EU commissioner comes to visit the Middle East

European Commissioner for External Relations and Neighborhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, is visiting Egypt, Israel and Jordan this week.

benita  waldner 88 298 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
benita waldner 88 298
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
European Commissioner for External Relations and Neighborhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, is visiting Egypt, Israel and Jordan this week. In each country, the commissioner will discuss with key interlocutors how to strengthen bilateral relations with the EU, and the growing opportunities available under the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) particularly in important areas such as education and energy. Israel, it should be noted, is part of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, a wide framework of political, economic and social relations between the Member States of the European Union and Partners of the Southern Mediterranean. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership comprises of 35 members, 25 EU Member States and 10 Mediterranean Partners (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey). Libya has observer status since 1999. The visit of the commissioner could advance the unique and ambitious initiative of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, which laid the foundations of a new regional relationship and which represents a turning point in Euro-Mediterranean relations. In the Barcelona Declaration, the Euro-Mediterranean partners established the three main objectives of the Partnership: * The definition of a common area of peace and stability through the reinforcement of political and security dialogue (Political and Security Chapter). * The construction of a zone of shared prosperity through an economic and financial partnership and the gradual establishment of a free-trade area (Economic and Financial Chapter). * The rapprochement between peoples through a social, cultural and human partnership aimed at encouraging understanding between cultures and exchanges between civil societies (Social, Cultural and Human Chapter). The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership comprises two complementary dimensions. The first is the bilateral dimension through which the European Union carries out a number of activities bilaterally with each country. The most important are the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements that the European Union negotiates with the Mediterranean Partners individually. They reflect the general principles governing the new Euro-Mediterranean relationship, although they each contain characteristics specific to the relations between the EU and each Mediterranean Partner. The second dimension is the regional dimension. Regional dialogue is supposed to cover, at the same time, the political, economic and cultural fields (regional cooperation). Regional cooperation has a considerable strategic impact as it deals with problems that are common to many Mediterranean Partners while it emphasizes the national complementarities. The existing MEDA Program is the main financial instrument for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. From 1995 to 2003, MEDA committed €5.458 billion in cooperation programs, projects and other supporting activities, the regional activities comprising around 15% of this budget. MEDA resources are subject to programming strategy papers that are established at a national and regional level. Based on these papers, three-year national indicative programs are drawn up jointly for the bilateral channel, and a regional indicative program covers the multilateral activities. Examples of projects financed by MEDA are structural adjustment programs in Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan, Syrian-Europe Business Center, the social fund for employment creation in Egypt, rehabilitation of the public administration in Lebanon, and rural development in Morocco. The Commission's external relations directorate-general is responsible for drawing up the strategy papers and the three-year indicative programs. Based on this input, the Commission's Europe-Aid cooperation office establishes the annual financing plans and manages the projects and programs from the identification to the evaluation phase. The beneficiaries of support measures may include not only the Euro-Mediterranean partners but also local authorities, regional organizations, public agencies, local or traditional communities, organizations supporting business, private operators, cooperatives, mutual societies, associations, foundations and non-governmental organizations. Europe-Aid regularly publishes information on tender forecasts, notices and awards for service, supply and works contracts as well as calls for proposals for projects to be subsidized. It should be noted that Israel and Turkey do not enjoy any share of the money. The entire budget goes to the other eight members. However, for Turkey, the Enlargement Directorate-General both plans and implements the cooperation activities, which, since 2002, come from a separate financial envelop and not MEDA. The commissioner reached Jerusalem Tuesday where she met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Minister of Defense Amir Peretz. Following the trilateral summit between Olmert and Palestinian President Abbas in the presence of the US Secretary of State Rice, and the meeting of Quartet Principals in Berlin, discussions focused on how to advance the peace process and bilateral relations between the EU and Israel in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy, including the new opportunities under ENP that have recently been proposed by the Commission. The author is head of the International Department at the Joseph Shem-Tov law firm.