Europe & the Arab Spring: EU Policy for the Mediterranean Arab States (Part 3 of 3)

By Alec Simantov

Part 3~Abstract: In light of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions in 2011 and the spread of the ‘Arab Spring’ across the Middle East, the European Commission and the European Parliament have fundamentally called into question the effectiveness of current European Union (EU) policy toward the Mediterranean Arab states, the EU’s ‘southern neighborhood.’ Subsequently, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Fule, as well as the European Parliament have called for a re-examination of such policy. Currently, EU policy toward the Mediterranean is conducted through the bilateral “Action Plans” of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) and the joint projects of the French-designed Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), both of which were born out of the Barcelona Process/Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP). These processes have aimed to create a stable ‘European neighborhood’ in the Mediterranean by promoting political and economic reforms in North Africa and the Middle East in hopes of contributing to the overall security of the European Union. However, the EMP as a whole, through the Neighborhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean, has been heavily criticized as having been ineffective in achieving the EU’s stated policy aims. This essay seeks to examine the effectiveness of the ENP and the Union for Mediterranean up to the current political crisis, if the UfM represents a defective policy overlap with the ENP, and whether or not new proposals presented by the Commission demonstrate a true rethinking of Mediterranean policy. Online masters degree programs are something people consider when they want to broaden their understanding of business, politics, international affairs, or all of those things. It is essential to understand how countries interact with each other.

IV. New Proposals in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’

On March 3rd, the European Commission released a Joint Communication outlining the initial steps of a re-tooling of EU policy on the Southern Mediterranean. The report, entitled, A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity, calls for a “differentiated approach” for various countries (a seeming justification for continuing to use bilateral relations as the primary tool to achieve stated goals). (Source European Commission Joint Communication, “A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean,” March 8, 2011, 2.) The new Partnership should be built upon the following three elements according to the report:
a) democratic transformation and institution building; with focus on “fundamental freedoms, constitutional reforms, reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption.”
b) “a stronger partnership with the people,” an emphasis on “people-to-people” contacts in the form of youth exchanges, and support for civil society groups.
c) Support for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), vocational and educational training, development of poorer regions, and overall “sustainable and inclusive growth and economic development.” (Source: Ibid.)
Other proposals include a commitment to free and fair elections in partner countries that are adequately monitored as a prerequisite for Partnership, the possible resumption of Advanced Status negotiations on Action Plans for countries that are deemed to be carrying out necessary reforms, and a new Civil Society Neighborhood Facility. (Source: Ibid 6.) The Commission has also expressed willingness to “work with Member States on legal migration legislation and visa policy to support the goal of enhanced mobility, in particular for students, researchers and business people.” (Source: Ibid, 7.)

The UfM Parliamentary Assembly has called for the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean Investment Bank (EMID) to help fund democratic transitions. (Source: European Parliament Press Service Press Release, “Union for the Mediterranean Assembly calls for a ‘Marshall Plan’ for transition countries,” April 4, 2011, accessed April 25, 2011, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/en/pressroom/content/20110228IPR14442/html/Union-for-the-Mediterranean-Assembly-calls-for-a-Marshall-plan .) Franco Frattini, on behalf of Italy’s UfM rotating presidency called for a ‘new Marshall Plan’ and also called for the European Investment Bank (EIB) to invest in the region while EIB President Philippe Maystadt expressed support for the creation of the EMID. (Source: Ibid.) Frattini also declared that the “paralysis” of the UfM could be reversed and stressed the importance of using the opportunity to revitalize the UfM. (Source: Ibid, 2.) There have also been calls from EU leaders for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to extend its activities to the SM countries. EBRD President Thomas Mirow has stated that the bank is ready to invest up to 1 billion euros a year in Egypt if given permission by the bank’s shareholders. (Source: Reuters, “EU Leaders want more EIB, EBRD involvement in North Africa,” Reuters, March 25, 2011, accessed April 6, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/25/eu-northafrica-lending-idUSLDE72O1XH20110325 .) Egypt’s transitional government has already applied for funds which Mirow said would depend on whether a new Egypt was committed to democracy, a multi-party political system, and a free market economy. (Source: Steven Scheer, “UPDATE 1-EBRD head: Egypt’s new govt has reapplied for funds,” Reuters, March 22, 2011, accessed April 6, 2011, http://in.reuters.com/article/2011/03/22/ebrd-egypt-idINLDE72L1WE20110322 .) However an increased role for the EIB and EBRD has come under fire from EU watchdog groups.

Fidanka Bacheva, of CEE Bankwatch Network, notes that the EIB has been operating in the SM since 1979. Ten of the twenty-three billion euros invested in the region went to Tunisia and Egypt. Bacheva accuses the bank of having an “unbalanced” lending portfolio that promoted EU energy import interests, “[…] it is less clear how it brings any added value in the areas of democratisation and sustainable development.” (Source: Fidanka Bacheva, “Banking is not a tool to support democracy,” New Europe, March 27, 2011, accessed April 6, 2011, http://neurope.eu/print.php?id=105473.) Desislava Stoyanova of Counter-Balance argues that the EIB and the EBRD, while operating “in line with broad EU political mandates,” actually control the design and management of their own investment portfolios. The big infrastructure projects in Egypt and Tunisia, according to Stoyanova, were, “white elephants, benefiting a few politically well-connected people, and rarely the populations they aim to serve.” (Source: Desislava Stoyanova, “Are the EU’s public banks fit to support southern Med’s new democrats?,” The Guardian, March 29, 2011, accessed April 6, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/mar/29/eu-banks-support-middle-east-democracy.) Additionally, the EIB has done a historically poor job of reaching SMEs. (Source: Ibid) Bacheva urges the EU “to consider pausing” before giving the EBRD a role in the Mediterranean due to its lack of expertise in politically unstable countries and its poor record on poverty reduction and human rights. (Source: Bacheva, 2.) EIB spokesman Nick Antonovics claims that the bank has reviewed is North Africa investments and has not found any evidence misuse of funds. (Source: Sebastian Tong, “Advocay groups oppose larger North Africa role for EBRD, EIB,” Reuters, March 23, 2011, accessed April 6, 2011, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/03/23/ebrd-eib-northafrica-idUKLDE72M0VZ20110323.)

V. Conclusions

The European Commission Joint Communication outlines some decent proposals for re-examining EU policy in SM countries. However concerns remain over what further policies will take shape; and if they will address the fundamental framework liabilities of the ENP and the UfM. The new ‘Partnership’ as outlined by the Commission is right to include constitutional reforms and judicial reforms as part of its scope and jurisdiction. The Commission is also correct in making participation in the new Partnership conditional upon election monitoring. The refocus on civil society initiatives through a new Civil Society Neighborhood Facility also appears promising as does the Commission’s willingness to review legal migration and visa policy in support of enhanced mobility. However the proposal’s foci are still relatively vague and do not address the concern of how the UfM will fit in to the larger policy; it is clear from the language of ‘differentiation’ that the EU’s preference remains for bilateral initiatives through the framework for the ENP’s Action Plans. The EU, as suggested by Commissioner Füle, will need to address the inefficiencies of the APs themselves if they are to continue to serve as the basis for new reforms to Mediterranean policy. The 2007 European Parliament report, previously mentioned, heavily criticized the APs as being “imprecise, cautious and not specific in policy-operational detail.” (Source: Policy Department External Policies Briefing Paper, 10.) They have no clear indication of incentives that could be used to induce political reforms nor do they provide any specific time frame for agreed upon reforms instead relying on generically vague “short-term” and “long-term designations.” A more fundamental review of the original framework is needed before attempting to implement or add new layers to the policy. Furthermore, the EU must find a way to properly incentivize political reforms.

The concerns raised by Bacheva and Stoyanova also must be addressed. The immediate fallback to banking institutions that have essentially wasted billions of dollars for economic projects that benefit ruling elites is of great concern. While the primary vehicle of economic development will of course be the EU’s various investments banks, there must be some mechanism that allows the EU to ensure its financial assistance is having a direct impact on the people those investments are meant to help. The involvement of the EIB and the EBRD, both already poised to make significant new investments in the SM countries to the tune of billions of euros, makes the concept of a Euro-Mediterranean Investment Bank superfluous. Such a bank would be an added layer of complexity in a sector that is more in need of streamlining and transparency. The proposals represent a good starting point for further discussion and development; however the EU should heed the advice of the CEE Bankwatch Network to “take more time” before committing billions in EU resources to the continuation of failed policies.

Alec Simantov is a graduate student at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy and will be beginning a research assistantship at the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Washington office in September with a focus on international governance and democracy. asimanto@gmu.edu

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Filed under Analysis, PIDE (Policy, International Development & Economics), Politics

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