French Presidency — very successful, Czech Presidency — high expectations
The main expectation of the Czech EU Presidency is that of consistency when it comes to following up on the achievements of the outgoing French Presidency.
The EU presidencies of the Czech Republic and Sweden are expected to focus their political attention on Ireland’s successful ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and the smooth selection of a new European Parliament in June. European governments will also be concentrating on implementing the stimulus packages they have announced in an attempt to revive growth in European economies.
French Presidency and the Union for the Mediterranean
The outgoing French Presidency is regarded as very successful. In addition to dealing with the financial crisis that emerged and the conflict between Russia and Georgia, the French Presidency still managed to launch its ambitious Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) initiative at a heads of state summit in July 2008 in Paris.
The follow up foreign ministerial UfM meeting in Marseille in November 2008, is seen as a huge success by Malta when it comes to instilling a very dynamic agenda for future Euro-Mediterranean relations. The creation of a Union for the Mediterranean Secretariat in Barcelona will see the long overdue process of institutionalizing Euro-Med relations start to take place. Malta has been allocated a Deputy Secretary General position in the Secretariat, and also mandated to establish a Euro-Arab Liaison office in Valletta to coordinate Euro-Arab relations in future.
The project driven nature of the Union for the Mediterranean in key strategic areas, will help start improving living standards of millions of people across the Mediterranean region.
Malta believes that the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) projects, presently being discussed, will boost the pace of implementation of the current Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) five year work programme by spelling out a plan of action that focuses on commencing a multitude of projects in specific sectors.
De-pollution of the Mediterranean is essential if we and future generations are to be able to sustain our way of life in this region of the world. We must be determined to build upon the Horizon 2020 programme of activities so that the quality of marine activity is safeguarded.
Another sector that requires our attention is that of maritime and land highways. The Mediterranean has been a strategic sea-line of communications for centuries. If the people to people dimension of Euro-Mediterranean relations is to be further enhanced we must focus our attention on developing further motorways of the seas, including the connection of ports and the modernisation of the trans-Maghreb train route. Maritime security and safety are also sectors that need to be improved so that transshipment activity across the Mediterranean does not risk the livelihood of coastal populations.
The time has also come for us to develop a comprehensive Mediterranean civil protection system that can protect the millions of people living along the basin should a man-made or natural disaster emerge. The negative impact that climate change is already having on global weather patterns is already apparent. We therefore need to provide a civil protection programme that includes prevention, preparation and response to disaster mechanisms.
The Union for the Mediterranean plan of action will also concentrate its attention to spurring alternative energies research and development. A specific focus will take place on assessing the extent to which a Mediterranean Solar Plan can be implemented. The volatility of energy markets in contemporary international relations dictates that we explore the possibility of developing alternative sources of energy.
The Union for the Mediterranean is also focusing on strengthening higher education cooperation between Europe and the Mediterranean through the launching of a substantial scholarships scheme for university students from Euro-Mediterranean partner countries and an increase of mobility grants for higher education staff.
The educational field is a sector where more effort needs to be dedicated. The European Commission together with its member states needs to trigger both public and private stakeholders to work hand in hand with a long-term perspective to attract a larger number of Arab students to European shores. This will of course require an updating of procedures for visas, making them more user friendly for such a category of professionals.
Future Euro-Med programmes need to ensure that people to people interaction is at the forefront, especially young people. It is essential that a much larger number of students from the Arab world are given the opportunity to study at EU universities. The Bologna Process must be made functional to them. The same goes for joint EU Arab research projects. The EU must introduce a package of programmes that seeks to tap into the wealth of intelligence in the Euro-Med region via scholarships, seminars, and other initiatives. The Euro-Med Education Ministerial Conference that took place in Cairo in June 2007 has started to serve as a catalyst in this regard.
When it comes to enhancing people to people relations, Malta has already established itself as a regional centre of excellence in the Mediterranean through several of its educational and training institutions.
Malta is fully committed to ensuring implementation of the above projects to help trigger a more rapid pace of inter-regional development across the Mediterranean.
The Union for the Mediterranean offers Europe and the international community an opportunity to carry out a strategic reassessment that will allow for more political attention and economic resources to be directed towards upgrading stability and opportunities across the Mediterranean.
The proposal to establish a Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) must be welcomed in as it has again helped focus international attention on a very important geo-strategic crossroads of different civilisations and a crucial post-Cold War theatre of operations. The UfM should not be perceived as a fixed concept but a work in progress – the objective is to create a ‘Barcelona Plus’ situation where Euro-Mediterranean relations are truly re-launched on a more solid footing.
Malta’s active participation in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is perhaps best described as an extension of its co-operative security philosophy. It should also be regarded as a tangible contribution to creating a Euro-Mediterranean region based upon the attributes of positive diplomacy.
The main factor that should move European and Mediterranean states closer together in the future are the mutual security interests they share: Euro-Med political, economic and cultural cooperation must be strengthened if stability is to be secured in future.