IdeasLab 2019 was organised by the Centre for European Policy Studies – CEPS, one of Europe’s most reputable think-tanks, which is currently ranked at the 8th position in Europe and 23rd Worldwide, according to the 2018 Global Go to Think Tank Index. CEPS is a partner of the Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association – EMEA and of the Euro-Mediterranean Network for Economic Studies – EMNES.
Ideas Lab is the most high-profile annual event on policies of the EU. It is an annual forum that brings together Europe’s top decision makers and thinkers to discuss the major issues confronting the EU and to explore innovative solutions. In 2019, the theme was “Europe’s Choice” and took place in Brussels, 21-22 February 2019.
As a partner of CEPS the Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association – EMEA was honored to be one of IdeasLab 2019 silver sponsors and participated to the event, having a booth at the venue and with a team consisting of the following EMEA members:
During the event the Euro-Mediterranean Network for Economic Studies – EMNES organised the panel “A new role for the EU in the Mediterranean?” chaired by EMNES Director and EMEA Founding President, Prof. Rym Ayadi. EMNES members also participated to the session “EU-Africa migration partnerships: What balance between migration management and economic development?” Furthermore, EMNES organised an internal Strategy Seminar which took place back to back the CEPS IdeasLab 2019. The objective of the Strategy Seminar was to examine the achievements and the new policies and models of regional integration in the Mediterranean. These new policies and models will guide the research agenda of EMNES in the next years. EMNES new vision stems from the quest for economic policy solutions aiming at more inclusive, sustainable and employment driven socio-economic development in the region.
Back in 1995, the European Union signed an ambitious agreement to promote regional cooperation with its South Mediterranean neighbours. After initial progress, the cooperation process appeared unable to meet the expectations in terms of growth and development. Both shores of the Mediterranean suffer from slow growth and high unemployment rates, especially among youth. Should the EU kick-start its engagement in the region? What cooperation is necessary to foster job creation? How to create opportunities for the youth in the region? What role for education?
Prof. Ayadi welcomed the participants and introduced the panellists, before kicking-off the panel with a brief conversation on milestones and current state of affairs in Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. In 1995, the so-called Barcelona Process was launched. In 2004, the European Neighbourhood Policy, originally meant to apply to Eastern European countries but then extended to Southern Mediterranean ones as well, became the reference framework for bilateral relations between the European Union and it neighbouring countries. In 2008, the Union for the Mediterranean, a platform for dialogue and cooperation between countries on an equal footing, was set-up to reinforce the regional dimension of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. In 2011, the Arab Spring shook the region and resulted in substantial political changes, although with important differences between countries in the outcomes. The current situation is not very positive, there is a clear lack of convergence between countries on both shores of the Mediterranean, while the migration crisis came as a wake-up call concerning the necessity to rethink Euro-Mediterranean relations. Against this backdrop, it is crucial to better understand what role the European Union could and should have in the region. Prof. Ayadi then turned towards the panellists to give their own opinion on current situation and future prospects for the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.
Mr. Fakhfakh argued that the situation in the region changed indeed with the Arab Spring, but this did not result in a genuine reconfiguration of Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. There have been some minor changes in the European Neighbourhood Policy, but the core of the matter remained the same. Before the Arab Spring, European Union’s relations with Southern Mediterranean partners were focused on liberalisation and toleration of authoritarian regimes in exchange of their commitment to act as a buffer on a range of security issues. The same preoccupations and motivations continue to guide the thinking of the European Union towards the region today. This is confusing for countries such as Tunisia, asked to negotiate on very technical matters in the midst of a crucial and challenging political transition. The Revolution has changed everything, and yet the documents that are currently negotiated with the European Union remained largely the same. It is time to imagine what future we want for the region more than signing agreements. In the coming thirty years the population will double in the Southern Mediterranean countries, will decline in the European ones, how to deal with the deepening asymmetry between population and income between shores of the Mediterranean? This should be the starting point of any discussion about the future.
Dr. Sijilmassi started his intervention thanking the EMNES network to organise the panel and bring the views of high-level representatives from different countries in the discussion, as to achieve convergence in the region it is crucial to have co-ownership. He then moved on to give his opinion on what are not problems in the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. The institutional dimension is not a problem, as there is already a wide range of institutions in the region, not only public. Most of these focus explicitly on Euro-Mediterranean cooperation, but if we enlarge the lenses, there are institutions for Euro-African relations at large as well. It might be good for marketing to create a new institution, but there is actually no need to do so. The funding dimension is also not a problem, as there are many sources of funding available for the region, catering to a wide range of potential beneficiaries. What is missing is visibility about what these institutions and funds are collectively doing and achieving for the region. The European Union has flagship policies, such as the cohesion policy or the common agricultural policy, or initiatives such as Erasmus in the field of education. What are the flagship policies or initiatives of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership? It might be true that the European Union was more actively involved in the Eastern compared to the Southern neighbourhood, but at the same time the Southern Mediterranean countries failed to get organised and secure together more bargaining power when dealing with the European Union. Thus, the responsibility for the lack of results under the Euro-Mediterranean partnership is shared. Dr. Sijilmassi then stressed the importance of adopting a more positive, pro-active approach to the region, rather than limiting ourselves to identify problems and responsibilities. He advanced two proposals in that sense. First, to enhance regional integration between Southern Mediterranean, starting from existing frameworks. The Arab Maghreb Union, despite the many conferences and seminars organised, is not working, whereas the Agadir Agreement is a good starting point, and more should be done in the frame of this agreement. Second, to give more importance to bottom-up initiatives and success stories, overcoming the negative agenda by placing emphasis on what is working in the region.
Dr. Saif agreed that a positive agenda is needed for the region but nonetheless stressed the importance of analysing what went wrong as a starting point to define it. He then pointed out that to have genuine co-ownership, we must first understand what are the expectations from both sides, European Union member states and Southern Mediterranean countries, concerning the future of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. The need for structural change is evident, as trade deficits with the European Union are widening and social instability is increasing, not only in conflict-ridden countries. But what kind of structural change is needed, towards what kind of economy? In virtually all countries across the region, high-skilled newcomers in the labour market fail to find a job, and yet education systems continue to be geared towards forming increasing numbers of high-skilled graduates. The core issue here is how to achieve inclusive and sustainable goals in the region.
Dr. Köhler started his intervention by adding one milestone to the one mentioned in the introduction to the panel, 2015, year in which there has been a change of tide. Not because it is the year in which the European Neighbourhood Policy was reviewed following a stakeholder consultation, but because it is the year in which the Mediterranean region has become an integral part of the domestic politics of the European Union. What is happening in the region is now having a great influence on the national elections across the continent. This is not good news, of course, people are afraid of what is happening in the region and the negative influence those fears have on the elections are not promising for the future of the Euro-Mediterranean partnerships. Dr. Köhler himself is not optimistic about the situation in the region. In recent decades, many things have worsened while the achievements were limited, if any. The region’s social cohesion is under stress as economic and political instability continue to be pervasive and the situation will become increasingly unsustainable against a backdrop of environmental degradation and demographic pressure. What is the problem? The lack of money? The lack of political interest? The lack of youth engagement? As it was argued before in this panel, a lot has been done for the region: funds, institutions and initiatives targeting the youth are certainly not lacking. A key issue is governance. Not a single country in the region was able to set-up quality vocational education and training systems and social protection systems, as a result of lacking good governance and political will have more weight than the absence of funding or expertise. Dr. Köhler then pointed that there is no real willingness to reform in the South and no real willingness to go beyond crisis management in the North, which explains why we continue to treat symptoms without curing the sickness. The starting point of devising a much-needed new narrative is to ask ourselves how much we depend on each other. The interdependence is bound to increase so we urgently need success stories showing that Euro-Mediterranean cooperation can deliver. But the reality is that there are not many success stories and not enough stakeholders of our community of destiny going around to talk about them, while in the meantime the region continue to loose attractiveness.
Dr. Sijilmassi agreed that governance is a key issue but pointed that some sectors are performing better than others across the region in spite of poor governance, such as the pharmaceutical sector in Jordan. Why is it the case? He then argued that increasing interdependence between North and South means that there is an opportunity for win-win cooperation in the future.
Mr. Fakhfakh also agreed that governance is a key issue in the region and most particularly that the failure of embarking in the needed reforms of education systems and labour markets is part of the problem concerning unemployment. Having said that, he noted that the European Union plays a role in orienting what is happening in Southern Mediterranean countries and that it did not systematically used its influence for the benefit of the region as a whole. For example, the European Union did not use its influence to force countries in the Maghreb to sit together around a table and speak. It is much easier to negotiate with each country individually, but also short sighted, because in the long-term the benefits of investing in integration are higher.
Dr. Köhler argued that it would have been indeed preferable to negotiate with all countries together, but when the European Union attempted to enhance cross-border cooperation in the Maghreb and conveyed the ministers of trade from the countries concerned around a table, they did not attend the meeting. The same goes for the Agadir Agreement, which is a great project on paper but nothing is done concretely, trade between Morocco and Tunisia actually decreased in recent years. How realistic it is to prioritise regional negotiations over bilateral ones at this stage?
Mr. Fakhfakh argued that debates about the economic position of a country in the global economy and the economic perspectives that are opened with such agreements are important, but in the case of Tunisia it is not the right moment to have such a discussion, as the country is still deep into a political transition. The European Union is pushing to sign these agreements, while people are debating what future they want for the country. The software of the negotiations must be changed. For example, a priority is to attract more foreign investment, but when measures in that sense were implemented, the European Union put Tunisia on the black list of tax heavens.
Dr. Köhler noted that there are substantial differences between Southern Mediterranean countries and Eastern European countries when it comes to negotiate free trade agreements with the European Union. Eastern European countries were transition economies with no trade links with the European Union when the first negotiations started, while the European Union is the primary trading partner of virtually all Southern Mediterranean countries. The debates surrounding the negotiations of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas should focus on how trade with the European Union will evolve in the future.
Dr. Sijilmassi argued that the problem with the negotiation of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas is the modus operandi adopted by the European Union. The right sequence would be to have a consultation first, a bilateral discussion then and an agreement on paper at the end of the process, co-owned since the first step. The contrary happened. He then added that the negotiations of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas are supposedly bilateral but follow in fact a one-size-fits-all approach, which is a problem. It is also important to be realistic, free trade in agriculture will not be achieved as subsidies are at the very heart of the European Union’s common agricultural policy, liberalisation of services would greatly benefit the region but it is linked to free circulation of people and therefore will not be achieved neither. What is needed is to enhance the business environment in countries around the region.
Dr. Saif argued that the summit should be cancelled in the first place because it risks legitimising the return of an authoritarian regime in Egypt, who is repressing any dissent in the days preceding the gathering. Dr. Köhler further stressed that the Egyptian government needs the summit to be a shiny success, so it is going to be so.
Dr. Saif noted that the issue of refugees is undoubtedly a burden but nonetheless only part of the whole picture. It is crucial to invest in order to create a productive base and at the political level, regain confidence of the wider public about the role of the government in tackling socio-economic issues.
The EU has stepped up its cooperation with third countries to manage migration flows in Northern Africa and the Sahel. A number of both short and long-term measures (namely saving lives at sea/in the desert, combatting smugglers, tackling the root causes of migration, and sustainable development, respectively) are being implemented to reduce the number of irregular migrants. Yet, doubts are emerging about the sustainability and appropriateness of the current approach. Do the priorities and needs of the EU align with those of partnership countries? Is migration a top priority for African partner countries, or does it ranks below other areas such as FDIs, trade facilitation and development aid? Do the priorities of African governments match with those of their citizens? Would wider access to legal migration pathways or strengthened development cooperation best serve the priorities of the stakeholders involved? Finally, how should funding instruments be framed? These and other issues will be discussed in this interactive session.
The panellists discussed the migration issue or crisis – there was some disagreement between them on whether it is appropriate to define the current situation a crisis – from their respective points of view. The main arguments advanced were the following. On the one hand, the European Union was caught unprepared by (or short-sightedly contributed to) regime change in countries such as Libya that had until then played a role of buffer and is now focused on managing the ensuing influx of irregular migrants without a real intention to open legal pathways for migration. On the other hand, African countries have shown little concern for the fate of their citizens embarking in the perilous journey to Europe at least until recently and corruption among other governance issues enabled irregular migration to thrive.
Politicians in both Europe and Africa stressed the need to bolster economic development in countries of origin as a means to tackle migration at its roots, but the idea that this would reduce migration flows is illusory. The panellists argued that economic development would actually fuel migration, at least in the short run, insofar as those who emigrate are not the most deprived segments of the population, but the richer among the poor who can afford to leave. In addition to that, migration is bound to increase as demographic trends will continue to diverge between Europe and Africa, pointing at the necessity to start considering economic development and migration management two sides of the same coin – the EU-Africa partnership – rather than substitutes.
As regards to economic development, the different panellists stressed the importance to shift from a logic of aid to a logic of investment. Europe should recognise the importance of Africa’s development for its own future and start building the EU-Africa partnership on an equal footing and for the mutual benefit. On the other hand, African countries are responsible of their own future and should start to realise the continent’s potential, improving governance and business environment, while embarking in deeper regional integration.
EMNES organised an internal Strategy Seminar which took place back to back the CEPS IdeasLab 2019. The objective of the Strategy Seminar was to examine the achievements and the new policies and models of regional integration in the Mediterranean.
These new policies and models will guide the research agenda of EMNES in the next years. EMNES new vision stems from the quest for economic policy solutions aiming at more inclusive, sustainable and employment driven socio-economic development in the region.
The Seminar was chaired by Rym Ayadi, Professor, CASS Business School, EMNES Scientific Director and EMEA Founding President. The seminar included members of EMNES Steering and Advisory Committees. Among the participants were: