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.