William Shakespeare, who set many of his plays in and around the Mediterranean, once said: "To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first." The same thing could be said for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.
As it approaches its 10th anniversary, the guiding principle of this partnership has been evolution rather than revolution. It has rarely attracted headlines but has quietly created solid and sustainable foundations for what is one of Europe's most valued relationships - with its partners around the Mediterranean.
This work is vital as we live in fast-changing times. The past 15 years have witnessed enormous changes in the international system. We are witnessing greater instability and the emergence of failed states which act as incubators for further regional crises. We see ideological radicalization and terrorism as the privatization of war. Major cities around the world, including in Europe and the Mediterranean, have been visited by appalling terrorist atrocities.
Poverty and environmental degradation are also global problems that do not respect frontiers.
These multiple challenges mean that the distinction between what belongs to foreign policy and what is internal is becoming less relevant by the day. They are challenges that cannot be dealt with by one country alone.
In this context the Mediterranean represents an absolute priority for Europe - now more than ever. There we see all the biggest challenges: for peace, security and the fight against terrorism; above all, for development, for respect of human rights, for the safeguarding of the environment, for sustainable growth, for education - particularly for women - and for a more positive management of immigration.
It is also a question of mutual interests. Europe cannot assure its own stability, security and prosperity without helping our neighbors achieve similar levels of these.
The 10th anniversary of this partnership gives us a moment to come together and take stock. That is why we are returning to Barcelona, birthplace of the declaration that launched this unique partnership, for a summit that will give the partnership renewed impetus and point the way forward. We have key decisions to make that will require courage and determination. By agreeing to take up the challenges we all face we can give the partnership a real boost and ensure it really makes a difference to our citizens' lives.
OUR JOINT work program focuses on a few critical areas: human rights and democracy (including gender equality), sustainable economic growth and reform, and education.
Why are we focusing on these areas?
We believe that democracy and good governance are essential for stability and prosperity. This has always been a cornerstone of the Euromed Partnership. However, in order to be successful, reform must come from within; it cannot be imposed from outside. So we are proposing a new "governance facility" from 2007 to give financial support to those who want to move toward greater political reforms.
In our economic relationship, the creation of a free trade area by 2010 is more than just a political promise - the jobs and wealth that will flow from this are essential to the prosperity, and, arguably, the stability of the whole region.
We need to encourage integration and create a truly regional market to boost investment and growth, and reduce the wealth gap between Europe and its neighbors. Five million new jobs a year are required to meet the needs of the Mediterranean region's young population.
Why such great emphasis on education in our program?
One third of the population of our Mediterranean partners are under the age of 15. This is a powerful resource for the future, an untapped force of great potential. But with eight million children not attending primary school we have to do more to ensure that this great human capability can be harnessed and utilized to the full.
The eradication of illiteracy is crucial to this endeavor, which is why we are setting a target date of 2015 to end the scourge once and for all. We are also seeking equal provision of education for boys and girls; and the enrolment of all primary school age children.
These challenges demand that relations continue to mature and move on. The 10th anniversary of any relationship is both symbolic and significant, and in Barcelona we will take time both to look back with pride at our achievements and forward with hope that we will overcome the challenges to come.
The great historian Ibn Khaldun once said: "He who walks far ahead of his contemporaries is a leader, even though centuries pass before he is recognized as such." With the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, we have all shown leadership. But this time our citizens will not have to wait centuries to recognize the benefits.
The writer is president of the European Commission.