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EU policy towards the Mediterranean since the end of the Cold War

written by Nikola Jokic


The history of the relations between the European Community later the European Union (EU) and countries of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean (Southern Mediterranean) has its roots in the 1960s and it is characterised with series of bilateral agreements between the EC and the Mediterranean countries. In 1972 at the Paris summit the EC attempted to create its common position towards the Mediterranean and launched a Global Mediterranean Policy (GMP).

One of the long term purpose of the GMP was the creation of a Mediterranean free trade area. However, relations with the Mediterranean countries were limited with the bipolar structure of the world. The collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of this bipolar order, as well as the beginning of reshaped EU policies with regard to the Mediterranean. In this post-cold war era the EU attempted to project itself as a global power. In order to make a shift from a regional to a global power, the EU attempted to dominate its surrounding regions with one of these regions being the Mediterranean.

During the first half of the 1990s there were several initiatives, which attempted to stimulate the concept of regionalism in the Mediterranean. Some of this initiative were: the West Mediterranean Forum (5+5), which gathered 5 European states as well as Maghreb countries and was launched by France in 1990, the Mediterranean Forum initiated by Egypt in 1994, the Council of the Mediterranean initiated by Malta in 1992, and the Italian-Spanish initiative to launch a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean.

However, the initiative which brought together the largest number of Mediterranean states was the Euro Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) which subsequently evolved into the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and was the most important initiative in series of attempts of the EU to articulate its relations with countries of the Southern Mediterranean. In between these two initiatives (EMP and UfM) the EU launched the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2004. The ENP was set as a framework to govern the EU’s relations with 16 of the EU’s Eastern and Southern Neighbours in order to achieve the closest possible political association and the greatest possible degree of economic integration.

Despite reshaping its relationships after the end of the Cold War, the policies of the EU towards countries of the Southern Mediterranean are inconclusive. In that regard the EMP, ENP and UfM delivered very limited results. This paper will analyse the effectiveness of the EMP, ENP as well as the UfM. The paper will focus on the overall assessment of the EU policies towards the Mediterranean after the end of the Cold war as well as individual assessments of the EMP, ENP and the UfM. While the Mediterranean basin is affected by policies of other states like US, China as well Russia this paper will mainly focus on the EU policies toward the Mediterranean.

Overall assessment

The EU policies after the end of the Cold War towards the Mediterranean achieved very limited results. In terms of economic integration, the Southern Mediterranean countries have the lowest levels of regional economic integration in the World. Attached to the previous, the regional economic integration between the Southern Mediterranean countries is still limited: intra-regional trade is 5.9% in exports, 5.1% in imports of the regions total trade. At the same time the Mediterranean region represents 9.4% of the total EU external trade in 2016.

On the other hand the EU is the largest trading partner of the Southern Mediterranean countries, which makes the economies of these countries heavily dependent on the EU markets. The previous figures could be explained with the fact, that the EU has signed agreements with all Southern Mediterranean countries with the exception of Syria and Libya, while at the same time all these countries, with few exceptions, have no concluded trade agreements among themselves.

Apart from the poor economic integration the Mediterranean basin is one of the key security challenges for the EU today. The chain of events after the Arab spring like the wars in Libya and Syria resulted in an immigrant crises and the spread of terrorism which heavily influenced the EU agenda. The war in Syria and the fragile situation in Libya are an additional burden to the EU relations with the Southern Mediterranean countries. An additional problem in the overall integration of the Mediterranean towards a “common area of peace, stability, and shared prosperity” is the unresolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

On the other hand there are areas where progress has been made. For example several countries signed a trade agreement and the EU supports this type of arrangements. In that regard it the Agadir Agreement between Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt and the free trade agreement between Israel and Jordan are worth to mention. Furthermore Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Syria and Tunisia have signed bilateral agreements with Turkey. However, this agreement didn’t results in higher economic integration of the countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean.

Another positive example is Tunisia, which managed to make peaceful transition after the Arab spring. Tunisia made an impressive democracy progress with a democratically elected government and a robust civil society. Yet, one of the main challenge for Tunisia as well as for the other Southern Mediterranean countries are underdeveloped economies.

However, despite some positive changes in the region, the overall situation is not yet in line with the EU’s objective of a “common area of peace, stability, and shared prosperity” as defined in the EU policies towards Southern Mediterranean.

Euro Mediterranean Partnership (EMP)

The EMP, also known as Barcelona process, was launched at the Conference of Euro-Mediterranean Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Barcelona in 1995. The Conference gathered the largest number of participants from the Mediterranean basin after the end of the Cold War. Namely 15 member states of the EU and 12 Mediterranean non-member countries have adopted the Barcelona Declaration. The Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries which adopted the Barcelona Declaration were: Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.

The Barcelona Declaration provided a comprehensive framework for the cooperation between the EU and the Southern Mediterranean countries, as well as the cooperation between all countries with each other. The objectives of the EMP have been organised around three chapters: Political and security partnership with the aim to establish a common area of peace and stability, Economic and financial partnership with the aim to create an area of shared prosperity, Social, Cultural and Human Partnership with the aim to develop human resources, promote understanding between cultures and exchanges between civil societies.

The Barcelona Declaration has established the institutional framework for cooperation in form of periodic meetings of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs with the aim to monitor the application of the Barcelona Declaration. The Euro-Mediterranean Committee at senior official level holds regular meetings to prepare the meetings of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs Other. Overall, the forms of cooperation envisaged in the Barcelona Declaration were contacts between parliamentarians, regional authorities as well as local authorities.

One of the greatest achievements of the EMP was the establishment of a cooperation platform which gathered the largest number of Mediterranean countries since the end of the Cold War. The key instruments of the EMP were Association Agreements and in that regard the EU signed Association Agreements with most of the Southern Mediterranean countries. Under the framework of the EMP the bilateral relations between the EU and Southern Mediterranean countries have improved. However, this comprehensive framework for cooperation has failed to improve the cooperation amongst the Southern Mediterranean countries with few exceptions.

In order to support reforms in the Mediterranean countries the EU offered assistance. In that regard the EU channelled more than 16 billion euros in the period 1995 -2009 in order to facilitate reforms in the Southern Mediterranean countries. While similar approaches succeeded in Eastern Europe countries, it did not work out in the Mediterranean countries. One explanation for this could be the fact that “in Eastern Europe the EU had a much bigger prize to offer (i.e. membership in the club)”.

In terms of the Political and security partnership the EMP has not succeeded to deliver a comprehensive and long lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The EMP most ambitious goal of an economic and financial partnership free trade area until 2010 has not made enough progress. In this regard the Agadir Agreement is worth to mention, which was an important step towards the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area. However, the Agadir Agreement was signed by only four countries of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean. Most important results under the Social, Cultural and Human Partnership were the Erasmus Mundus Programme and the Ana Lindh Foundation. The Erasmus Mundus Programme has provided scholarships for students from the Mediterranean. Although, the Anna Lindh Foundation was established as the common Euro-Mediterranean institution with the aim to ensure a better knowledge, mutual understating, freedom and respect for all religions, other beliefs and cultures among the Euro-Mediterranean peoples.

Free trade and assistance were the only instruments of the EU, which should contribute to political, social as well as economic development of the Southern Mediterranean countries. However, economic social and political development in Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries was slow. One of the reasons of this limited progress could be the comprehensive framework which allows various institutional relations and resulted in overlapping responsibilities. The issue of overlapping even became more complex with the adoption of the European Neighbouring Policies. On the other hand partners from the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries “argue that the EMP policies are designed to serve the European economies more, rather than aiming for an equally beneficial outcome for both sides”.

European Neighbouring Policy (ENP)

The ENP was launched with the aim to share the benefits of the EU’s 2004 enlargement with its neighbouring countries in strengthening stability, security and well-being. It is designed to prevent the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its neighbours and to offer them the chance to participate in the various EU activities, through greater political, security, economic and cultural cooperation.

In order to understand the overall context it should be added that the importance of the ENP was highlighted in the first EU Security Strategy, which states that the EU tasks is to: ”promote a ring of well governed countries to the East of the European Union and on the borders of the Mediterranean with whom the EU can enjoy close and cooperative relations”. Bearing in mind the aforementioned, the security of the EU could be considered as a dominant element in the ENP despite the fact that the ENP highlighted political, economic and cultural cooperation.

In terms of the Mediterranean countries the ENP has used existing arrangements of the Barcelona Process for the implementation of activities. In that regard the starting point for the ENP were signed Association Agreements with the Southern Mediterranean countries. In 2011, after the Arab spring, the EU has reviewed the ENP in order to respond to the new circumstances. In essence of the revised ENP the approach was “more funds for more reform — making more additional funds available, but with more mutual accountability”.

The new ENP has focused on “building deep democracy accompanied with inclusive economic development”. In 2015 another review of the ENP was undertaken by the EU. This Revision in 2015 strongly emphasised security aspects mainly in the area of conflict-prevention, counter-terrorism, anti-radicalisation as well as irregular migration. Although, the revised 2015 ENP focused on social and economic development. There is no doubt that the last review of the ENP in 2015 has been influenced by the series of events after the Arab Springs as well as a series of terrorist attacks and the immigrant crises. The 2015 revision of the ENP responded to these challenges. In that regards the new ENP attempts to address not only the consequences but also the roots of these crises.

One of the main weaknesses of the ENP from the perspective of the Mediterranean countries is the Eurocentric approach, which focuses on the needs of the EU. Another weakness of the ENP is the utilization of its enlargement model. This enlargement model was mostly designed to facilitate the transformation of the former communist countries prior to the 2004 EU enlargement.

However, the ENP model did not offer the option of potential membership in the EU at least for the Mediterranean countries. This was a clear fact even before the adoption of the ENP as prior to the ENP argued in the rejection of Morocco’s EU membership application since Morocco is not a European country. This position of the EU could have a strong impact on the motivation of its Mediterranean partners to pursue reforms. Additionally, the EU has implemented simultaneously different policies toward Mediterranean – first the EMP and the ENP and later UfM and ENP – which certainly resulted in very complex structures.

These structures have increased the risk of overlapping and the possibilities of the EU institutions and its member states to act in a consistent and coherent way were certainly reduced.

Despite the ENP has been revised over the time in order to respond to the new circumstances in the Mediterranean countries, the ENP could be assessed as policy with very limited success apart from few exceptions. The revised ENP without appropriate additional funds had very little chance for success and certainly has not managed to create “ring of well governed countries”.

Union for the Mediterranean (UfM)

More than a decade after the EMP has been launched the Middle East Peace Process has deteriorated. The EMP has not managed to make progress in the Arab-Israeli conflict, which to a large extend has interfered the Barcelona process and which at the same time failed to foster democratisation of authoritarian regimes in many Mediterranean countries. It was obvious that the Barcelona Process has not fulfilled its objectives. However, the turning point in the Barcelona Process was the Paris Summit on the 13th July 2008. At the Paris Summit, 43 heads of State and Government have launched the Union for the Mediterranean.

The UfM has built on the acquis of the Barcelona Process. This means that the UfM succeeded the EMP and in that regard the UfM confirmed the validity of the Barcelona Declaration and its goals – the three chapters of cooperation (Political Dialogue, Economic Cooperation and Free Trade, and Human, Social and Cultural Dialogue). Furthermore, the Joint Declaration of the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean highlighted the need for the complementarity between the UfM and the ENP.

The UfM set new institutional structures, which consist of Co-Presidency, Senior officials’ Meetings, and a Secretariat. The UfM is chaired by a Co-Presidency with one of the Co-Presidents from the EU and the other from the Mediterranean partner countries. This Co-presidency applies to all levels: summits, ministerial meetings, and officials’ level meetings. The Senior Officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs meet on a regular basis in order to prepare the Ministerial Meetings. The UfM Secretariat is the platform to operationalise the decisions taken by its Member States.

This institutional structure has ensured co-ownership over the UfM by the EU as well as the Southern Mediterranean countries. The new institutional structure could be assessed as a significant improvement, especially if taking into account during the EMP has been the EU dominated the entire process. Another characteristic of the UfM is its focus on concrete projects in order to achieve goals set in the Barcelona Declaration as well as to increase its visibility to its citizens. In that regard 51 regional cooperation projects with a budget of more than €5 billion have been launched under the UfM label until 2018.

Despite certain improvements in terms of ownership the UfM has not managed to address the Arab-Israeli conflict, which continues to affects the entire process. Furthermore, the UfM has not provided appropriate visibility despite a large number of projects and a significant amount of funds. “The UfM and its activities enjoy little to no scrutiny in the European press.”

Although the UfM highlighted complementarity with the ENP, certain problems occurred in form of unclear division as well as in competition of these two policies. An unclear division of competencies and a potential competition between UfM and ENP affected the visibility of the UfM projects. Due to an unclear division of the competencies between the European Commission and the Secretariat some of the UfM projects were not recognised by the society as a result of the UfM’s efforts.


More than two decades after the Barcelona Declaration was adopted the Mediterranean regions seem far from the objectives set up in the EU policies. The EU has failed to drive the Mediterranean region towards a “common area of peace, stability, and shared prosperity”. Today, the reality of the Southern Mediterranean countries is associated with many problems like slow progress in political reforms, authoritarian regimes, high rate of unemployment, underdeveloped economies, low level of regional integration, terrorism, weapon proliferation and irregular immigration.

The EU policies towards the Mediterranean since the end of the Cold War achieved very limited progress. Yet, positive developments were also realized such as the Agadir Agreement, Association Agreements as well as certain achievement in field of democratisation in Tunisia. However these positive developments are overwhelmed by many failures, which altogether created a negative image of the Southern Mediterranean countries.

It should be added, that the Mediterranean is at the same time under the influence of other power centres. These other influences are yet not analysed in this paper. Bearing that in mind, the reality of the Southern Mediterranean countries should not only be analysed under the influence of the EU policies. While the Southern Mediterranean countries are required to demonstrate more own initiative and responsibility, the urgency to resolve the before mentioned challenges remains mostly with the EU due to the geographic proximity of the Mediterranean countries. Many initiatives taken by the EU complemented each other but at the same time overlapped or even competed with each other. It seems that more policies don’t mean more results.

Furthermore sufficient commitment is another factor which is missing in the EU approach. In addition to the previous, a € 1 billion budget allocated to the Mediterranean policies – a region with a population of 150 million – may sound impressive and sufficient if looked at the sole figure. However, if we put figure in relation to budgets of other EU policies we are likely considering the amount of €1 billion per year as insufficient (e.g. the Eastern Enlargement policy was endowed with a budget of € 3 billion per year for region with 100 million population).


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written by Nikola Jokic

This Post Has 3 Comments

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