10 APRIL 2002

Search all issues

powered by FreeFind


Send Your Feedback!





Europe and its responsibility for the Mediterranean region

Visiting Malta last week German MP Guenter Gloser shared his views on competitiveness, the EU’s role as a global player, the concept of Malta as a bridge between north and south and the EU’s Mediterranean policy. Following are extracts from his speech.

The European Union is a success! For more than half a century the people of the Member States of the European Communities and the European Union have been living in peace and prosperity. The European Union is a guarantor of peaceful co-operation, democratic and economic stability, social justice, collaborative redistribution between regions and cultural diversity. Much progress has already been made on the way to a federation of nation states.

The EU perceives itself as a community founded on the principle of solidarity, in which the more prosperous countries and regions help to bridge the gap between themselves and those whose development is lagging behind.

Europe has succeeded in developing a social model in which competitiveness and solidarity are largely guaranteed. The European Union has helped to promote economic and social cohesion through the single market and through economic and monetary union.

The conditions for the creation of a European political entity are in place. For this reason, we now have to answer the decide what role a European constitution should play in this political entity. In a widely acclaimed address delivered in Strasbourg on 4 April 2001, Johannes Rau, President of the Federal Republic of Germany, referred to a constitution as a "grammar of freedom" and a "grammar of solidarity", in which "the sovereign power, i.e. the people, set out the values to which they are committed, the areas in which they delegate their powers, and to whom, and how they wish to organise and limit these powers".

This is necessary if the institutions and decision-making processes in the EU are to be made more transparent and comprehensible for the general public.

In the coming years the EU must meet four challenges, which are probably the most formidable in its history.

It must:

- carry out the enlargement process successfully,

- undertake reform of the European institutional framework,

- guarantee the preservation and development of European competitiveness, and

- develop the role of the EU as a constructive force in the world.

Enlargement

Enlargement is a political necessity and a historic opportunity. Enlargement will sweep away the last vestiges of the Iron Curtain.

Political and social stability in Europe are to everyone’s advantage. This is why the enlargement of the European Union to include the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Cyprus and Malta, and the establishment of closer relations with the countries of South-eastern Europe are dictates of political reason.

Malta already performs a significant function, which could become increasingly important to the EU, in that the archipelago is Europe’s bridge to Africa. Pope John Paul II referred to Malta’s vocation to serve as a bridge between East and West and between Europe and Africa.

In the latest round of progress reports on the countries applying for accession to the EU, the European Commission notes that the applicant countries have made progress in all areas and have even exceeded expectations. The aim of securing the first accessions before the European elections in 2004 remains ambitious. It is not, however, a Utopian dream but a realistic challenge which can be met.

Institutional reform

In a few years’ time the EU will have 25 or more Member States. A community with a combined population of more than 500 million needs clear objectives and rules to govern its internal relations and its policymaking. The EU must therefore become more transparent and improve its democratic legitimacy.

The community method was devised for a community of six member states. If the system is to be workable with 25 or more members, it must be radically reformed.

The commitment of Social Democrats to the democratisation and parliamentarisation of the European integration process has begun to bear fruit. The prospects for far-reaching reforms are encouraging.

The Federal Government pressed successfully for the appointment of a convention to prepare for the next intergovernmental conference, which is scheduled for 2004. Above all, however, the convention is a triumph for Europe’s parliamentarians.

The Laeken meeting of the European Council chose a broad and ambitious approach to reform of the treaties. The main areas of activity to be examined by the convention will be the distribution of powers, the simplification of policy instruments, greater democracy and paths towards a European constitution.

On 28 February 2002, the constituent meeting of the convention took place. It will formulate proposals on reform of the EU and on the drafting of a future European constitution, and these proposals will then be presented to the intergovernmental conference in 2004. The convention now has it in its power to put an end to the policy of ‘horse-trading’ between the Member States.

On the agenda of the convention are such matters as the further development of the common foreign, security and defence policy and of the justice and home-affairs policy of the EU.

The participation of the applicant countries in the convention’s discussions and the involvement of a forum for civil society will bring the European project closer to the people of Europe.

For the first time in the history of the European Communities and the European Union, the convention will enable national parliaments to play a part in determining the future development of the European treaties, which has hitherto been the exclusive preserve of the Heads of State and Government. The convention will shoulder the great responsibility entrusted to it and grasp this historic opportunity.

The Schröder-Blair initiative of 25 February 2002 points in the same direction. Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Prime Minister Tony Blair penned a joint letter calling for far-reaching reform of the European Council. This initiative is very timely, in that it imparts valuable impetus to the work of the constitutional convention. The European Council must be able to function properly even after the accession of ten new Member States. The smooth functioning of the Council is indispensable if greater efficiency, cohesion and democracy are to prevail in the integration process within the enlarged European Union.

The SPD has long been calling for greater transparency, efficiency and democratic accountability. That is why we support this bold initiative.

Preservation and development of European competitiveness and the role of the EU as a global player

At the Lisbon summit in the year 2000, the European Council set out an ambitious agenda in a bid to release more of Europe’s economic potential. It is a strategy designed to establish Europe as the world’s leading knowledge-based economy and society within ten years.

The plan is to use benchmarking and best practice to promote advances such as the spread of new technological developments, the training of the European labour force for the digital age and the modernisation of the systems of social welfare in the EU. The changes resulting from globalisation affect all aspects of the everyday life of EU citizens. These changes require a fundamental reshaping of the European economy. The Lisbon strategy and all of these reform efforts will only achieve the desired impact if they are made within the framework of a healthy European economy.

The 11 September made it crystal-clear to us that Europe must become a global player. It must become a strong, enlarged European Union that assumes its political responsibilities in the world.

The strength of Europe, as Wolfgang Thierse, President of the German Bundestag, has said, lies in its diversity and in its common values. Human dignity and human rights, freedom and self-determination, parliamentarism and the welfare state, he said, are not a national heritage but part of our European culture.

The Mediterranean policy of the EU

"The countries of the Mediterranean region are bound together by geography, but we are near neighbours in many other ways, too....The region must be a source of dynamism, creativity and exchange, which has been the harvest of cultural diversity through the ages."

These words are taken from the introduction by the European Commission to its latest communication appraising the state of the Barcelona process (Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament to prepare the meeting of Euro-Mediterranean foreign ministers, Valencia, 22-23 April 2002).

The relationship between Europe and the Mediterranean region cannot be more succinctly and accurately described.

The Valencia summit – fresh impetus?

It is to be hoped that the Euro-Mediterranean summit being held in Valencia this month will inject fresh impetus into the process. In its aforementioned communication, the European Commission reviewed the Barcelona process and identified new priorities for future Euro-Mediterranean co-operation, namely the suppression of terrorism, the human-rights situation, the suppression of organised crime, illegal immigration and traffic in human beings and the regulation of legal immigration.

Intercultural dialogue is to be fostered by means of a specific action programme, initiated by Spain and Sweden. One of the features of this programme is the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean foundation to promote dialogue between cultures and civilisations. Young people, education and the media are at the heart of this programme. Education in particular is seen as a powerful instrument in the fight against intolerance, racism and xenophobia.

These initiatives undoubtedly give cause for optimism. But there is one factor that we must not underestimate, a factor that has repeatedly driven the Barcelona process to the brink of collapse in the past, namely the Middle East conflict.

Malta as a bridge between north and south

The European Union has no alternative to an integrated Mediterranean policy. The accession of Malta and Cyprus will strengthen its roots in the Mediterranean region. Because of its geostrategic position, Malta can perform an important function as a bridge between Europe and North Africa. The island’s eventful past has predestined it to play a mediatory role between North and South. The European Union cannot but benefit from this experience and from the structures that have evolved over a long period of time. I am thinking in particular of Malta’s good and close relations with Libya. The fact that the second Euro-Mediterranean Conference was held here in 1997 is proof of Malta’s commitment to the partnership between the EU and the countries of the Mediterranean. Moreover, Maltese membership of the European Union will ensure that the Barcelona process is not allowed to slip down towards the bottom of the European political agenda.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency for this to happen. The Mediterranean policy of the EU scarcely features in the public debate. The major conferences of the past have elicited little public response.

Mediterranean policy and eastward enlargement

On my travels in the Maghreb and Mashreq countries, concern has been expressed to me time and again that the Mediterranean region could become less important to the EU as it enlarges to the East. I can understand these concerns, but I should like to state quite categorically that enlargement and the Mediterranean policy of the EU are not vying for a place on the European agenda. Both are important components of a peaceful, tolerant and socially stable Europe. If we perceive the European Union as a community rooted in a common commitment to peace, it follows that we need the Mediterranean region.

Nevertheless, a different political status attaches to enlargement than to Euro-Mediterranean co-operation. It is a different type of process. The enlargement project is about integration, about the complete incorporation of the established laws and practices of the European Community, the acquis communautaire. The Mediterranean project is about developing and intensifying co-operation. The full integration of twelve new Member States makes quite different demands of all parties than the creation of a free-trade area.

Be that as it may, the European integration process can still stimulate the ongoing development of the Barcelona process. I am thinking particularly here of regional co-operation.

Regional co-operation

The lack of regional co-operation among the countries on the southern and south-eastern shores of the Mediterranean is a barrier to the effective implementation of the Union’s Mediterranean policy. Although the countries of the South are aware of the need to co-operate with each other, there are still too few specific projects.

Crucial problems such as the shortage of water, desertification and environmental pollution must be addressed at a regional level. Moreover, foreign investors are not exactly attracted to regions where each country has its own isolated market. Nor are they keen to invest in countries with incomprehensible tax systems and excessive red tape. Without fundamental reforms in both of these areas, it will prove virtually impossible to win the confidence of investors.

The lack of a sense of regional identity is exacerbated to some extent by the association policy of the EU, which is based on bilateral negotiations, culminating in the conclusion of bilateral association agreements. This approach undoubtedly makes sense in so far as it enables the EU to take due account of the unique economic and social conditions in each country. At the same time, however, it means that the coastal States of the southern Mediterranean are competing for European trade and investment. Each country is primarily interested in securing access to the European market on the best possible conditions, and this precludes a co-ordinated approach.

Regional co-operation is one of the cornerstones of European integration policy. Regional co-operation has always played an important part in relations between the EU and the applicant countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Since the early nineties, for example, numerous EU support programmes have been adopted for cross-border co-operation with the accession candidates. A great deal of cross-border activity has been taking place, especially in the frontier regions of eastern Germany, ranging from economic contacts, joint seminars and industrial projects to infrastructural measures and language courses and extending to school exchanges too.

Whether in the context of road-building programmes or politically significant cross-border public events, people meet each other, regions grow closer together and hostile preconceptions and aloofness are gradually eliminated. Regional co-operation is thus a major source of political, social and economic stability.

And this is precisely the reason why regional co-operation is a vital necessity for the Mediterranean region.

Allow me to illustrate my remarks by reference to tourism. In many of the talks in which I have taken part in the Maghreb countries, we kept returning to the question why there is not more co-operation between Mediterranean countries in the realm of tourism. In the medium term, this will be an expanding service industry on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, despite the temporary collapse of the tourist market following the events of the eleventh of September. Why are no joint tourist packages offered? Would it not be logical for the countries of the region to co-ordinate their transport infrastructures? And does it not seem obvious that they should work together on strategies for sustainable and environment-friendly tourism?

The list of examples could go on and on: co-operation in the domains of water management, protection of the environment, education and training, security, and so on.

First steps have already been taken in the region. In May of last year, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia agreed to establish a regional free-trade area. This initiative has the wholehearted support of the EU, and the European Commission wasted no time in pledging technical assistance for the implementation of the project. In addition, Tunisia recently launched an initiative designed to revive the Maghreb Union.

These efforts must not be left to gather dust. They must be tenaciously pursued and resolutely supported. Investment in a close-woven network of co-operation and exchanges pays dividends. It is an investment in a peaceful future.

Conclusion

The European Union will be able to count on Cyprus and Malta as advocates of its Mediterranean policy. Because of their numerous close ties, Europe and the Mediterranean region are united by a common destiny. Political, social and economic stability in the Mediterranean region is a vital prerequisite for a stable, peaceful and tolerant Europe in the 21st century.

For the European Union, the importance of creating a lasting partnership with the countries of the Mediterranean is comparable in importance to its policy of integrating the neighbouring countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

Because of her geographical position and her history, Malta will play an important role in the future Mediterranean policy of the European Union. As a bridge between North and South, Malta has a significant function to perform in the intercultural dialogue of which we hear so much. The accession of Malta will enhance the potential and enrich the diversity of the European Union. The European Union and its people look forward to our common future.

 



Copyright © Network Publications Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07, Malta
Tel: (356) 21382741-3, 21382745-6 | Fax: (356) 21385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt