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(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
The European Commission-sponsored program known as ADR-MEDA presented last week an intensive workshop and forum on the Israel Bar in Tel Aviv. The workshop was attended by leading experts in mediation to discuss alternative dispute resolution (ADR) issues in the legal and business community in Israel and the EU. The workshop and forum were both presented by Manon Schonewille of the Netherlands, the executive director of ACB Group.
Besides the workshop and forum, Schonewille used her visit in Israel to promote mutual efforts to advance awareness, acceptance and the use of international arbitration and mediation in the MEDA countries (Israel, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and West Bank & Gaza), with special attention to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The intention of the European Commission's initiative is to assist SMEs to resolve international commercial disputes arising from business transactions between Middle Eastern countries and EU-based companies, in order to enhance business transactions between companies based in two or more Middle East countries.
In order for the good intentions to materialize, Schonewille met different people from the business and legal community. Among them, Judge Edna Bekenstein (President of Magistrate Courts of Tel Aviv, Israel and a District Judge); Dr. Peretz Segal (Ministry of Justice, former director of the National Center for Mediation and Dispute Resolution); advocate Yori Geiron (president of the Israel Bar), Advocate Shai Porat (head of the mediation committee of the Israel Bar); Omri Gefen (CEO of Gevim mediation center from Herzliya); and many more, including myself, who had the pleasure of having her over at my home to light Hanukka candles.
These meetings should encourage creating and strengthening a working collaboration between Israeli Arbitration/Mediation Centers and the EU Arbitration/ADR Centers. Moreover, it could make a first encounter with existing MEDA counterpart institutions, bearing in mind that the European Commission's project is intended to integrate local initiatives, without creating assistance-dependent services.
ADR MEDA - What next?
In 2005, the European Commission sponsored a three-year project dedicated to facilitating foreign investment and international trade, across the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean, through the promotion of Alternative Dispute Resolution in the 10 MEDA countries. At the concluding event of this project, a conference was held in Rome at the end of September. Representatives from the 27 EU member states participated alongside representatives from the 10 MEDA countries.
The project was designed specifically to assist SMEs, the backbone of most MEDA country economies, to develop greater skill and ease in dealing with counterparts in other countries. Therefore, the project worked primarily with bar associations, jurists, local arbitration and other ADR groups, chambers of commerce, federations of industry, trade promotion agencies and other organizations, which relied upon by SMEs for advice and related services. The trainings on international contracts and dispute resolution were aimed at creating a group of highly specialized mediators and arbitrators who will increase the availability of specialized services. The intensive training workshop Training for International Commercial Mediators and Arbitrators were geared toward local business lawyers of the MEDA countries.
Most intermediary institutions, like chambers of commerce and entrepreneurial associations, perform the function of informally helping local and foreign entrepreneurs to amicably settle disputes. Many firms, especially SMEs, have had positive experiences with regard to receiving assistance from an intermediary institution in settling problems/disputes arising from a given contract. Establishing links among all institutional centers and promoting and managing arbitration and ADR in the EU and MEDA countries through networking is instrumental in promoting the use of such dispute settlement methods among entrepreneurs.
The preliminary step that should be taken now is creating informal networks. If the network is set out well, it could make for a good platform to enhance business and financial transactions between private entities in Israel and the other MEDA countries that may use the EU roof to try to normalize commercial connections with their Israeli counterparts.
The active Israeli dispute resolution centers could use this opportunity to enter into cooperation agreements with institutions in the EU and in Arab countries surrounding Israel. In instances where the potential for formal cooperation agreements is demonstrated following the cultivation of a relationship, the agreement may result in a formal Memorandum of Understanding between local organizations. The cooperation should include exchange of experience and information, and may also include cooperation in provision of services, such as in the case of co-mediation. In this process, rather than choosing a mediator from a third country, international litigants can each pick a mediator from a mediation organization in their own country. The neutrals then undertake to work together to facilitate settlement negotiations.
While recourse to two neutrals may add some cost, this approach generally increases confidence in the process. Also, it can be effective when there is need for a mediator who speaks a certain language or has a specific background. For such reasons, co-mediation can make settlement more likely, so parties often find it worthwhile.
For more information regarding the ADR-MEDA, see http://www.adrmeda.org/.
For more information regarding the development of cooperation between EU and MEDA countries regarding ADR please contact the author.
The author is head of the international department at the Joseph Shem-Tov law firm.
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