The MEDRESET Project was unique in being an EU initiative that sought a non-Eurocentric approach. As a researcher within the project, I appreciated the approach, the structure of the questions, and the honestly that was expected and valued. The research from all participating countries generated some results that were not often spoken about so openly in research studies. For example, the Lebanese result of a strong criticism against Schengen visa policies that strongly effect and deter migration and mobility. Indeed, the MEDRESET Project was itself affected by this, as is reflected in the policy brief, as southern Mediterranean partners experienced greater difficulty in traveling for the various project needs.
The recommendation of a research foundation for the Mediterranean is one of great interest. Given the events at sea in recent years and that are still ongoing, which have established the sea as a border, research on the region is more important and timelier than ever. Supporting research projects by regional researchers that focus on a non-Eurocentric approach would boost the quality and impact of research being produced about the Mediterranean.
The proposal of a history-focused project on Europe’s colonial past in the region and its impact today is extremely relevant. The various European countries that took part in colonial projects across the Mediterranean can provide access to and publication of archival materials that detail the internal discussion and plans for the projects. These documents should be easily available in a digital format and across institutions of learning in the colonized countries. It is important for residents of the former colonies to have access to such documents and those working within relevant fields to use the materials to expand their research, knowledge, and publications. Such a project would boost and spur national discussions on the regional legacies of colonialism.
Finally, as suggested in the policy brief, indeed the EU should shift its policies towards the region to have a human security perspective, not an EU and anti-terrorism perspective. A shift in policy perspective would result in overall better regional perceptions of the EU, and most importantly, save lives. As found in the Lebanon study on perspectives by various stakeholders on EU-Lebanon relations, participants did not hold a high view of EU policies and saw them as self-interested and focused on self-protection. A shift in policies would thus match the rhetoric that is often heard from the EU in regard to an interest in the well being of people in the region.
RETHINKING EURO-MEDITERRANEAN POLICIES IN THE FIELDS OF ENERGY AND INDUSTRY
The sector of energy and trade, and its involvement between EU and South Mediterranean relations is one that is interesting to explore. The findings of the policy brief show that within this sector: there is no civil society involvement; lack of a partnership diversification by the EU; and a lack of communication between sectors. Within Lebanon, a largely service oriented economy, little is known by the general public about EU involvement in industry and trade. It is largely regarded by the public that little industry is developing. Although there is potential to boost the economy through the creation of large and much needed infrastructure projects. There have been talks of such projects at the hands of the Hariri government, but nothing appears to materialize yet. Of course the main concern, for decades now, is the question of energy. Beirut experiences 3 hours of power cuts per day, and the rest of the country is around half a day. The rest is supplied by toxic and polluting generators. End of 2018 and into 2019 saw even longer power cuts across the country due to fuel shortages. The promise of 24/7 electricity has been echoing also for decades. This is indeed an area where the EU can engage with Lebanon, and if successful, would relieve residents of Lebanon of a main problem and concern. EU expertise, best practices, and knowledge on clean energy would be extremely beneficial.
Regarding energy in Lebanon, there has been for some years now heated discussion around the gas sector and exploration in Lebanese waters. This is another area where EU involvement would be beneficial in assisting the development of the sector. The likely assumption by much of the Lebanese public is that the mass profits generated if gas is to be confirmed in Lebanese waters, would be pocketed by the already wealthy elite involved in the process. At this time, given Lebanese politician’s track records, it is unlikely that the profits would be used for the benefit of the nation at large. While the policy brief discusses civil society participation within the sectors of energy and industry, there remains no civil society participation in discussions around gas extraction in Lebanese waters. The question in Lebanon is instead often one of security and geopolitical quarrels, as the southernmost fields are under debate with the country’s southern neighbor.
While the EU calls for more diversified set of stakeholders and actors when developing policies in regard to energy and industry, this remains a sector where both the general public and civil society are almost entirely absent. When civil society does get involved, it is often in the case of protest, such as the proposed dam in the Birsi Valley. This large infrastructure project is greatly opposed by much of the civil society sector, and is a project that is funded by the World Bank. Indeed, it is not just best practices that are necessary from the part of the EU, but also advocacy and support of the civil society sector when it does engage with industry and energy.
The policy brief n°6 released by Medreset in December 2018 presents a survey investigating the representations of elites in North African and Middle Eastern countries. By interviewing “decision makers, bureaucrats, business people, leading academics, and media professionals,” the authors provide us with a critical assessment of the role of the EU in the Mediterranean.
The interviews draw a rather consensual picture of the EU as a fragmented entity, mostly relevant for matters of economic cooperation, but largely undermined by the contradictory strategies pursued by its individual member states. The Mediterranean region itself has played a key role in the growing crisis that has been slowly eroding center-right leadership in Europe to the benefit of xenophobic far-right governments. The EU has proven to be unable to cope with the aftermath of the Syrian civil war. It has also failed to counter catastrophic public discourses on migrations promoted in national arenas. Moreover, it has been unable to improve its regulations regarding migration in order to foster solidarity and lessen the pressure felt by first-entry countries (Langford, 2013; Selanec, 2015).
Following, it seems logical that interviewees from Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, denounce the securitizing and technocratic approaches inherent to EU policies in the Mediterranean. These features are especially obvious in the field of migration and asylum (see commentary 5). They are eminently linked to the lack of political capital enjoyed by European authorities in Brussels and respond to the pressure coming from far-right movements and governments. At the same time, one wonders how the EU could do anything else, as Brussels is not a place where audacious political alternatives come to life, especially when most member states fail to display any forms of solidarity or humanitarian commitment.
Interviewees also depict the geopolitical weakness of the European Union and its marginal status in comparison to other major powers, starting with the USA. It is certainly normal for actors situated in more distant countries, such as Iran, Qatar or Saudi Arabia, to view the EU as a secondary player in regional struggles, especially since these conflicts are often militarized. The decrease of European leverage in Turkey is less anecdotal; it demonstrates the inability of the EU to effectively deliver on its liberal cosmopolitan promises. Instead of a progressive integration, the EU-Turkey relationship now revolves mostly around questions of security.
These geopolitical shortcomings are a consequence of political upheavals and strategic choices at the member states level. As the Brexit has deprived the EU of one of its major military powers, it has also undermined its already limited strategic autonomy and made even more urgent the need for a genuine Common Security and Defense Policy. In the meantime, the EU remains the “military worm” once mocked by former Belgian minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Eyskens. This military weakness is complemented by a diplomatic fragmentation, demonstrated spectacularly by the actions of Italy and France in Libya, where both countries have been competing and backing rival actors.
The EU's inability to exist as a military and diplomatic power in the Mediterranean -or anywhere else- translates into an inability to solve some of the region's geopolitical challenges identified by the actors interviewed for the survey (conflicts, migrations, economic and social imbalances). The interviewees recognize the mitigating actions of the EU, for example when it facilitated the Iran nuclear deal or when it funds humanitarian actions in Palestine. At the same time, both of these issues illustrate the limits of European influence, especially when it is not aligned with the interests of the US government and its regional clients (Saudi Arabia, Israel). The Syrian tragedy reveals the extent to which European geopolitical weakness results in an inability to solve crisis, even when they impact the EU more than any other international power. Unable to play any leadership role, the EU ended up covering a huge part of the humanitarian costs out of sheer security concerns (Dandashly, 2016; Turkmani & Haid, 2016). In doing so, it failed to prevent violence in Syria or display any kind of solidarity in Europe or in the Mediterranean and fueled the criticism of Middle Eastern and North African elites echoed by this survey.
Given the diplomatic fragmentation underlined in elites discourses, it seems unlikely that the EU will be able to overcome its divisions and propose a comprehensive approach “aiming to improve intra-regional relations in the EU’s expanded southern neighbourhood and to resolve political disputes throughout the region.” Interviewees also point toward more down-to-earth priorities, starting with youth unemployment, social polarization or regional disparities. This is probably where the EU has the most to offer. While its geopolitical irrelevance can only be addressed by a profound aggiornamento starting at the level of the member-states, the EU is still a major economic power. As such, it has the means and the expertise to promote social justice.
Commentary: Medreset Policy Brief 5 – (The EU's Migration, Asylum and Mobility Policies in the Mediterranean) - by Serres Thomas
The fifth policy brief published by Medreset in December 2018 tackles what has become the most sensitive dimension in Euro-Mediterranean relations: migration in all its forms. Since the first half of the 1990s, with the adoption of the Maastricht treaty (1992) and the creation of the Union for the Mediterranean (1995), the circulation of individuals has been a topic marked by “fundamental divergences of interests and approaches.” Following, this new brief proposes an analysis of the policies implemented by the EU in the Mediterranean space based on the concerns of actors in Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries. Unsurprisingly, the content of the brief is extremely critical and underlines the unilateralism of the EU, the lack of cohesion among European actors, and the tendency to view migration through the sole lens of security.
The systematic securitization of migration is the most pressing issue, as it fosters an uni-dimensional and short term approach centered on a narrow understanding of European interests. Drawing on the criticism of stakeholders in the South, the brief highlights the negative impact of the current framework on development policies and its dangerous consequences for migrants, whether they are asylum seekers or economic refugees. Once perceived as a normative power, mainly preoccupied with the promotion of its so-called values (democracy, free market, rule of law...), the EU appears to be prioritizing security over all else. It thus undermines its own discourse on human rights and lowers the standards for its partners in the South and East Mediterranean. While one should not underestimate the role of Southern governments in promoting securitizing practices (Serres, 2018), the current tendency to undermine any humanitarian effort clearly originates from the heart of the EU. Recent decisions taken by the Italian government - closing its ports and pushing for the interception of migrant boats at sea - shows that this moral drift is now deeply embedded in European politics. This is certainly a tendency that this brief captures perfectly. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that another dimension of the ongoing securitization is overlooked: the current framework has allowed for the growth of a security-driven economy and a for-profit xenophobia that serves corporate interests (Rodier, 2012).
Actors in the South of the Mediterranean also underline the difficulty to interact with a “contradictory and inconsistent actor,” as European discourses and policies reflect the tension between the European and the national level. These problems have been apparent since the beginning of the refugee crisis, as member states failed to act in solidarity (despite a rare display of leadership by German Chancellor Angela Merkel) and systematically undermined the attempts of the EU Commission to enforce a union-wide system to share the burden. This lack of cohesion is spectacularly exemplified by the current feud opposing the French and Italian governments.
As “the most critical stakeholders” quoted in the brief rightfully put it, the current governance of migration remains eminently postcolonial. It is worth noting that this characterization comes with profound contradictions related to the way in which the Euro-Mediterranean -and Euro-African- partnership was conceptualized in the aftermath of decolonization. Conceived as a space of compromise, a shared Eurafrican space was to bring together the two shores of the Mediterranean (Hansen & Jonssonn 2018). Yet, the current unilateralism characterizing EU migration policies demonstrates the unbalanced power relations and results in the “obliteration of the Mediterranean as a single and common space.” Confronted with its inner demons, the EU undermines its post-colonial liberal fantasy of a Eurafrican space. It undermines the very possibility of a space of common governance and exchange by focusing solely on the containment of the human flows that terrorize its racial member states. Nonetheless, despite the collapse of this post-colonial fantasy, one should not underestimate the very real social and cultural mixing that occurs in spite of anti-migrants rhetoric. De facto, the South of Europe is a land of migration where encounters cannot be limited to identity conflicts and competition for jobs. There, immigration has positively affected cultural production, as well as associative and political movements (King, 2001).
While the brief is fair in underlining the many flaws of EU actors, it can demonstrates a contradiction: this attempt to provide a non-Eurocentric analysis is nevertheless centered on Europe. Indeed, when looking at the system of human security that governs migrations in the Mediterranean, the EU is certainly not the only major actor involved. Beyond the lack of South-South cooperation, which has been a longstanding issue in the region, one should not underestimate the role of governments in North Africa and the Middle East. Indeed, while some of these partners are in an unstable position resulting in a form of dependence toward the North (Libya, Tunisia), others have instrumentalized the issue of migration in various ways. For instance, Turkey has been using Syrian refugees has bargaining chips with its Western counterparts. As for the Algerian government, it has developed an increasingly racist and repressive stance toward migrants coming from Sub-Saharan Africa. In short, a comprehensive understanding of human security apparatuses in the Mediterranean should not exaggerate the unilateralism of European policies.
As always, the brief ends with an interesting set of recommendations. While some of them might sound slightly systematic (adopting a comprehensive approach, focusing on human rights, increasing gender sensitivity), they are nonetheless appropriate given the current state of affairs. One recommendation appears to be especially important and deserves special attention. The authors underline the problems resulting from the position of privilege enjoyed by professionalized civil society organizations with strong transnational ties, at the expense of local grassroots organizations. In response they rightfully emphasize the need to give a prominent role to the latter, as these organizations simply have a better understanding of (and connections with) local configurations. Such a shift would imply a simplification of the European approach, and a genuine de-centering of policy expectations. But it would also allow for the conceptualization of migration policies in touch with the needs of local communities, and the substitution of a securitizing approach with one based on sustainable development and social justice.
The Elite Survey Policy Brief looks at the concise data from a survey conducted with “elites” in nine countries including Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey. Elites within the survey were described as decision makers, bureaucrats, business people, leading academics, and media professionals. Within this comment, I would like to focus on the third and final category of “On EU instruments in the area of civil society, democracy assistance and economic development,” and how this was perceived by the elites that were surveyed.
By and large, the elites acknowledged the work the EU has conducted in the realm of civil society within these nine countries. However, the interlocutors criticized the EUs approach, stating that Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) were used more as service agents rather than acknowledged as independent organizations and supported as such. Indeed, EU’s policies and agendas in regard to support of CSOs and priority areas a decided in the EU, instead of local actors. EU actors decide to, for a hypothetical example, support policies in regard to women’s rights, improved access to employment for women, and raise awareness on LGBT rights. If these policies and agendas are not developed with local actors, then CSOs indeed become only service agents. CSOs are then required to construct their strategic plans and goals around the agendas of the EU, if they wish to collaborate or partner with the Union. Another danger of this approach is that the EU will be blind in regard to key issues that must be addressed in the country of focus. For example, the elites surveyed in Lebanon highlighted the abuse of human rights faced by migrant workers as a key problem, and one that was not discussed by the EU in Lebanon. While the EU did focus on women’s right in Lebanon, it did not consider all women in the country, including migrant women who face particular challenges.
In regard to EU’s tools in promoting democracy in the region, the elites surveyed communicated that the EU chooses to apply its notion and understanding of democracy on a region that sees a wide range of democratic approaches and that hosts a variety of governing systems, some more democratic than others. Elites understood that steps to democracy by EU standards are slow and take many years and efforts to accomplish, if at all. Meanwhile, improvements in human rights, decrease in poverty levels, and lessening of corruption can all be sought after even within precarious at best democratic realities.
Finally, actors in the nine countries called for greater trade opportunities with the EU, likely on a bilateral level with individual member states. Indeed, and as outlined on a particular policy brief on this topic, trade was highlighted as a key approach to improving EU relations with partner countries. Interlocutors saw this as an economic opportunity that would widen the reach of their countries’ products, create employment opportunities, drive economic growth, and decrease stagnation. Interlocutors saw EU bureaucracy as a limit to achieving those goals and called for greater leniency.
Commentary: Medreset Policy Brief 5 – (The EU’s Migration, Asylum and Mobility Policies in the Mediterranean) - by Karina Goulordava
As polemic as discussions on economy, trade, and democracy can be, the topic of migration, asylum, and mobility in the Mediterranean is one of the most contentions in recent years. While migration to the EU has been ongoing since even prior to the establishment of the Union itself, since the start of the war in Syria and what became known as the refugee crisis in 2015, South-North migration in the Mediterranean has become global news. Many in the world, and especially in the Mediterranean are aware of the large numbers of people crossing the sea, and the disturbing number of deaths that occur. Networks of smuggling have expectedly developed, and additional human rights abuses have thus skyrocketed. The movement of humans across the world is not new, nor is governments’ desire to police and document it. However, today’s policies must be revisited and established within a framework of human rights and protection of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees.
As highlighted in the policy brief, EU’s policies on migration, asylum, and mobility take a securitization approach above all. Instead of viewing the ongoing movement of people from southern Mediterranean countries from the perspective of human rights, the large movement of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers has been pinned as primarily a security concern. Policies and efforts seek to screen and stall those on the move, often for indefinite periods of time. The Turkey-EU agreement sought to do just this, as Turkey received aid, support, and EU concessions for the prolonged hosting of refugees and migrants in Turkey that would otherwise seek to travel to EU countries.
The total lack of a human rights approach towards this issue is most clearly exemplified by a failure of the EU to establish any rescue efforts for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat. Each year, thousands die at sea and most rescue operations are not publicly run by EU member states. The Mediterranean Sea must now be understood as a border and is clearly approached as such by those on the move. If the EU’s policies towards migration focused on human rights and protection, funds earmarked for securitization, at least in part, would be redirected towards rescue.
These policies should not begin on the shores of Turkey, Libya, and Tunis and end in Italy, Spain, or Greece. Migration, asylum and mobility must also be understood from a south-south perspective, as highlighted by one interlocutor in the policy brief. It is known that southern Mediterranean countries hold stringent and often harsh policies themselves towards their neighbors. For example, Lebanese citizens are required to apply for visas for many SEM countries, and vice versa. Results of policies towards migrants and asylum seeks in Lebanon are full of human rights abuses. Lebanon is not the only such country in the region, with Libya being highlighted for its established networks of human smuggling, Israel’s internal and international discriminatory migration and asylum approaches, Egypt’s cooperation in the Gaza blockade, and much more. While north-south policies in the Mediterranean need to be drastically readjusted based on values of human rights and protection of migrant, refugees, and asylum seekers, south-south policies must also be studied, criticized, and pushed for radical transformation.
Commentary: Medreset Policy Brief 3 – (EU Policies on Agriculture and Rural Development in the MENA ) - by Karina Goulordava
The European Policy Brief, “EU Policies on Agriculture and Rural Development in the MENA” discusses the current EU policy approaches towards southern and eastern Mediterranean countries (SEM), and how policies can be better formulated in order to both strengthen agriculture and rural development in the SEM, and create stronger ties between SEM and northern Mediterranean countries within these sectors. The brief evaluates the current policy approaches as technocratic and depoliticized. It recommends instead a new lens to policy, one that considers socioeconomic, cultural, and legal contexts.
Of interest in this comment is the relationship between the SEM and northern European countries, and how competitive ties can sway agricultural and rural development policy approaches. As stated in the brief, SEM countries are the largest grain importer for the EU, and a significant importer of dairy and meat products. Thereby, the needs and consumption of SEM countries are crucial for EU grain, meat, and dairy markets. At the same time, SEM countries primarily export to the EU produce (fruits and vegetables) and olive oil. The contrast in import and export of the SEM shows that while the EU exports staple, and high cost and quantity products, SEM countries export more seasonal and also likely cheaper products. Simultaneously, while SEM countries produce little grain, meat, or dairy, northern Mediterranean countries produce large amounts of produce as well as olive oil. Therefore, while SEM countries cannot compete with the EU and specifically with northern Mediterranean countries for their main imports, the northern Mediterranean countries can produce their own produce and olive oil (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece).
Although EU trade policy with SEM countries has become less protective and shifted to development, focusing also on water and rural development, northern Mediterranean and other EU countries still have their concerns. Northern Mediterranean countries do not trust the health, safety standards, and quality of produce from SEM countries. True, SEM countries have different production standards and laws regarding fertilizers. The use of some fertilizers is common in SEM countries, while prohibited in the EU, making export more difficult. If the EU does not shift its agricultural and rural development policies to also include knowledge transfer, training in best practices, and a focus on alternative fertilizers, in the end their policies remain protective and benefit EU agricultural producers. Approaching this also from an environmental perspective, the above-mentioned approach to policies, would benefit the local SEM environment. After all, even if SEM countries do not view the Mediterranean as one shared space, as mentioned in the brief, the sea is in reality shared by the entire region. It has already been claimed by the Greek government that Lebanese pollution has reached Greek waters, and thus a focus on pollution reduction, including in the agricultural sector, would benefit the entirety of the Mediterranean region, and in line with global goals to combat climate change.
Moving further away from a protective trade approach, although knowledge transfer and training from north to south would likely make SEM countries more competitive, it would also improve the quality, safety, and health of SEM products that are consumed by the region’s dwellers. Further, if SEM countries were able to produce more of their own grain, dairy, and meat, this could reduce some impact on the environment (although meat and dairy is a high pollutant to the environment globally). Considering the Lebanese case, Lebanon imports 80% of all food products, although it produces almost 100% of its fruit and vegetable needs. Reducing food import could be a focus of EU agricultural and rural development policy in Lebanon.
Commentary: Medreset Policy Brief 4 – ( The EU and Political Ideas in the Mediterranean ) - by Karina Goulordava
The policy brief “The EU and Political Ideas in the Mediterranean” looks at how European institutional actors view policy approaches in the Mediterranean versus European civil society actors. The brief outlines a link in that both European and south Mediterranean civil society actors share similar views on EU’s policy approaches to the region, which is in contrast to the approaches of European institutional actors. While European institutional actors place security and stability first, civil society stakeholders on both sides of the sea call for a human rights and social justice approach. Such an approach would reevaluate EU’s support for authoritarian regimes, be it for dictators, harsh rulers, or for long standing sectarian systems like in Lebanon. A human rights and social justice approach would further question who the EU supports and how. As seen in south and eastern Mediterranean countries (SEM), the governments are not viewed by the countries’ dwellers as being at the forefront for human rights. Instead, civil society actors are often seen as the watchdogs, advocates, and promoters of human rights. A shift in policy approach would thus see the EU working more closely and directly with civil society actors.
If we apply this analysis to Lebanon, indeed we see that the EU has supported security and stability in Lebanon over human rights and social justice. This approach, I would argue is not unique to the EU, but is also common amongst other actors such as the United States, Russia, Turkey, and Gulf countries. However, I would also contend that expectations from the EU were held at a higher standard due to its own rhetoric than from the other mentioned actors, at least prior to the Syrian refugee crisis. Lebanon is comprised of 18 sects, which have their own political parties, and many of which are tied to cruel and bloody events during the country’s civil war. Further, as the same parties and leaders have remained in power since the end of the war, their names are clouded in corruption, mis-management of the country, impoverishment of the people, and human rights abuses. Given the constantly discussed fragility of the sectarian system, all efforts to disrupt it are avoided by the EU and other international powers. Although the EU and others should not meddle in the political formations of other countries, Lebanon is a good example of how an approach to support stability and security thus maintains further suppression of human rights and social justice. In supporting stability and security, most aid in recent years has gone to the central government, the Lebanese army, and occasionally municipalities in assisting with the needs of Syrian, Palestinian, and Lebanese dwellers since the arrival of around 2 million Syrian refugees since the start of the Syrian war. However, Lebanese government laws and policies towards refugees and even its own citizens are not based on human rights or social justice approaches. Thus, while the EU works to prevent instability in the country, they also support a government which violates the human rights of its refugee and Lebanese populations.
EU’s support for stability and security also affects Lebanese civil society’s fight for civil rights. In propping up the country’s reigning sectarian system, laws regarding women, civil marriage, inheritance, and other personal status laws, are unable to be approached. As these laws are often divided along sectarian lines, with many personal status laws being governed by sect rather than the national government, a human rights and social justice approach to EU policy cannot exist at the same time as a stability and security approach. Although indeed there are real stability and security concerns in Lebanon as well as other SEM countries, the current approach does not provide security nor stability for dwellers of SEM countries. This has been made most evident and visible by the grave danger faced by refugees and migrants as they attempt to reach fortress Europe by means of crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
Commentary: Medreset Policy Brief 3 – (EU Policies on Agriculture and Rural Development in the MENA ) - by Thomas Serres
Medreset continues its critical assessment of the European Neighborhoud Policy in the South and East of the Mediterranean. Focusing on Tunisia, Lebanon, Morocco and Egypt, policy brief n°3 proposes a welcome critique of the technocratic, depoliticized and securitized orientation of the policies on agriculture and rural development implemented by the European Union in the region.
Beyond the redundant denunciation of European obsessions with growth and migration (which, at this point, is almost a given), the brief demonstrates a welcome attempt to underline the organizational and epistemological limits of these policies. Complex and fragmented structures, technocratic names, multiple and competing stakeholders, Kafkaian contractual procedures, all contribute to making Euro-Mediterranean programs illegible, contradictory, and rigid. In addition to this bureaucratic complexity, the EU produces an amazing amount of knowledge (exemplified by these policy briefs) without giving the impression of actually processing it.
As the policy brief states: “It seems that the studies conducted over the years have barely been used as the EU does not build on these studies nor does it get involved in [the] implementation of projects corresponding to the needs highlighted in them.” From this perspective, one cannot help but thinking that the antipolitical structure serves to hide the resolutely political, and very unbalanced nature of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. Thus, this epistemological gap, the inability to process the knowledge accumulated and to transform it into a genuine reform of the ENP, testifies to a political configuration: European member-states -rather than the Commission or the Parliament- lack the political will and the political capital to conceive of the Mediterranean as anything other than a wall and a market. Confronted with national political imperatives in Northern capitals, the subtle realities of agriculture in the South simply dissolve, regardless of the amount of knowledge that has been collected.
This policy brief nevertheless remind us that rural actors in the Southern countries are aware of their own interests and agency, and refuse to be limited to a position of dependent partners taking what the EU wants to give them. Their critique focuses on the non-tariff barriers implemented by the EU, on the multiple forms of regulations and quotas associated with the protection of European consumers and producers, which prevent local farmers from accessing the common market. Limited by its lack of political will and geopolitical irrelevance, the European Union is mainly perceived as an economic entity that defends European interests at the expense of MENA producers. With this economic entity, the rules of engagement seem to merely respond to the law of competition and regulation.
The policy brief attempts to propose a set of concrete and valuable alternatives to reform EU Policies on Agriculture and Rural Development in the South and East of the Mediterranean. Among many other recommendations, the brief rightfully emphasizes the need to prioritize sustainability and to develop subsistence crops in order to address the endemic dependency of the region. Indeed, while the South of the Mediterranean suffers from many of the evils resulting from rapid urbanization, it has also been confronted with an ongoing food crisis that fuels migration and political instability. Surely, one of the major failures of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership is its inability to create an integrated framework supporting sustainable agriculture and food self-sufficiency in the South (Ferragina & Quagliarotti, 2012). While prioritizing the market and European interests, the ENP has proved unable to overcome the environmental, social and economic challenges inherent to rural development in the MENA region.
In addition, the call for a decentralization of the programs and a reorganization of the ENP in a bottom-up fashion certainly responds to the expectations of actors in the South. Yet, beyond the hope of promoting a more horizontal and democratic approach to rural development, one wonders what would be the interest of North African and Middle-Eastern governments in losing their position of privileged interlocutors. Indeed, if cooperation and development programs draw on traditional institutions, it is also because this is the condition to secure the good-will of local governments. Moreover, the EU legal framework imposes a distribution of financing responsibilities with governments in targeted countries, making a vertical structure almost inevitable (this is the funding principle of subsidiarityessential for example in the implementation of the European Common Agricultural Policy). Despite these limits, the need do include non-state local actors remains essential and one can only agree with the policy briefs recommendation to improve the outreach effort and better respond to the needs of local actors (for example by helping them to develop alternative fertilizing techniques that meet European standards).
Finally, no issue is more telling of the enormous difficulties and shortcomings linked to rural development than the question of gender equality. The policy brief emphasizes the failure of the current European framework to solve the problem of rural women's poverty and dependence, despite its ambitions. Indeed, while the commitment of the EU can hardly be questioned given its ongoing practice of gender mainstreaming, it has also failed to adopt a holistic approach that would not only focus on women, but also on the broader social and economic context (and therefore also include men in the equation) (Debusscher, 2012).
The document struggles with the contradictions inherent in this situation: in order to fight the paternalistic structures that limit direct participation of women farmers, it underlines the need to work directly with women cooperatives and associations. The risk is that this focus on women’s autonomy might fail to take into account the place of these farmers in a more integrated framework. Even issues as essential as access to land and gender equality in inheritance carry with them a variety of socio-economic issues. As the geographer Habib Ayeb recently pointed out, one cannot think about the institution of gender equality in inheritance in Tunisia without taking in consideration its impact on the fragmentation of rural property and the potential impoverishment of small farmers that could follow. Indeed, the conceptualization and implementation of policies on agriculture and rural development in the South of the Mediterranean calls for a close and subtle understanding of local dynamics. Short of this, the programs implemented or supported by the EU could cause more harm than good.
The European Policy Brief “The EU and Geopolitics in the Mediterranean” is an analysis of the identified major global and regional powers within the Mediterranean geopolitics. The key powers are the United States, China, Iran, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. The analysis tackles two primary questions: how do the powers construct geopolitical imaginations of the Mediterranean region? And how does this construction relate to the policies of these powers within the region? The brief seeks to answer the questions through an analysis of the policies of these key powers. Further, the brief aims to understand how these policies conflict, compete and converge with the policies of the EU in the Mediterranean. The goal of the brief is to develop a new regional perspective for the EU. The key findings are the following: 1) security drives policy, 2) the various powers have their own definitions of security, 3) the powers do not see the Mediterranean as a single or shared space, and 4) the regional and global powers’ approaches and priorities are vastly different in the area.
In understanding the security related policies of each power, the brief provided summaries. Russia sees certain regional conflicts as a means to limit its regional power by the west. Thereby, its policies seek to reinforce its power in the Mediterranean. China’s security concerns are related to a fear of a growth of radical Islam and how this relates to its business, economic and energy interests in the area. Israel’s security focus is deeply related to trade and ensuring it has continuous strong trade deals with the European Mediterranean. Saudi Arabia’s security concerns relate to the Arab Spring, and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood victory in Egypt. Qatar, like Saudi, paid close attention to the Arab Spring but in turn viewed it as a moment of opportunity to build and support new ties and challenge Saudi Arabia’s regional power. U.S. policies are most similar to the EU and many focus on security concerns related to terrorism, clearly seen in President Trump’s “Muslim Ban”. Iran’s policies and rhetoric seek to counter western narratives and to provide an example of a different world that exists in the Mediterranean, one that is portrayed quite differently by the west. Turkey’s policies seek to created “zero problems with its neighbors” which are numerous along its borders and regionally. However, Turkey, sharing a border with Iraq and Syria, has had a growth in the number of its security concerns and has experienced high migrant and refugee influxes. The analysis of the discrepancies that occur in regard to varying security concerns results to a clash in policies as there is not policy collaboration between all of the powers.
The policy approaches of the various powers also correlate in the way they imagine the Mediterranean region. For several of the powers, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, their construction of the region is not Mediterranean focused, yet revolving around the various, primarily Arab countries, that they align with and their particular stances towards Israel. China presents its involvement as a fellow colonized country and one that is interested primarily in economic matters. While Russia presents itself as a counter to the west. Given the above, the powers have contrary policies and approaches than the EU, as the EU imagines the Mediterranean as a region of its own. Israeli, Turkish and U.S. policies are much more likely to converge with the EU.
In conclusion, the Mediterranean region continuously experiences fluctuating and clashing policies from the various powers. This makes it difficult for the EU to align and thus it takes bilateral approaches, in varying capacities and strengths, with the powers discussed. The brief suggests that the EU involve to a greater level the non-Mediterranean powers in the Euro-Med contact group, as these powers have strong influence on the region. Security will continue to be the concern of most powers, including the EU, but the brief suggests a more holistic and different rhetorical approach to security that may allow for an easier path for the EU to work with the various power.