initiative of the northern countries with regimes in the south and the east of the Mediterranean, which were often little concerned by the well-being of their populations, and were always made without taking into consideration the expectations and needs of these peoples.
Listening to the peoples
While Europe has greatly expanded on its eastern front following the integration into the Union of a series of states which once depended on the former Soviet Union, Southern Europe and the Mediterranean zone have remained the poor relation of this cooperation. In the aftermath of the upheavals which have radically changed the political scene in the Southern Mediterranean, it becomes imperative to return to the aim of over thirty years ago and to undertake to make of this region “a zone of peace, security, tolerance and mutual understanding, of development and prosperity, of comprehension and trade between the peoples of the region, in a framework of the rule of law, pluralist democracy and human rights”.
However, this aim can only be realized if the expectations and needs of the peoples are taken into consideration. It is only by making and respecting such a commitment that it will be possible to take a new look at this cooperation and show that other courses of action are possible above and beyond the necessary “trading peace”.
The undertaking of the Foundation for the Promotion of Mediterranean and Euro-Arab Dialogue (FDMEA)
The Foundation for the Promotion of Mediterranean and Euro-Arab Dialogue (FDMEA) is a completely independent organization, with no religious connections or political affiliations, which devotes its efforts to promoting dialogue between individuals, communities, and the Euro-Arab peoples in order to establish a zone of peace and prosperity in this region. It advocates committing to a broad process of coordination between all the states and peoples of the Mediterranean and Euro-Arab region with a view to obtaining broad agreement on cooperation and security in this region.
Its activities are guided by the following general principles:
- To contribute to the building of a more just and supportive society, in such a way as to allow the individuals, communities and peoples of this Euro-Arab region to realize their full development potential and to improve their quality of life in accordance with, in particular, the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration of Philadelphia.
- To work towards setting up a common zone of peace and stability by reinforcing dialogue on politics and security, and to aim at constructing a zone of shared prosperity by means of an economic and financial partnership and the progressive establishment of a free trade area.
- To facilitate the rapprochement of the individuals, communities and peoples of this region by reinforcing cultural dialogue, trade and tourism.
- To take all appropriate measures to reduce damage to the environment, and to meet the challenges of deforestation, climate change and water.
- To promote renewable energies and ensure a sustainable quality of life for all.
Drawing up a “White Paper”
The Foundation for the Promotion of Mediterranean and Euro-Arab Dialogue (FDMEA) is convinced that only an accord that respects the aspirations and rights of the peoples will make it possible to achieve the goals set out in the various attempts to reach agreement over the last three decades.
The Foundation, therefore, calls on all the states, institutions, entities and individuals concerned by Mediterranean and Euro-Arab cooperation to commit to a process of coordination and cooperation, taking into account the aspirations of the peoples of the region.
To attain this objective it proposes that the process of coordination and cooperation undertaken by all the parties concerned in the Northern, Southern and Eastern Mediterranean be preceded by the drawing up of a “White Paper” open to all the sensibilities which make up the Mediterranean world and the Euro-Arab zone.
This White Paper will identify and take note of all the aspirations of the peoples of the region and will serve as the basis for the negotiation of the second phase of the process of coordination and cooperation to which, with the collaboration of civil society, all the states in the region will be committed.