May 102013

The Sharaka project held its second series of lectures in Kuwait, Dubai and Bahrain between 15 and 17 April 2013 aimed at enhancing knowledge and understanding of the EU, its institutions and policies in the Gulf region. The lectures dealt with the European Union’s foreign policy in the Mediterranean region in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings. Each lecture, delivered by Nathalie Tocci, Deputy Director at the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), was followed by the comments and remarks of a discussant belonging to the three host organisations in the Gulf: the American University of Kuwait, Zayed University in Dubai and the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies – Derasat.

After a brief overview of the political situation in North African countries, the lecturer underlined the lack of a concerted, long-term strategy by the EU in support of the democratic aspirations of Mediterranean people that were lay bare by the Arab spring. Immediately after the uprisings broke out in January 2011, the EU implemented a rethink of its bilateral European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) by capitalising on the growing political heterogeneity of the transitions, with some countries tentatively moving towards democracy while others remaining stuck in various forms of authoritarian adjustment. The EU adopted the ‘more for more’ principle and made conditionality more stringent in order to encourage political reforms in North African and Middle Eastern countries and to deepen economic relations with these economies. After outlining the improvements associated with the ENP’s revision, Dr Tocci’s talk moved to focus on its shortcomings. The renewed European commitment towards the region needs to move beyond rhetoric and concentrate on small and medium enterprises, microcredit projects, rural development as well as the empowerment of civil society.

Against this backdrop, the lecturer argued, Southern Europe is confronted with a great opportunity to overcome the EU’s foreign policy impasse by jumping into the driver’s seat of European Mediterranean policy. A number of present and historical similarities give the Southern Mediterranean and Southern Europe the chance to share experiences on institution-building and constitution drafting while forging a more human face to cooperation. In other words, countries such as Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, which have gone through painful transitions from authoritarian rule in the past, are now called to make the most of the lessons they have learnt and take the lead of the European Mediterranean strategy by tracing clearer political and economic guidelines that are able to meet the new challenges that have emerged on both shores of the Mediterranean sea. In doing that, Southern European countries’ should promote trilateral partnerships with actors enjoying better economic fortunes, notably Turkey and the GCC states, to complement for the EU’s, and Southern Europe in particular, drastically limited resources and mounting fiscal constraints.