July 2023 marks the 15th anniversary of the Union for the Mediterranean. Fifteen years ago in Paris, the heads of state and governments of the European Union and the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean launched the UfM to bring new impetus to their partnership and increase the potential for regional integration and cohesion.
This anniversary provides occasion to reflect on our collective journey and reaffirm our common commitment to regional cooperation in the Mediterranean.
Over the years, the UfM has established itself as the leading multilateral framework in the Euro-Mediterranean region, despite the challenges posed by a turbulent regional and international context. More than 60 projects have received the unanimous endorsement of the 43 UfM countries. Those projects, with a combined budget of €5 billion, aim to benefit more than 10 million people directly, with an estimated indirect impact on approximately 100 million additional people. The organization has championed job creation and women’s rights, enhanced connectivity efforts among countries, and addressed pressing environmental and climate emergencies.
Fostering education, entrepreneurship, and job opportunities
Furthermore, the UfM has prioritized grant schemes and projects to foster entrepreneurship and job opportunities.
The Med4Jobs Initiative has helped increase the employability of youth and women. To highlight the cultural richness of the region, the UfM has also launched initiatives to promote diversity, dialogue, and mutual understanding, together with the Anna Lindh Foundation for the Dialogue Between Cultures.
The UfM is actively enhancing higher education systems and focusing on youth-oriented projects. Three thousand students will be enrolled in 2024 in Morocco at the Euromed University of Fez, a pioneer academic institution aimed at imbuing a new generation with a unique Euro-Mediterranean vision.
Recognizing the potential of young people as agents for positive change, our foreign ministers held a fruitful exchange last November with youth representatives who highlighted their recommendations and expectations for the future of our shared region.
Working towards economic and regional integration post-COVID
The UfM is also working to accelerate investments in the blue economy, which has a huge potential to improve economic growth and sustainability in the Mediterranean basin.
However, we need to acknowledge that our efforts thus far have fallen short of target and challenges persist. Economic integration between the north and the south of the Mediterranean remains largely insufficient. The economic gap between the northern and southern shores is widening, with a per capita GDP six times higher in the EU compared to its southern neighbors. Fallout from COVID-19 has further deepened social fragmentation and socioeconomic inequality.
The combination of the pandemic, the recent geopolitical shifts, Russia’s war on Ukraine, protracted regional crises, the stalemate in the Middle East peace process, the continued escalation in the occupied Palestinian territories, and the global climate emergency highlight the urgent need for deeper regional integration, particularly in terms of supply chains, clean energy supply, and food security.
A coordinated approach at the regional level to address our common objectives
The Mediterranean region is warming faster than the global average. The region’s fast-growing youth population needs prospects for a life of dignity and prosperity. The consequences are increasingly visible for populations and ecosystems on both sides of the Mediterranean. A coordinated approach at the regional level is therefore an imperative to address these challenges effectively.
This is precisely where the strength of our union – the Union for the Mediterranean – could lie. Our members have varying levels of socioeconomic development and diverse interests, but we share common objectives.
The UfM’s unique convening power brings together a vast range of stakeholders (such as academia, civil society, and youth) from all the countries of the region. Its experts fora, gathering over 8,000 stakeholders annually, allow for a rich exchange of ideas and best practices. The UfM’s model of governance, placing north and south on an equal footing, and based on the principle of consensus, can increase co-ownership and inclusivity.
The organization needs continued commitment from its members to achieve its goal of creating a socially, economically, and ecologically resilient Mediterranean region. This is why we are working hand in hand with all our members to achieve the necessary capacity to deliver more and better, with a greater impact in the region.
The immediate future of the region is challenging, but with the UfM we believe we have the right tool to face the future together.
Josep Borrell is the EU’s foreign policy chief, Ayman Safadi is Jordan’s foreign minister, and Nasser Kamel serves as secretary-general of the Union for the Mediterranean, of which Israel is a member.