Indeed, the Mediterranean is not immune to the challenges facing the planet at large. On the contrary, we see these difficulties exacerbated in our cities and our Mediterranean Sea.
The Mediterranean region is undoubtedly at a crossroads.
First of all, the Mediterranean population grew by 20% between 1970 and 2018. Such a rate of population growth is inextricably linked to a very high rate of urbanisation, as the 22 countries of the region are now home to more than 500 million people, two-thirds of whom live in cities.
Secondly, as a result of armed conflicts, cities in some countries of the region face serious social, environmental, and economic challenges, which represent a serious obstacle to any attempt at sustainable development.
To date, strategies implemented in the region cannot cope with the circumstances created by the high level of population growth. The result is uncontrolled urban sprawl, particularly in the form of informal settlements, which leads to problems of degradation, impoverishment, and lack of basic service provision.
Rapid urbanisation should not exclude vulnerable groups. Extreme income inequality threatens social cohesion and future sustainable development. The difference between the richest and the poorest here is already more notable than in other regions.
The management of migration at Europe’s borders must make us rethink the way we treat migration, and also make us reflect upon our relations and our shared territory, using a human rights-based approach.
The history of the Mediterranean region shows that migration is something positive and that intercultural exchange and socio-economic progress are only possible through inclusion and social cohesion. In this regard, local and regional authorities have a crucial role to play in building inclusive and pluralistic societies by encouraging dialogue, promoting welcoming policies, and ensuring recently arrived migrants have access to basic services.
We must now see our region as somewhere full of opportunities that will allow us to define a new narrative and create new solutions when it comes to migration.
The challenges faced by the Northern and the Southern shores are shared as these challenges know no borders. The key difference is based on having the resources to deal with them. In the context of rising temperatures, accelerating species extinction, and decreasing biodiversity, it is fundamental that countries in the region commit to protecting the plentiful source that is the Mediterranean. We must make a significant ecological transition to a sustainable way of life, we must work to keep temperature increases below 1.5° C, and we must adapt and change our habits.
To achieve all of these objectives, the paradigm of cooperation in the region must be altered.
The principles established in the Barcelona Declaration are key. Its objectives of generating dialogue between different actors in the region, establishing respect for rights and freedoms and a willingness to resolve conflicts peacefully, and promoting cooperation to solve shared problems, are still valid today.
As Mayor of an intermediary city1 in Morocco, President of a National Association of Local Authorities, and President of the World Organization of Cities and Regions, I would say that it is vital that political, social and cultural dialogue and economic cooperation are consolidated. Not only between the nations of the Euro-Mediterranean region, but also in the form of decentralised cooperation between cities and different actors, including civil society, and open communication between the central state and local and regional governments.
This is the only way to overcome the doubts surrounding the multilateral approach, to consolidate the decentralisation processes in the region, and to truly strengthen the Mediterranean.
In my different roles, I have been calling for a multi-stakeholder-based approach, including all those involved in urban planning.
To achieve this, there must be a tangible territorial dimension introduced to our relations that gives the idea of a “Union for the Mediterranean” greater significance at the local level, impacting everyone from top-level government officials to ordinary citizens.
The voice of the people and a local perspective must occupy a different space in discourse and governance.
Cooperation is still a technically complex concept. While exchanging good practices, operating in a decentralised manner and learning from each other are fundamental, the concept of cooperation must take on a new meaning.
Dialogue is essential, both between local and national entities and at the transnational level. As I see it, localising agendas ensures successful implementation and puts the local context at the heart of policymaking.
For this localisation to take place in a meaningful way, the system of multi-level governance must be reversed so that it becomes a bottom-up process that encompasses all spheres of government as part of a single mechanism.
The way cooperation is understood in the bodies that I represent includes the acceptance of a new concept of citizenship. Cooperation also means encouraging dialogue between local communities in the Mediterranean region in order to strengthen diplomatic relations between cities.
We also believe that local democracy is the basis for the development and reinforcement of peace, prosperity and solidarity in the region.
Now, we face the challenge of renewing the Mediterranean agenda, with intermediary cities and solidarity as the axis for transformation.
1 Intermediary cities have a population between 50.000 and one million people and generally play a primary role in connecting important rural and urban areas to basic facilities and services.
Original version here.