Füle stresses EU commitment to Union for the Mediterranean as key catalyst for projects on the ground

Europe has a duty and an interest to support the democratic transitions in the Arab world, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle said in speech in Barcelona today, in which he stressed the EU’s commitment to the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) as a catalyst for concrete projects.
Speaking at a working breakfast organised by the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed), in the presence of new UfM Secretary General Fatlallah Sijilmassi, Commissioner Füle said Europe - more than any other international actor - must support and engage with these transitions to ensure their success, “not only because it is important and the right thing to do; but also because it is in our own self interest”.
“Indeed, what happens on the other side of the Mediterranean is not only a strategic issue for Europe; it is a matter that impacts on our societies and our destiny. We have a common fate centred around the Mediterranean Sea.”
While the EU was delivering on its pledges to the region, the Commissioner warned that significant political and economic challenges remained. He said the process of democratisation would be long, with inevitable setbacks and frustrations: “And as new leaderships emerge, Europe must not be afraid of the electoral successes of political actors inspired by Islam. All actors, Europeans and Arabs, Northerners and Southerners need to address together the numerous challenges of the region.”
Indeed, one major challenge was to rebuild the regional cooperation framework, said Füle, with regional problems often calling for regional solutions. The EU was stepping up its engagement with regional organizations such as the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the 5+5 or the Arab Maghreb Union, he said, and added: “Among these organisations, the Union for the Mediterranean plays a special role. It is a unique forum where 43 partners can develop common strategies.”
Pointing to the difficulties that had plagued the process in the last three years, Füle said he believed the UfM was now “finally at a turning point”. He welcomed the recent appointment of Sijilmassi as secretary general of the UfM, describing him as “a strong and experienced leader with all the skills to help transform the secretariat into a catalyst for developing concrete, bankable projects that can be supported by states, international financial institutions and the private sector and bring tangible benefits to the people of the region.”
The recent decision by EU foreign ministers to transfer the UfM’s Northern Co-presidency to the EU “demonstrates our commitment to support the Union for Mediterranean”, he said. “This arrangement will ensure the full complementarity between the ENP and the work of the UfM. It will ensure that the Commission's technical and sectoral initiatives in areas such as transport or environment, prepared with the full backing of the 27 EU Member States, will be discussed in the wider UfM context and can be closely linked with the work of the Secretariat.”
The Commissioner said the EU would continue its financial support and increased its technical cooperation with the secretariat of the Union for Mediterranean. “And we will actively support the development of projects that have both economic and political significance, such as the project on the completion of the central section of trans-Maghreb motorway axis, which could have important benefits for the entire Maghreb region and become a catalyst for increased cooperation, trade and exchanges between Morocco and Algeria.”
He also cited EU support for the Mediterranean Solar Plan and other areas covered by the UfM such as environment and water, higher education, the promotion of women’s rights, civil protection and business development.
The Commissioner told his audience that the vision for the EU response to the Arab Spring had been laid out last year in two joint Communications of March and May 2011, and he detailed the implementation of the proposals made in these documents, around the so-called ‘3Ms’ – money, mobility and markets.
For money, he said the EU planned to make available additional grant funds of up to €1 billion for the Neighbourhood as a whole for the period 2011-2013, on top of the €5.7 billion already programmed, highlighting the new SPRING programme, and the Civil Society Facility launched last September. Additionally, funding available from the European Investment Bank for investment in the southern neighbourhood had been increased by €1 billion, and the extension of the EBRD mandate to the region allowing for €2.5 billion in additional lending per year.
To promote mobility, Füle cited a wide range of initiatives in the region (additional Erasmus Mundus grants, more scholarships for joint programmes at master or doctorate level), and said that ‘Mobility Partnerships’ had already been initiated with Tunisia and Morocco, with the prospect of future similar agreements with other countries. Füle remarked on the need to assess the management of migrations in the region as well as the mechanisms to foster mutual understanding between the peoples.
Regarding markets, he said that last December the Council had approved mandates for negotiating Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan. While these agreements would take time to enter into force, the EU was exploring measures that could be introduced rapidly and be beneficial for both sides, citing the recent approval of the agricultural liberalisation agreement with Morocco by the European Parliament
“The political support of all the Union's institutions for change in our Southern neighbours is a given and is a long term commitment,” Commissioner Füle concluded. “We know that the transition will be complex and take time. However, these are internal process that can only be driven by debates within local societies.” (ENPI Info Centre)
Read more
Füle speech
IEMed press release
UfM press release
UfM Secretariat website
Commissioner Füle on twitter
The EU Response to the Arab Spring – resource centre
ENPI Info Centre – Interview with Marcus Cornaro - The EU and the Arab Spring: helping a new generation build a new society
ANSAMed video interview with Marcus Cornaro on the EU response to the Arab Spring

Second high-level political dialogue on Security and fight against terrorism: EU and Tunisia renew their cooperation
The EU and Tunisia held on Thursday their second high-level political dialogue....
EU regional initiative on the future of Syria: second round of meetings to begin this week
In the framework of the EU’s Regional Initiative on the future of Syria,...
EU supports Egypt following Sinai terrorist attack
The EU has expressed its condolences to the Egyptian authorities, the victims...
FEATURES - Archive
Civil society leading the way towards democracy
 Between June 2011 and June 2012 the EU donated nearly €6,500,000...
A good recipe for farming? Trading pesticides for owls
It was a cultural barrier that the European Union had to address together with...
Regional Cooperation in the EU Neighbourhood
  A brochure highlighting the key priorities of regional cooperation in...
Projects in Action: the human face of EU Neigbourhood cooperation
Projects in Action, a magazine produced by the EU Neighbourhood Info Centre is...