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.