Evolving Euro-Mediterranean Partnership: Official Development Assistance – OpEd


European Union and the Mediterranean Region: Regional Integration

The Mediterranean Region stretches over 2.5 million square kilometres, consisting of parts of Southern Europe, the Balkan region, North Africa (Maghreb) and West Asia, and is considered to be the cradle of the European civilisation. The importance of the Mediterranean region to the European Union (EU) has been succinctly captured by the European Commission itself. In fact, the Mediterranean basin is important to the EU for a whole range of reasons, relating to not only geographical proximity but also mutual interests and colonial links. Thus, the Mediterranean is perceived as a politically and strategically important area in the Community’s own backyard where the aim of Europe is the creation of a sphere of influence.

EU has been an extremely important international player for the Mediterranean Region to such an extent that decades of a Mediterranean policy has actually focused significantly on improving economic relations between Europe and the Mediterranean riparian states, rather than anything else. Trade, political dialogue as well as development assistance have been the key methods through which the EU has been expanding relations with its southern neighbours.

The EU’s economic size and its role in world trade has meant that it is a key player in structuring the global economic environment for developing countries through its aid and trade policies. Also, the EU has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched at the UN Millennium Development Summit in 2000, which include the goal of reducing global poverty by 50 per cent from its 1990 level by 2015. At the same time, development cooperation is also required to come to terms with the changed world after 11 September 2001. There is now a closer link between security and development policy, as emphasized in the 2003 EU Security Strategy, which defined security as the ‘first condition for development’. Since priority is given to the neighbouring countries, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in terms of their Official Development Assistance (ODA) becomes increasingly important.

Union and Development Aid in the Region

Although bilateral cooperation agreements between the Mediterranean countries and the EEC can be traced back to the 1970s, they were formalised through four successive policy frameworks: The Global Mediterranean Policy (GMP), the Renovated Mediterranean Policy (RMP), the Barcelona Process (BP) and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Overall, the EU commitment to the Mediterranean countries has increased significantly over the years owing to the strong political will of the EU to deepen relations with the Southern as well as their Eastern neighbours. Since 1995, it has been observed that the commitments have grown more than ten-fold and 8 percentage points higher than EU institution’s total development assistance. EU’s assistance is majorly focussed on countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia mainly because of their colonial links, commercial relations as well as strategic independence. For instance, Algeria is an important supplier of hydrocarbons to the EU and Egypt hosts the Suez Canal, one of the most important trade routes in the world.

Beneficiary sectors of EU’s ODA are diverse and are structured in terms of support for economic development, trade, poverty alleviation and institutional reforms. In the Mediterranean region, overall, 39% of EU’s ODA commitments are for the sectors of transport, infrastructure, health and education and 16% is allocated to categories of trade and industry, finance and banking services. The Union’s commitments to upgrading the region’s infrastructure are comparatively higher, and concentrated a share of 12% of commitments to the region. The EU’s assistance has focused on upgrading the region’s transport sector, water sanitation systems, energy networks and communications systems for programmes often conducted in cooperation with other donors.

In the areas of social and cultural cooperation, support for education reforms, healthcare and social infrastructures in the southern and eastern Mediterranean have been an important priority for EU’s development assistance. 7% of total EU’s ODA to the southern and eastern Mediterranean were committed for the education sector, with an important focus on basic and secondary education, while assistance for post-secondary education was substantially lower. Vocational training has been particularly targeted by the EU’s assistance, with medium-scale initiatives in all countries of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Healthcare concentrated 5.5% of total commitments, with an important focus on reproductive health and control of infectious diseases. Social infrastructure was by no means a less important focus of the EU’s development assistance, with 16% of total commitments directed to a diverse range of initiatives for basic social as well as welfare services over the period considered.

Evolving Euro-Mediterranean Partnership

In the last decade, commitment for governance, civil society and institutional reform and other proxies of politically motivated aid has increased significantly at the rate of 145%. This proves the EU to be a donor particularly concerned with creating stable and accountable institutional frameworks in the region as well as working towards increasing stability in the region. In response to the Arab Spring, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European Commission issued two joint communications: “A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity” (8 March 2011) and “A New Response to a Changing Neighbourhood” (in the form of the regular review of the ENP, 25 May 2011). They build on the bilateral dimension of the ENP, leaving behind regional cooperation and revolve around five elements.

First, the EU’s renewed approach vows to resort more to conditionality and differentiation, meaning that countries introducing democratic reforms will receive more funding (‘more for more’), and conversely, countries backtracking from reforms will see development aid taken away (‘less for less’). With its new emphasis on differentiation, the EU seeks to create a demonstration effect among recipient countries in order to induce them to adopt reforms so as to maximise allocations. The provision of incentives for regimes to implement reforms has been a constant of the EU’s ENP, through its offer of a stake in the internal market.

Second, the EU proposes to provide the region with trade concessions over the short term and conclude Deep and Comprehensive FTAs (DCFTAs) over the medium term. Besides progressively eliminating duties on nearly all trade in goods, DCFTAs are intended to address non-tariff barriers to trade, many of which are identified as particular obstacles. They also include provisions on issues ranging from services (including financial services and telecoms) and investment protection, competition (both anti-trust and state aids), public procurement, intellectual property rights (including patents and geographical indications), transparency in regulation, to sustainable development. To ensure enforceability of commitments, the DCFTAs are expected to include strong clauses setting up mediation and dispute settlement mechanisms.

Third, the EU commits to support civil society through the creation of two new instruments: the Civil Society Facility for the neighbourhood, and the European Endowment for Democracy (EED). Both are intended to support the advocacy capacities of local Civil Society Organisations, their monitoring abilities, as well as their participation in the policy dialogue; but the latter is also expected to provide support to political parties.

Fourth, the European Commission reaffirms its support for economic development and increased the European Investment Bank’s lending mandate while allowing it to reinvest unutilised funds from previous operations. Fifth, over the longer term, EU institutions are willing to conclude mobility partnerships with the southern and eastern neighbourhood, under the twin conditions of concluding readmission agreements and strengthening border controls. For instance, by September 2011, the SPRING programme (Support for Partnership Reforms and Inclusive Growth) was enacted which was endowed with €350 Million to be disbursed for the grant and promotion of human rights.

The future of Euro-Mediterranean relations and development assistance cooperation can be understood through two possible visions. The first points towards the new and incomplete orientations of the EU’s neighbourhood policy, the political rise of the Gulf countries in the region and the emergence of China as an important investor. This would lead the demographic and employment pressures of the region to develop closer partnerships with other actors which would then become region’s key investors and financial support providers However, on the other hand, in a more ideal scenario, deeper integration would emphasise tackling the non-tariff barriers and progressively achieve comprehensive regulatory harmonisation in areas such as technical barriers to trade (TBT), sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS), competition, industrial policies, research cooperation, company law, public procurement and other areas. As a result, both regions would engage in sustainable patterns of development, deepening ties and creating institutions in light of the European Community’s model to create an EU-Mediterranean by 2030.

* Shreya Sinha is a Doctoral Candidate at the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She holds her M.Phil. and MA degrees from the same school at JNU. She holds her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History disciplines from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University. She has also been awarded the Junior Research Fellowship in Political Science by the University Grants Commission. Her interest areas include Defense and Security Policy of the European Union, Non-Traditional Security Studies, Energy Security and Transatlantic Security Partnership. She can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/shreya-sinha-5b22611a6/

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