The Sea of Many Seas: A Review of Policy Brief 1 (“The EU’s Construction of the Mediterranean”) by Elizabeth Saleh
Over last four decades, researchers continue to highlight the importance of examining perceptions of place and space. This analytical turn to focus on spatial practices is clearly not restricted to intellectual debate within the walls of the academy. Indeed, the policy brief “The EU’s Construction of the Mediterranean” is a case in point. By exploring the spatial framing of EU policies implemented since at least the 1970s, the authors draw attention to what they describe as the European politics of “othering” Mediterranean states and communities.
Huber and Paciello identify three discourses used in the EU’s construction of the Mediterranean: (1) “the Mediterranean as a diverse geopolitical space” (2) the Mediterranean as a dangerous space” and (3) “the Mediterranean as space crucial for EU interests”. The authors suggest that EU policy between 1970 and 1980 often assumed the Mediterranean as a region made up of distinctive “geographical components” that were more disparate than cohesive in their features. Whereas as Middle Eastern countries were situated outside of the spatial framing of “Mediterranean politics” and within the domain of U.S. diplomacy, countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece were perceived within the EU context of “enlargement” policies.
Perceptions of the Mediterranean shifted towards contradictory policies of engagement and security from 1990 until 2003. On the one hand, in their bid for region building and further influence within international affairs the EU pursued the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. While on the other hand, as a result of the collapse of the Middle East Peace Process and 9/11 attacks, the Mediterranean was simultaneously perceived as a dangerous space. The region consequently witnessed further securitization process during the 1990s and early 2000s –– and especially within policies for migration. From 2003 until the 2017, the EU Neighbourhood Policy has further pursued EU securitization processes. In the security interests of the EU, borders have been further tightened along the Southern Mediterranean and migration is even more managed and restricted.
The authors argue that within all three spatial framings, policies of (dis)engagement are represented as depoliticized and/or technocratic. The authors do not however elaborate on what is meant by either depoliticized or technocratic. And yet they call on the EU to abandon depoliticized and technocratic approaches to the Mediterranean. The authors might discover further insights into these strategies of “othering” by moving beyond document analysis of solely EU policies to incorporate non-EU documents as well as other methods such as interviewing and focus groups.
Overall, the policy brief provides important contributions to the on-going discussion concerned with the restructuring of space that has occurred over the last forty years. In particular, the authors shed important light onto the politics behind the construction of space and place within policy. These observations are of particular relevance for researchers and policy-makers focusing on space and place-making at smaller scales, such as the diminishing spaces available for civil society. By focusing on the Mediterranean, authors continue an endeavour that arguably began with the eminent French historian, Fernand Braudel; to demonstrate that the Mediterranean is connecting force between nation-states, communities and ultimately, people.
Elizabeth Saleh is a researcher at the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at American University of Beirut.