|Europe looks to the Mediterranean
|It is not a political dwarf, but an economic giant. This is how we think of Europe today|
JORDAN (Star) - It is not a political dwarf, but an economic giant. This is how we think of Europe today. Whilst it could play a much more forceful, political role in the world, something that it is urged to do so by the peoples of the Middle East, you feel the European Union is in the process of construction, albeit building a large economic entity.
But this could be the way to building a dominant political, economic and social bloc in the world. On a recent visit to Brussels, the home of the European Union, this is what one felt is going on-a process of construction based on common beliefs, attitudes, economic thinking and certain foreign policy themes that are being followed.
Today Europe is becoming a large entity having started in 1951 with just five members on a strictly economic dimension with the Coal and Steel Community that was being led by France and Germany. Today, the European Union and under a new political "internal theme" of integration, has 15 member states and an additional 12 mainly from the former "eastern European bloc", waiting to join. But we are told these would have to wait for the "period of transition" to get their economies up to par with the rest of the Union.
During the information visit, in European parlance, from the Mashreq countries of Egypt, Jordan, West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, regional journalists were introduced to a number of objectives: What is "Europe", the states that make up the Union, its view of the world, its commonalties, foreign perceptions and its relationships with different countries in the globe.
Of course its relationship to the United States is close and its relationship to the countries of the "east" is slowly being built, however, "information visit" concentrated on European relations with the countries laying in the Mediterranean basin. As part of its foreign policy orientations, Europe has come to concentrate on building relations with the countries south of the Mediterranean like Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and then Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Israel.
But of course the foreign policy orientations, coming under a "Common European Foreign and Security Policy", had been started in the mid-1990s. With regards to the countries of the Mediterranean and the Mashreq, these themes were translated into actual policy dimensions through what came to be called the Barcelona process, held in the city of Barcelona in 1995.
Europe wanted to expand its relations, but it wanted to do it through budgets, joint economic projects and a concrete political dialogue. Although one may not believe it after the 11 September attacks of 2001 on New York and Washington, decision-makers in Brussels wanted to establish a "civilizational" dialogue that is in fact more needed than ever.
The visit was packed with lectures and workshops and figures that were interesting but may have been top heavy to follow. After the introduction to Europe seminar, we were introduced to the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, which was actually a constant theme and probably an emerging cornerstone.
In between getting to know what is for instance the "Council of Europe" speakers elaborated on the "Meda Program" which is the financial instrument of the program, "the EU and the Middle East peace process, "the Association Agreements with the EU", "Regional and Institutional Projects" as well as "economic cooperation projects." These appeared top heavy because there were a lot of "technicalities" involved with facts, figures and statistics. It showed Europe was working hard to improve relations and set up institutional mechanisms with both the governments of the region and its private sectors.
Journalists were told, not benignly, Europe was contributing a lot to the success of the partnership. Under "Meda I" between 1995-1999, Europe's contribution was 3,400 million euros, today the figure for 2000-2006 is 5,350 million euros. This is an investment that would be pumped by the EU in joint products with their Mediterranean partners. With an inquisitive mind, some journalists asked what was in it for Europe? There was an answer, maybe not satisfactory but it was given. The closeness of Europe to the Mediterranean countries was something geographical, historical, and even "civilizational."
The process of "cultural dialogue" was stressed and the European immigration policy was tackled.
Although it is thought Europe might be going to the right on issues such as immigration and asylum seekers, one speaker said this is not affecting the EU view towards the issue, but he did admit that there is a need to standardize the policy between different states in the Union.
Although there is a call for greater restriction from certain countries in the EU especially after 11 September, it was implied because the European population was becoming top heavy, there would be a need for young skilled labor to be imported from abroad. Although, it was not said in the lectures, Germany and the UK are admitting skilled labor in the burgeoning information technology sector.
However, one got the feeling that such labor would not resemble the old style of imported labor and family migration of the 1950s and 1960s. The new type of labor wouldn't necessarily be geared to stay, but come for specific purposes, however it was stressed Europe had still to reach a decision on that.
These are part of the challenges facing continent from inside. In its external relations especially with the Mashreq countries, the democratization process and human rights are stressed. This is seen as an important issue with regards to the Association Agreements with Med-partner countries.
We have been told Europe's Association agreement with Jordan signed last May has been exemplary with negotiations going smoothly. Lebanon's Association Agreement was signed two weeks ago and Tunisia has a long Association Agreement with the EU (Separate story will be written for the next couple of weeks).