The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) celebrates its fifteenth anniversary as the referential framework for North-South relations, an organization focused on promoting sustainable and inclusive development between the two shores. Formed by 43 countries, the UfM is heir to the Barcelona Process of 1995. The Egyptian diplomat Nasser Kamel is its general secretary.
“The South has great demographic potential and Europe should take advantage of it”
What is the point of the Union for the Mediterranean?
Some of the problems we experience in the South, such as economic inequality, unemployment and demography, have a direct impact on the EU. Migration is a very clear example. That is why this cooperation framework, the Union for the Mediterranean, was established fifteen years ago.
It’s hard to see progress.
We have made a lot of progress, but the region still faces enormous challenges. We have to learn to talk face to face and do so on specific issues, such as economic development, the environment, education, research, energy, etc. This is what we must do if we want to fulfill the dream of the Barcelona Process and create a space for peace, prosperity and dialogue in the Mediterranean.
What has not been done well?
We have not been able to maximize cooperation. We have done many positive things, but what we still have to do is more than what we have achieved. These are enormous challenges that require more political will and financial resources. The climate crisis, for example, hurts us all. The Mediterranean is one of the most affected regions in the world.
Today it seems that in the European chancelleries security is more concerned than the climate.
I would not talk about security, but about immigration management. It is true that the priority in many countries of the North is the fight against illegal immigration, but even the conservative governments that have come to power with the promise of controlling it understand that security is not the solution. They know that without smart investment in human and sustainable development, the root of the problem cannot be addressed. As long as we do not create the necessary socio-economic conditions for the youth of the Global South to have a better future, all the investments in patrol boats and fences, in making Europe a fortress, will not be enough.
Europe sees the population of the South as a problem, not as a solution.
The South has great demographic potential and Europe should take advantage of it. I’m not just talking about the southern Mediterranean, but the Global South. Only one in four or five people who get on a boat is from the south of the Mediterranean. The rest come from much further afield, from Pakistan, Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa.
But Europe is suspicious of these people, just as it seems to be suspicious of their countries of origin.
I believe that every day there is a greater understanding between the North and the South. When we talk about specific issues, such as trade or the environment, countries focus on technical issues. There is political will to cooperate. This is not to say that many issues require long hours of debate and that some are not resolved. It is normal in the EU. But it is obvious that, despite this, the EU is moving in the right direction.
The South often complains about the arrogance of the North, about the insistence on values that are not their own.
It is true that from the South the double standards of the North towards Muslim countries are perceived. Six hundred people, many of them women and children, drowned off the Greek coast last month. This tragedy coincided with the death of six explorers who were going to the wreck of the titanic in a small submersible. For six days the western world followed with great attention the fate of these explorers who had paid large sums of money for the adventure, while the sinking of the fishing boat full of migrants heading to Italy was hardly reported.
It’s a double standard.
Without a doubt, and it can also be seen, for example, in the enormous effort that Europe is making to help Ukraine, in how international law is defended and the acquisition of territories by force is condemned as illegal. But hasn’t something similar been happening in the South for fifty years?
Israel occupies the West Bank and prevents the creation of a Palestinian state.
And does Europe apply the same principles there as in Ukraine?
It does not seem.
It is obvious that the same principles are not defended when an issue like this affects the North or the South, and this is how Europe loses the right to give lessons and talk about values.
The rise of the extreme right in Europe seems to accentuate this double standard.
Yes, it’s likely. That is why we need a dialogue between people. I am not referring to a political dialogue, but between citizens. Only in this way can we eliminate the wrong ideas that some of us have about others. In the South, for example, it is difficult to understand that anti-Semitic expressions are not allowed in the North, but that a Koran is burned because it falls within freedom of expression. Any display of anti-Semitism is to be condemned, but then why not Islamophobia?
Populism increases and societies are radicalized.
It is the socioeconomic inequality that Europe suffers that encourages the most extreme ideological positions and the same is happening in the South, where we see the rise of fundamentalist currents that interpret the Koran in a way that betrays the truth of Islam. Polarization seems inevitable and so does entrenchment.
The war in Ukraine aggravates everything.
The southern Mediterranean is highly dependent on grain from Russia and the Ukraine. Lebanon imports 90% and most of it comes from there. Egypt imports 70%, Morocco 60%, and Israel 80%. The region has suffered from the war. But also because of the reorientation of European political capital towards this crisis.
Is the future of Europe in the South rather than in the East?
I can give you dozens of examples of how Europe can benefit from deeper integration with the South. Renewable energy is one of them. The South is capable of producing twice the current electricity consumption in Europe from wind and solar energy. If Europe wants to achieve emissions neutrality by 2030 and zero emissions by 2050, why not explore the great potential of the southern Mediterranean countries. Wealth will be created on both shores and the impact on immigration will be enormous.
The southern Mediterranean is a great supplier to Europe.
Morocco manufactures 700,000 vehicles a year for the European market. Airbus and Boeing produce many components for their aircraft in Tunisia and Morocco. Samsung’s largest factory outside of Korea is in Egypt. Europe will not be able to progress without the help of the southern Mediterranean. It is the solution for you to maintain your status in the world of tomorrow.
Is the UfM’s relationship with the European Union a good one?
Nobody supports me more than Josep Borrell, high representative of foreign policy. I can’t understand my life without him. His triple condition of European, Spanish and Catalan helps him to believe a lot in the South. But I must add that not everyone is at the same level in Brussels. Lack of will to invest more.