Brussels, 5 October, 2012. The ten countries of the western Mediterranean (five of the northern rim, all EU members, and five of the southern rim, which are members of the Arab Maghreb Union) are to meet in Malta for their second summit on 5 and 6 October. The first summit was held in December 2003, in Tunisia, and for the first time was officially attended by a senior EU official, Romano Prodi, at the time president of the European Commission. Regular meetings of foreign ministers have since taken place each year, except to begin with when dialogue was suspended due to the Sahara crisis. The Tunis summit was a sign that dialogue was being rekindled, dialogue between diplomats and, in addition, many sectorial meetings were held on both sides of the Mediterranean to discuss matters as varied as emigration, the economy, transport and, above all, security, a sensitive issue on which comprehensive Euro-Mediterranean dialogue had stumbled within the Barcelona Process.
In the Mediterranean, frameworks for dialogue have increased in number over recent years being political, sector-specific and parliamentary – at the risk of causing overlapping that sometimes give rise to confusion regarding the crucial stakes in the region, whether political, economic, security or human, including keeping migratory flows under control. The so-called “5+5” group plans to remain an informal framework and to focus on what is essential rather than on institutional appearances.
The western Mediterranean basin is what one might be tempted to call the “useful Mediterranean”, far from the discouraging repercussions of the conflict in the Middle East, from the persistent rivalry between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, and far from the instability that affects the Mashreq, where world powers vie with regional powers (Iran, Turkey, Israel and the Gulf States). Its ten member countries which, together, give a picture of greater coherence than the eastern part thanks to its greater cultural and historic proximity and the intensive human exchanges, do not however plan to isolate themselves to form a sort of pressure group within the Euro-Mediterranean entity benefitting from what one calls in Brussels jargon “enhanced cooperation”, which means that the most determined will not be held back by those lagging behind or less enthusiastic. (FB/transl.jl)
Lawrence Gonzi, Malta’s Prime Minister, who answered questions put to him by Agence Europe, is convinced that “the 5+5 summit to be held in Malta (…) will afford the right political occasion for a greater impetus to promote discussion among the ten partner countries on both thematic and institutional issues”.
He went on to say the “the summit will deal with institutional questions of the Forum, such as its relevance in the wider regional framework of dialogue and cooperation, regional developments and issues mainly afflicting the region: confidence-building measures through the pragmatic projects of the Union for the Mediterranean, the Middle East Peace Process, and the situation in the Sahel, amongst others; and global issues of main relevance to the region, particularly the current economic crisis, climate change, the role of women and youth in our societies, and food and energy security”.
“The heads of state or government of the ten partners of the 5+5 Dialogue are expected to sign a declaration. (…) The declaration reinforces the 5+5’s objective as a confidence-building forum and covers substantive themes based on matters affecting the contemporary Mediterranean and influencing future trends, such as political dialogue, the economic situation, migration and development”, Gonzi said.
Agence Europe: What are the expected outcomes of the Summit? Is it focalised on security and/or economic support?
Lawrence Gonzi: The 5+5 Summit to be held in Malta on 5-6 October will afford the right political occasion for a greater impetus to promote discussion among the ten partner countries on both thematic and institutional issues. The agenda of the Malta Summit is essentially based on the cumulative experience and knowledge acquired by the Forum and generally takes a thematic approach to the issues under current consideration, very consonant with the approach undertaken by the recent Foreign Affairs Ministers meetings of the 5+5 Dialogue. The Summit will deal with institutional questions of the Forum, such as its relevance in the wider regional framework of dialogue and cooperation, regional developments and issues mainly afflicting the region; confidence building measures through the pragmatic projects of the Union for the Mediterranean, the Middle East Peace Process, and the situation in the Sahel, amongst others; and global issues of main relevance to the region, particularly the current economic crisis, climate change, the role of women and youth in our societies, and food and energy security. At the Malta Summit, the Heads of States or Government of the ten Partners of the 5+5 Dialogue are expected to sign a declaration. The draft declaration is based on the outcome of the ninth foreign ministers meeting held in Rome on 20 February 2012. It reinforces the 5+5’s objective as a confidence building forum and covers substantive themes based on matters affecting the contemporary Mediterranean and influencing future trends, such as political dialogue, the economic situation, migration and development.
AE: Are you in favour of enlargement of the 5+5 Forum to Egypt and Greece?
L.G.: This matter is not included in the agenda of the Malta Summit. While there have been proposals to this effect in the past, no recent action has been taken or proposed in recent years. It is important to note that any enlargement of the 5+5 Dialogue would require consensus among all members.
AE: What is your opinion on the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM)?
L.G.: Malta fully supports regional organisations such as the UfM and the assumption of both co-Presidencies – the EU for the North and Jordan for the South – has been a very welcome development. The UfM has a very important role to play in the regional political dynamics of the Mediterranean. The UfM, with its inclusive nature, provides its members with a unique and important channel of communication. The UfM is built on the principle of co-ownership, an evolution from the former Barcelona Process. All its members stand to gain, as well as contribute to, the regional dialogue enabled by the UfM. The UfM provides a valuable platform for political discussion, exchange of views and identification of the mutual concerns and interests on which common action on a regional scale would be necessary. As formerly localised issues turn regional and global, this forum becomes increasingly useful as a starting point for more technical cooperation. The UfM enables its members, with the involvement of third countries, civil society organisations and the private sector, to indulge in what can be described as project diplomacy. This allows for cooperation in parallel, that is, collaboration on specific projects may proceed even though certain issues may prove to be tough nuts to crack, or even beyond the mandate of the UfM itself. The success of the UfM depends very much on the will of its partner members to work together in this way and help the UfM to move on
Recent experience has shown that while wider frameworks such as the UfM are vital for the continuation of political dialogue and for concerted action necessary to address cross-border issues, smaller informal sub regional fora provide a quicker way of action for more specific issues. Given that nine out of the ten members of the 5+5 are also members of the UfM, this smaller forum is increasingly being considered as a driving force within the UfM and in the wider regional dimension. This development proves that regional cooperation in the Mediterranean is possible and attainable if there is enough political will. A tangible example of sub regional cooperation is the Trans Maghreb Motorway project which has been labelled by all UfM members and entrusted to the Secretariat in Barcelona for its implementation. This project was proposed by the transport ministers of the 5+5 countries. I am convinced there is scope for further projects in other sectors.
This interview is published in the UfM website with the permission of the author (Fathi B’CHIR / Agence Europe)