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.