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Progress report and future of the Union for the Mediterranean

Published on February 24, 2011
Discussion of an oral question with debate in the Senate – Speech by Michèle Alliot-Marie, Ministre d’Etat, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs (excerpts)

Paris, February 16 , 2011

UfM/ARAB WORLD/MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS

(…)

I think that, far from calling the UfM [Union for the Mediterranean] into question, the events we’re currently witnessing in Tunisia, Egypt and the whole Arab world confirm the urgent need to consolidate the links between the two shores of the Mediterranean. (…)

The Union for the Mediterranean must help us take into account the new demand for a democracy at ease with itself, rooted in moderate Islam, rejecting all aggression towards the former colonizers. Today, these people feel proud of what they are and want to have their say in building the world. In this context, the Union for the Mediterranean is more relevant than ever!

Of course, I’m not unaware of the difficulties certain speakers have underlined.

In particular, it’s true that the situation in the Middle East weighs heavily on the whole region and therefore on the UfM: the representatives of certain countries refuse to sit alongside certain people. Be that as it may, it’s our duty to move the peace process forward. The Union for the Mediterranean can contribute to that, just as ending the deadlock in that process will enable it to start progressing again along its initial, rightful path. I spoke to Mrs Clinton on the telephone last night to discuss how we could make the most of this period, which may be favourable for progress towards peace; the window that’s opened may close again as early as tomorrow. And overcoming the deadlock in the peace process is one of the main focuses of my work. (…)

Furthermore, as has been recalled, Egypt holds the co-presidency of the UfM, along with France. Obviously the current priority of this great friend of France is to carry out its transition to democracy. So we won’t be moving forward on the Union for the Mediterranean in the coming days or weeks.

The resignation of the UfM Secretary-General – for personal reasons, let me remind you – obviously means a successor will have to be appointed in the coming weeks.

In any case, the establishment of the Union for the Mediterranean is today, in my eyes, an irreversible process. The UfM must contribute in a concrete way to the prosperity of the Euro-Mediterranean area.

The UfM is both a necessity and a reality; it’s not a phantom institution.

(…)

At a time when demographic, economic and technological poles of the order of a billion inhabitants are asserting themselves on every continent, Europe and the southern Mediterranean countries need to grow closer in order to continue carrying weight in the international arena. Even with 450 million inhabitants, Europe isn’t strong enough to face up to the giants of China and India, not to mention Indonesia, sub-Saharan Africa – whose peoples are experiencing development – and Latin America, which represents a bloc of nearly 850 million inhabitants.

Consequently, it’s essential that the European countries and those of the Mediterranean’s southern shore unite to form a pole based, indeed, on shared history, but also on future ambitions. (…)

So the Union for the Mediterranean, established two and a half years ago, is both a necessity and a reality. It must now help support the developments under way and the democratic aspirations of the southern Mediterranean’s peoples.

FRANCE/EU/“ARAB SPRING”

Several speakers have mentioned an “Arab spring”. Perhaps we’ll have the opportunity to organize a debate on this fine subject.

At the Ministry I’ve gathered together a group of experts, academics and researchers to consider this subject. According to them, the Arab spring has demonstrated an increased desire to regain dignity and end the humiliation, both domestic and external. Let’s keep this idea in mind when we speak about current events. These revolts – born of the people, of youth, of civil society – are a protest against the failure of governance. Wealth has been created in a good number of these countries, but sometimes it’s insufficient and, above all, its distribution is perceived as unequal.

The recent events are an expression of the peoples’ legitimate political aspirations to more democracy and individual and public freedoms. In this respect, the Internet has played a big role in spreading ideas.

There’s also a desire to be recognized on the international stage and influence the course of events. In this regard, the lack of resolution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t without consequences. So it’s a matter of urgency that the negotiations resume, and that’s why I’m so deeply involved in this issue. (…)

France doesn’t ignore the fate of civilian populations who are held hostage. That, moreover, is the message I sent during my visit to the Gaza Strip. I was, remember, the first French minister to return to Gaza after the armed takeover.

France is aware of the pride of the peoples of the Arab spring, and that’s why she respects the principle of non-interference, which is often misunderstood. Non-interference means recognizing peoples’ right to choose for themselves what and whom they want; it’s not for us to dictate to them what must happen. (…)

We’ve always encouraged peoples’ legitimate aspirations to more democracy and recognition. But ultimately it’s up to the people to find the ways and means to succeed.

It’s essential that we don’t confine ourselves to declarations of intent, as we’ve done too often. We must act. In the face of the movements taking place in the Arab world – particularly in Tunisia and Egypt – France is being spurred into action, first of all at bilateral level. At the Council of Ministers this morning, the Prime Minister presented a four-point plan drawn up in constant liaison with the Egyptian authorities, with whom I have numerous contacts. We were thus able to ascertain the nature of their needs. For we mustn’t impose our way of doing things; on the contrary, we must listen to the country’s authorities and take their demands into account. Loans have been released and, next week, several ministers in charge of priority sectors will go to Tunisia.

UfM/THREEFOLD CHALLENGE

So France is acting. She’s also actively engaged with her partners, particularly those in the Union for the Mediterranean and the European Union, to respond to a threefold challenge.

The first challenge is institutional. The institutions of the Union for the Mediterranean, particularly the Secretariat in Barcelona, must have the human and financial resources available to implement their actions and help certain countries.

The question about the orientation of the European Union’s Neighbourhood Policy is clear: what Neighbourhood Policy does the 27-member Europe intend to conduct, and with what resources? I asked these questions at the European Union Foreign Affairs Council and raised the subject again in a letter I sent to Mrs Ashton.
From this standpoint, the conclusions of the last European Council are a positive sign.

The European Council decided to make the Union for the Mediterranean the new dimension of its Neighbourhood Policy – which responds to the wishes expressed on these benches – and devote the majority of its resources to cooperation with our southern partners. (…)

The second challenge we’ve got to take up is of a democratic nature. The Union for the Mediterranean – I’m convinced of this – can help respond to people’s aspirations to modernization and democratization by setting itself a double objective.

Firstly, the Union for the Mediterranean’s projects have to be extended to take account of the concerns expressed by the Council of Europe. On certain issues we’ve got to find a way of linking the actions of the Union for the Mediterranean with those of the Council of Europe, the latter doubtless being better equipped to bring them to a successful conclusion.

Secondly, the Union for the Mediterranean has to develop societal projects. The Mediterranean Office for Youth is symbolic in this respect since it allows student mobility, on the basis of agreements concluded between universities in the framework of diploma courses. This is a bit like what Europe did 15 or 20 years ago with the Erasmus programme.
In the same way, projects relating to vocational training and equality between men and women must be increased.

Indeed, dialogue between sectors of civil society has to be strengthened. To do this, we’ve got to support the players involved within the Euro-Mediterranean family, such as the Anna Lindh Foundation, whose role is essential. France has helped it to the tune of €1 million since its creation. If we want it to go on developing, we have to obtain the support of all our partners.

We’ve also got to help the EuroMed Non-Governmental Platform. This body is supported by the European Union, but we must admit that its budget remains limited.

Indeed, the third challenge we have to take up is of a financial nature.
If we want to conduct ambitious, effective common policies in the water, transport, energy, clean-up and agricultural sectors, we have to diversify the Union for the Mediterranean’s funding, because, given the current economic and budgetary constraints, we can’t rely solely on State budgets.

The Union for the Mediterranean Secretariat has an essential role to play to inspire the confidence of foreign investors. Among other things, it will have to prepare and select projects of common interest, support them through an institutional network of big names and help create a more secure legal and financial environment for entrepreneurs and lenders. (…)./.

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