Unleashing the potential of the Mediterranean

BRUSSELS, 2 June 2016 – This is an opinion editorial signed by the co-presidencies of the Union for the Mediterranean, Imad N. Fakhoury, Jordanian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, and Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations.

The challenges faced by the countries in the Mediterranean and by their neighbours dominate media headlines and public debates. Apart from the pre-existing socio-economic challenges, conflict, terrorism, violent extremism and radicalism threaten our region with instability and uncertainty, instigating huge inflows of displaced people, refugees, and migrants. The crisis represents major human suffering and also severely impacts on the state of economic and social resilience for many countries around the Mediterranean, further affecting their capacity to redress the youth unemployment curve. These challenges overshadow the potential the region offers for economic growth and prosperity to its citizens and make us forget the many strands of action that are available to unleash its potential.

As co-presidencies of the Union for the Mediterranean, we are convinced that making this potential accessible to the citizens of the region – old and young, men and women – cannot happen on a country by country basis only. On the contrary, we need to act together based on a win-win coordinated approach at the regional level to unleash this economic potential.

This is the ambitious agenda that we pursue when we brought together representatives of the 43 Ministers of Cooperation, Planning or Finance of countries north and south of the Mediterranean to meet for the first ever Union for the Mediterranean Ministerial Meeting on Regional Cooperation and Planning in Jordan on 2 June.

Close cooperation and progressive integration of markets has brought prosperity and with it stability to Europe. Today, 95% of trade in the Euro-Mediterranean region takes place inside the EU, but only 4% between the EU and its southern Mediterranean partners and a marginal 1% only between the countries in the MENA region. Improved transport, communication and trade integration could allow increasing trade and investment opportunities and thus economic growth and employment for the region.

Improved regional cooperation will bring tangible benefits for people. We face similar challenges in relation to economically empowering our young men and women education, mobility and employment opportunities. We have common interests to tackle the issues of connectivity and secure access to energy supplies; areas crucial for our prosperity and stability on both sides of the Mediterranean. We need to collectively address the social and economic root causes of migration and security, using regional responses. Urban development, infrastructure and transport networks would facilitate the movement of people and stimulate trade exchange and increased investment.

The discussions on 2 June will be instrumental to building on the outcomes of all previous specialised UfM Ministerial meetings, which were held in the past few years on sectors of common interest such as transport, energy, private sector development, and environment. The prime objective is to help ensure that adequate funding is available for these regional priorities and common challenges.

We need to bring together all strands of existing cooperation instruments and tools funded by different partners and increase the attention paid to projects of shared regional interest. We ought to explore the best way to utilize, encourage and promote public and private investments, equity funds, and other innovative financing methods and mechanisms in pursuing our twin target of increased resilience and prosperity for our nations. We must also ensure that the private sector and civil society are involved in our cooperation efforts. They add an array of competences and resources to the traditional tools of cooperation which will allow multiplying their effects.

From the EU side, the policy which frames our relations with the MENA region, the European Neighbourhood Policy, allows for important support to be channelled to regional cooperation.

Following its revision in 2015, the meeting was an opportunity to see where we go together next.

The Union for the Mediterranean, including through the work of its UFM Secretariat, has evolved into a unique platform for policy dialogue and promotion of strategic projects for the region. This role was conducted in all areas of priority by successfully holding 8 UFM ministerial meetings, 12 high level conferences and more than 120 workshops, round tables and expert working groups; a cycle that proved instrumental in the process of identifying 45 projects that are considered today of common interests for all. Together with the many projects that are conducted between the EU and our countries at national, local and regional levels, these efforts form the bulk of a cooperation that delivers every day benefits for our citizens.

The two sides of the Mediterranean are in need of deeper economic integration based on a win-win approach that supports global efforts for regional peace, stabilization, reconstruction and economic integration and we are committed to continue pursuing this objective unwaveringly, step by step.