As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Barcelona Process, launched in 1995 to reinforce cooperation on both sides of the Mediterranean, we are also reflecting together on how we want to take forward our partnership priorities in the next years, in light of today’s challenges and opportunities.
The past decade was a turbulent one: democratic changes after the 2011 uprisings, political and socio-economic crises, conflicts in Syria, Libya and the lack of solution in the Middle East Peace Process, stark inequalities, and a looming environmental crisis as a result of climate change.
These challenges have been coupled by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is severely impacting the economies, particularly when it comes to external trade, tourism and youth. The EU has already put on the table a first package of more than €2.3 billion to help our Southern Mediterranean partners address the immediate needs in the health sector and to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.
Any crisis management can be successful only if shared with the neighbours. A principle this Commission takes seriously. We must strengthen our bilateral and regional cooperation with the Southern Neighbourhood to better manage systemic challenges and to boost the economic development and recovery.
Creating more resilient economies and societies all around is a common interest for Europe and for our neighbours. We need a Southern Neighbourhood that emerges from the crisis as a prime location for investments, offering growth and jobs in a sustainable way and providing for stronger societies that give hope and opportunity to the young generations to find their future in the region.
That is why we arepreparing a dedicated economic development strategy for our Southern neighbours, which will draw on the new next long-term EU budget. Our plan will be built together with our partners, reflecting the needs and specificities of each of our partners.
For example, the disruption of global value chains by the pandemic opened an opportunity for a regionalisation of production and shorter value chains for strategic products, which can benefit the Southern Neighbourhood and provide employment for the young.
Digitalisation also offers previously unseen opportunities, for companies – especially small and medium-sized enterprises – and public service delivery. A review of EU trade policy priorities in the region would further support this process.
We will help build economies that work for people, in particular the youth. While digitalisation offers SMEs opportunities to innovate and grow, it also has consequences for skill requirements for workers. We want to help to increase education and vocational training opportunities in the Euro-Med region to guarantee skills match the labour market needs.
We will work together to mobilise private sector on both sides of the Mediterranean to help us respond to the market needs and to promote new business models all across the Southern Mediterranean region.
A future where sustainable and balanced development and equal opportunities can be provided for all will mitigate the necessity of undertaking perilous journeys in search of a better future, only to fall in the hands of traffickers and organised crime.
At the same time, our renewed partnership will also put emphasis on areas such as justice and rule of law more broadly, the fight against corruption and organised crime, the role of independent media and civil society and the prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism. This will underpin our economic goals.
We will liaise with our partners and continue to work closely with the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), an enhanced Euro-Mediterranean intergovernmental framework that has since 2008 provided a privileged platform to promote dialogue and cooperation between Europe and its Southern neighbours, the creation of an area of peace and stability, shared economic progress, democratic principles and human rights.
Only by working together can we ensure prosperity and stability for all of us, fully respecting our mutual interests and responsibilities. We are partners faced with shared challenges, working for the same goals.