The Western Mediterranean has always been a key region for Europe and will remain so. But to ensure that relations between the two shores of the Mediterranean develop in a mutually beneficial way, we will have to succeed in bringing together the widening gap between them, particularly in economic terms, High Representative and Vice President of the European Union affirmed in his blog. Last week, Josep Borrell was invited to participate in the meeting of foreign ministers of the so-called Western Mediterranean 5+5group. The Forum has brought together 5 countries of the Union (Spain, France, Italy, Malta and Portugal), and 5 countries of the South of the Mediterranean (Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia).
During this meeting,Borrell said to be impressed by the description given by his colleagues of the difficulties currently facing the countries of the southern Mediterranean. The wealth gaps between the two shores of Mediterranean, already considerable, are widening. The 102 million inhabitants of the 5 southern Mediterranean countries represent a little less than a quarter of the Union’s population, but their cumulative GDP is 60 times lower than that of Europe. The wealth produced per capita is 13 times lower there than in the EU. “And even if we correct for this difference in price levels, which are significantly lower on the other side of the Mediterranean, the difference in living standards is still almost one to five,” the EU High Representative said.
“The catching-up movement that we could observe until the middle of the 2000s has since reversed: in 2005, the average standard of living of the inhabitants of the 5 countries of the southern Mediterranean was 3 times lower than that of Europeans, today it is almost 5 times more”. He added. This stagnation in living standards is not simply linked to the difficulties of the economies of the southern Mediterranean, it is also due to demographic dynamics.Between 1990 and 2019, the population of the 5 Maghreb countries indeed increased by 57 % when that of the Union grew by only 6%.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected the economies of Morocco and Tunisia, which depend a lot on tourism, automobile subcontracting or even textiles. While the fall in the price and volume of hydrocarbon sales is hitting Algeria hard. And all the countries of the region are suffering from the sharp decrease in remittances from their emigrants present in Europe due to the crisis.”The Covid-19 played on the notions of North and South: the countries most affected in the North are in the South of Europe, and the most affected in the South are in North Africa”. Nasser Bourita, Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs said. As long as the standard of living stagnates in the south of the Mediterranean and the gap widens between its two shores, it will be difficult to avoid the development of political and social instability on the other shore and migratory movements towards the Mediterranean.
The causes of these profound crisis are many. They are nonetheless largely due to “non-Maghreb”. This region remains one of the least integrated in the world in economic terms: trade between the Maghreb countries is estimated at a quarter of their potential. In 2012, the European Union proposed a wide range of measures to foster this regional integration.Eight years later, bilateral relations have certainly matured and cooperation has extended to key issues such as climate change. However, the efforts made have had only limited effects. Persistent conflicts and competing interests among countries in the region have prevailed over cooperative efforts to resolve common challenges. In particular, this has failed to meet the expectations of a growing young and educated population.
To make matters worse, trade relations with Europe have not developed. On the contrary, they have declined significantly since the end of the 2000s. Today foreign trade with these countries only represents around 3% of total Union trade. The Union’s exports to the Maghreb weigh 8 times less, for example, than those to the United States.
“It is imperative that we succeed in reversing this dynamic together to ensure that the exit from the COVID-19 crisis is both digital, ecological and fair on both sides of the Mediterranean.” Borrell said adding that the EU cooperation with the Maghreb is developing in an increasingly uncertain “even conflicting international context: relocation and economic sovereignty are now essential.” The High Representative of the Union explained thatEurope does not intend to fall back on its goals. The persistent economic and social difficulties have gone hand in hand with political instability which has resulted in particular in internal clashes in Libya and the deployment of Islamic terrorism throughout the Sahel. This has prompted the Union to develop its cooperation with the region on security matters.
Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco participate in several European programs in the fight against terror. Cooperation is also continuing in the fight against organized crime. Alongside the countries of the region, the Union is finally actively participating in the Berlin process for Libya, led by the United Nations, to restore peace and stability in the North African country. Last March, the EU launched Operation Irini to help enforce the arms embargo, decided by the United Nations, but also to combat smuggling and human trafficking.
“There is reason to welcome the latest developments in Libya: thanks in particular to the efforts of the Maghreb countries, the path of negotiation seems to prevail. “
The latest developments in Libya are to be welcomed: thanks in particular to the efforts of the Maghreb countries, the path of negotiation seems to prevail. It will win if the Libyans can find solutions on their own. The United Nations and the European Union will give all necessary support to their compromise efforts. We are obviously well aware, however, that these security challenges can only be met in the long term if their structural causes are tackled at the same time through deep political and socio-economic reforms.
Migration must take place in an orderly fashion
Our societies and our peoples are closely linked, millions of citizens of the Maghreb countries live legally in the countries of the European Union. These countries also face migratory pressures from countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We need to further strengthen our cooperation with countries of origin and transit to ensure that these migratory movements take place in an orderly fashion. This is the aim of the migration dialogues that we will seek to develop with the Maghreb countries, building on the solid cooperation that already exists in this area.
This informal meeting allowed me to better understand the serious difficulties currently facing our neighbors to the south of the Mediterranean and the enormous challenges linked to the development of our relations. However, it was only a first step before another important event: the Regional Forum of the Union for the Mediterranean to be held on November 27th.
November 27: 25 years of the Barcelona process With our partners from across the Mediterranean this time, we will take stock of 25 years of the so-called Barcelona regional cooperation process. On this occasion, the Union will confirm its determination to make the Mediterranean a safer, more prosperous and more stable region. I am fully aware that the actions taken in this direction for a quarter of a century have had only limited results and that the task promises to be particularly tough for the months to come …