The EU’s future common policy towards the Arab World will have to follow a very innovative direction compared to the existing bilateral relations built up by Member-States in the past decades or centuries. Combining objective factors (suchas demography, energy, water resources, security) with XXIst century political constraints (globalisation, democratisation), the EU may become a major partner of this region by contributing to transform Arab populations into fully fledged XXIst centurycitizens, with relevant economic, social, cultural and political achievements.
It is no longer a matter of bringing Arab states closer to the EU in the short-term; but a matter of contributing to the emergence in the medium and long term of a political Arab entity (centred around a re-dynamised Arab League, or any other desirable institution) anchored into intra-Arab flows: economic, commercial, financial, human and intellectual ones. Arab political unity supported by external partners may be the only available process bringing democracy and stability in this region.
The role played by the US towards Europe after World War 2 is a relevant analogy. In this respect, it seems necessary to separate the Middle-East conflict (which requires a specific treatment coming under EU’s global policy and neighbourhood relations) from a common policy towards the Arab World. As concerns fight against terrorism, a policy aimed at democratising the region will contribute efficiently to distinguish Islam from Arab World on a political level, and to reduce the social basis of terrorism (poverty and absence of political rights). Intellectual instruments such as Near East, EuroMed, … are no longer relevant to a common EU approach of the Arab region which has to be apprehended as a whole. Operational tools such as Barcelona process, Meda, … have paved the way for a new generation of methods and instruments which must fit with the new goal and be developed in partnership with Arab operators from all parts of society.
The Iraq crisis offers, today and in the coming years, a unique opportunity for the EU to propose an innovating and audacious approach in this region. Meanwhile, US President’s recent declaration regarding the objective of democratising the Arab States, without providing any clear strategy nor instruments, is offering a major opportunity for Europeans and Americans to team up for what may be one of the greatest democratic challenge of the coming decades.
As a result of the work conducted by some 40 European participants, representing 17 Member and future Member-States, gathered on October 14th at the Kléber Centre of International Conferences in Paris, we could name a general strategic axis and a methodological approach regarding what a EU policy towards the Arab World by 2020 could be. As usual, this Executive Summary is written and published under the sole responsibility of Europe 2020.
Does the EU want to deal with a divided Arab World, or is it in its interest to contribute to the emergence of a real Arab unity in the 21st century?
During the seminar, the many debates that took place on the relevance of the « Arab World » concept illustrated very clearly how complex the relation of the EU with this region of the world is. In the EU, each Member State has built its own vision of this region. The closest countries, historically (colonialism), geographically and culturally (the Mediterranean), have a tendency to divide up the Arab world into a series of sub-groups linked to the existence of obvious differences inside the Arab World; but also linked to the past relations that each country shares with this region (Euro-Mediterranean, Maghreb, Near-East, Middle-East…). This situation sometimes leads to questioning the very existence of an Arab World (and not only of its relevance as a concept). However it soon appears that such doubts come from a recent interpretation of History as well as from deeply Europe-centred visions.
Indeed, the Arab World does exist; it even has a lot more reality than the EU had in the 50s: a common history, a common language, a common culture and definitely also many common challenges ahead (demography, democracy, water management, energy resources management, economic and social development, global integration). It also conveys some meaningful political momentum for the populations of the region. Internal divisions are no bigger than those experienced by the EU culturally speaking (at least Arab World countries have a vehicle-language in common); and the great economical disparities that prevailed in the 70s tend to diminish, thus contributing to increase the homogeneity of the region (for instance, Saudi Arabia today faces problems of poverty similar to those of the other Arab countries).
The Arab World is a relevant dimension for the external action of the EU towards this region.
To ensure efficient action towards the Arab World, the EU must build a capacity to integrate the wide-ranging bilateral visions and relations it has with this region :
Absence (or quasi) of historic relations of Northern European Member States
the past of the old colonial powers (France, United Kingdom)
Cross-border status (Spain, Portugal)
Massive Arab immigration since World War 2 (of concern for most EU countries now)
A variety of economic interests
Security fears, in relation to fundamentalist’s fomenting terrorism.
This diversity of interests combines itself with a conceptual division of the region resulting from the European vision of the ancient colonial powers or of EU-Mediterranean countries: « Near-East », « Middle-East », …, near what else than Europe? The artificial nature and obsolescence of these visions are made clear from the incapacity for these sub-groups to exist by themselves. The Euro-Mediterranean project arrived at a dead-end: it is either hijacked by the Middle-East crises; or, in many fields of great concern for the Europeans (terrorism, fundamentalism…), it is directly influenced by actors and flows generated in other parts of the Arab World, parts which moreover happen to be EU’s main partners in the field of energy.
The Arab World is an essential dimension to structure a common external relations policy in the 21st century.
A EU external relations policy can only exist if it integrates 2 basic requirements: it should be efficient (serve EU interests) and it should be able to generate support among public opinion in each part of Europe. These two requirements are in fact linked since anyhow in a democracy, it is the citizens who determine whether these common interests have been efficiently served, or not, by supporting or sanctioning their leaders (and the European project altogether). In this regard, EU-Arab relations, together with EU-American and EU-Russian relations, are certainly those with the strongest and most direct impact on European public opinion. Isn’t the Arab World both “a suburb of Europe and in the suburbs of Europe”?
Is it therefore in EU’s interest to divide or to unite? Does it have a choice, by the way?
A priori, there is a choice because the EU can play a role in the evolution of the Arab World in the 21st century. It is enough to remember that if the EU today exists, it is namely due to the fact that two external powers played a major role in its emergence in the 50s: the United States which actively supported the European process; and the USSR which stimulated through fear the emergence of a united Western Europe. Without these exterior « sponsors », the EU would have remained « a European dream ». In the coming decades, the EU will have the means to play an active part to help the Arab World develop into one of the international players of the 21st century. And the Arab World expects a lot from Europe. Moreover, the dimensions are compatible: more or less the same population weight by 2020 (500 million inhabitants in each region) and favourable economic ratio (Arab World GDP equals that of Spain in 1999: approximately 500 Billion Euro). In any case, being disappointing would surely result in failing in a relation that can only be a long-term one (already 1,500 years of shared history).
But is it in EU’s interest to engage in such long-term strategy?
History teaches us that to divide is used in order to rule. But does the EU’s external relations policy aim at ruling anywhere? This is highly improbable considering the following :
The European process is seen as an alternative to the dream of domination (and the EU could hardly survive if it started promoting outside a policy at the opposite of its internal founding principles)
Its assets belong to a different kind than those of military power (soft-power vs hard-power)
In the long-run domination is a lure as the XXth century has taught us
By nature (complexity, weight) the EU is doomed to invent long-term strategies.
The EU-Arab relation is characterised by a number of long-term common challenges:
. demography: by 2020, the Arab World will have as many inhabitants as the EU – 500 million – but with an inverse young-old ratio
. energy resources: owner of the world’s main reserves of petrol, the Arab World (47% of global production in 2020 vs. 30% in 2003) is the EU’s central partner in any long-term energy policy
. democratisation : morally and intellectually bankrupted elites, populations disconnected from decision-making processes, omnipresent and impotent states,… the democratisation of the Arab world is a matter of 1 or 2 generations
. water shortage management: the size of the problem (1% of world water reserves for 5% of world population) and the natural role of Europe (6% of Mediterranean rains fall on the Arab side vs. 94% on the European side) should push the Europeans to take their share in the research of solutions.
In order to elaborate the strategies, methods and instruments needed to tackle issues of such complexity, the EU must necessarily think in the long-term and make sure the whole range of parameters is properly integrated.
A long-term global vision of EU-Arab relations is no abstract vision; on the opposite, it should pay great attention to reality, and in particular to citizens as well as to the various economic, social, cultural, scientific and political actors.
Paraphrasing a cliché often encountered in European imagination (that of an archaic Arab World), the aim of the EU could be to turn Arab citizens into first-class world-citizens by 2020. To implement such policy the EU must invent new methods building on the lessons of the past decades.
The almost-10-year long Barcelona process must result in a number of clear conclusions
. The EuroMed is only an instrument and it has not kept its promises:
It is an entity invented by Southern Mediterranean perspectives, anchored in neither European nor Arab realities. For this reason, despite 10 years of efforts, only professionals of co-operation remain involved in the civil society processes (the rest of the European or Arab civil societies has not followed). The Euromed is greatly heterogeneous (including countries like Turkey or Israel) and this leads to a paralysis of the whole politically speaking. Finally, the centralised and bureaucratic management of the process has led to a sense of frustration among all actors involved, as well as it has sent a very negative signal (relying on States which are a great part of the problem in the Arab World). Moreover subsidies have fed the corruption that flourishes in the region’s state machineries. In this regard, some new approaches, transiting via EIB or notions of company loans (rather than financial grants like MEDA), are more adapted to the aim of preparing for Arab citizens in the 21st century.
. Stimulating exchanges among the Arab World countries rather than exchanges with the EU:
Given the quasi-absence of intra-Arab exchanges, one wonders whether the Euromed Free-Trade Area strategy is a useful one (whether it is feasible). The EU’s middle- and long-term interest is to cooperate with a stable and prosperous Arab World. Priority should therefore be given to stimulating intra-Arab exchanges rather than opening their markets to EU operators. The small size of the Arab market legitimates the idea that it is more interesting to first stimulate its internal growth. Such liberalization of internal exchanges does not only concern goods and services, but also ideas, and people. In terms of education and training, contributing to the emergence of intra-Arab centres of excellency, rather than promoting EU-Arab exchanges, should be the goal of a European common policy. These approaches would contribute greatly to modernize and open the particularly opaque and bureaucratic state machineries of most Arab countries.
A European initiative founded on the identification and valorisation of centres of excellency in the Arab World would convey many advantages:
To avoid EU’s exposure to « post-colonial methods »-related criticisms (which, quite justly, did not spare Euromed cooperation)
To combine the existence of Arab sub-regions and the need for intra-Arab cooperation: according to each work-field (democracy, water management, energy resources management, economic development, education…), different leader-partners groups will naturally appear, likely to rally other countries as their work will gain credibility
To apply outside a real lesson of European construction : the success of the European process owes a lot to the invention of the modular method of free association of countries around projects of common interest
Generally speaking, directly (thanks to the Barcelona process) or indirectly (thanks to the enlargement process), those last years have provided the EU with a number of experiences very useful to the elaboration and implementation of a global policy of relations to the Arab World by 2020. This is a crucial challenge for the EU because its relations with the Arab World are a condition by many aspects of its future stability and prosperity (energy, immigration, security,…).
Both causes and consequences of the Arab world’s problems imply rejection of the fragmented approach inherited from national diplomatic traditions, largely disconnected from 21st century and European Union realities.
This long-term global vision must and can have as a tangible objective to gain full support from both EU and Arab populations: contributing to turn the Arab citizen into a first-class global citizen sums up quite well this objective. Instruments (national and European) exist to implement right away such a policy. The EU only has to modernise and co-ordinate them around an identical objective.
The most important change required for the Europeans and in particular for the decision-makers and actors of the European foreign policy, is mainly an intellectual one : it is no longer a matter of bringing Arab states closer to the EU in the short-term ; but a matter of contributing to the emergence in the medium and long term of a political Arab entity (centred around a re-dynamised Arab League, or any other desirable institution) anchored into intra-Arab flows: economic, commercial, financial, human and intellectual ones.
The role played by the US towards Europe after World War 2 is a relevant analogy. In this respect, it seems necessary to separate the Middle-East conflict (which requires a specific treatment coming under EU’s global policy and neighbourhood relations) from a common policy towards the Arab World. As concerns fight against terrorism, a policy aimed at democratising the region will contribute efficiently to distinguish Islam from Arab World on a political level, and to reduce the social basis of terrorism (poverty and absence of political rights).
The Iraq crisis offers, today and in the coming years, a unique opportunity for the EU to propose an innovating and audacious approach in this region. Meanwhile recent declaration by US President regarding the objective of democratising the Arab States, but without providing any clear strategy nor instruments, is offering a major opportunity for Europeans and Americans to team up for what may be one of the greatest democratic challenge of the coming decades. What is sure is that the European Union has little to loose trying a new method.
In 2005, at the end of the first series of GlobalEurope 2020 seminars, Europe 2020 will organise a second series on the same theme in the different regions dealt with in 2003/2004. Organised with political, economic, cultural and social actors from each region, these sessions will aim at presenting the new European common approach concerning their region, and to debate the methods and concrete instruments to design in order to serve efficiently their implementation. The results of this first seminar will therefore be debated and developed in 2005 in one Arab city with representatives of the whole region.
This document is the sole responsibility of Europe 2020 And does not reflect the views of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs