Secret goings-on in the Mediterranean


                                                                                         Union for the Mediterranean flag

        Hands up if you know anything about IEMed, the Barcelona Process or UfM.  And full marks if you can identify that IEMed stands for the European Institute of the Mediterranean, the Barcelona Process is shorthand for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (Euromed), and UfM betokens the Union for the Mediterranean.
        In fact the three bodies represent stages in a long, convoluted road leading toward well-intentioned development programs for the Mediterranean region, and all three are currently beavering away on worthy activities.  More worryingly, they are acting within a political environment which affects their relevance and effectiveness, but which they are unable to control.
        IEMed, founded in 1989 in Spain, is essentially a think tank-plus, aimed at encouraging understanding and cooperation between Mediterranean countries. It actively seeks to promote peace, stability and shared prosperity by boosting economic activity, and it supports academic studies on Mediterranean-related matters.
        The Barcelona Process or Euromed started in 1995 with a conference organized by the European Union to strengthen its relations with the countries in the Mashriq and Maghreb regions. It aimed to reinforce political and security dialogue; to construct an economic and financial partnership with the EU including a free-trade area by 2010; and to encourage understanding between cultures and societies.
        Today Euromed comprises all the member states of the EU, as well as ten southern Mediterranean states including Israel and the Palestinian Authority (or, as it has designated itself, “the State of Palestine”). Syria, once a member, has been suspended.
        By its tenth anniversary in 2005, the Process had failed to come anywhere near advancing its three-point program, and its final declaration failed to be endorsed by the partnership as a whole. The disagreement turned on what was to be understood by “terrorism”.  The PA, Syria and Algeria wanted to exclude what they called “resistance movements against foreign occupation”– “foreign occupation” being code for Israel’s existence anywhere in Mandate Palestine.
        At the 2005 summit even the founding fathers of the Barcelona Process expressed disappointment about the EMed Partnership and its failure to deliver results.
        In the lacklustre performance of the Barcelona Process France’s then-president, Nicolas Sarkozy, perceived a political opportunity.  He conceived the grandiose concept of a “Mediterranean Union”, paralleling the European Union.  This project was part of his ticket during the French presidential election campaign in 2007.
        Once elected, Sarkozy invited all heads of state and government of the Mediterranean region to a meeting in Paris, to lay the foundations of the new Union.  Unfortunately his concept had failed to inspire the EU.  Some European leaders felt that it would not be sensible to duplicate institutions already in existence under the Barcelona Process. The European Commission thought that a better idea would be to use the existing Barcelona structure to build a more effective organization.
        Sarkozy modified his proposal, and it was soon agreed that the project should include all EU member states and be built upon the existing Barcelona process. The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) is dedicated to supporting, but not funding, socioeconomic developments in the region which meet one or more of three interrelated priorities – human development, integration and stability – and is currently overseeing some 50 such projects spread right across the Mediterranean area.  One such, supported by both Israel and the Palestinians, is the Desalination Facility project for the Gaza Strip, endorsed by the 43 Member States of the UfM. The large-scale desalination facility is aimed at addressing the water crisis in the Gaza Strip, where 95% of the water is not drinkable due to the over-pumping of the Coastal Aquifer, the only available water source in the strip.
        No one could reasonably object to the encouragement of projects designed to bring improvements to the lives and living standards of the peoples of the Mediterranean, although one could reasonably have asked why it took three separate bodies to do so. Now a fourth looms on the horizon.  A new EU-based Partnership on Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA) has been set up to develop more sustainable management of water and agro-food systems.  PRIMA, which will be a ten-year initiative running from 2018 to 2028, currently consists of 19 participating countries including Israel but not the Palestinian Authority, and more participants, from both EU and non-EU countries, are expected to follow.
        What seems clear is that the main factor leading to the failure of the Barcelona Partnership – political instability – is as potent in 2017 as in 2005, and bears down on the UfM as it will on the new PRIMA initiative.  With civil conflicts raging in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Iran: with Islamic jihad active across the region; with terrorism still rife in Egypt, Turkey, Israel and elsewhere; with the Gulf states in open conflict with Qatar; with the Israel-Palestine issue as unresolved as ever, an organization titled “The Union for the Mediterranean” seems less practical politics than the expression of a far distant, possibly unattainable, vision.
        Amalgamation of the three existing bodies into one effective organization, rationalisation of its operations, and –  since public awareness of the existing bodies and their activities is minimal to the point of secrecy – better promotion of its purposes and achievements would seem a sensible way forward, for there is every reason for the good work to continue. 

The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is: “The Chaos in the Middle East: 2014-2016”.  He blogs at: