Vienna Process of IFIMES: OIC for the future of Euro-Med

Vienna Process launched to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations

Ambassador Ali Goutali

I would like, first of all, to thank the organizers, particularly Modern Diplomacy and International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) for inviting me to speak at this important and timely conference, under the theme: “Europe Future Neighbourhood – Disruptions, Recalibration, Continuity”, within the framework of the second leg of  Vienna Process, launched to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

Let me at the outset recall briefly a few facts about Europe and its neighborhood. The Euro-med partnership and Barcelona Process conceived in 1995, proceeded from the conviction that durable and sustainable stability and prosperity of Europe will only be guaranteed if the southern shore of the Mediterranean (North Africa and the Middle East) is stable and prosperous.

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The Euro- Mediterranean Partnership was conceived against the backdrop and in the wake of the Oslo Peace Accords meant to find a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is important to recall this fact so as to put the Initiative in its historical and geopolitical proper context.

The Barcelona Declaration states particularly that the initiative of the Barcelona Process aims at “turning the Mediterranean basin into an area of dialogue, exchange, and cooperation, guaranteeing peace, prosperity, and stability”, and this through basically three Baskets:
1. Political and Security Basket.
2. Socio-economic Basket: construction of a zone of shared prosperity through economic and financial partnership.
3. The cultural basket involves rapprochement among peoples through social, cultural, and human partnership.

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In 2009 the Euro- Mediterranean Partnership was rechristened as the Union for the Mediterranean (UFM), following the Paris Summit in 2008. This Union aimed at shared ownership, shared decision-making, and responsibility between northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean.

This new entity “UFM”, reinforcing Euro-Med Partnership Initiative, revived hopes for fruitful and concrete cooperation. However, though many projects had been identified since the inception of the Euro-Med partnership and the creation of UFM, unfortunately just little of the initial ambitions has been so far achieved.

Currently, wars, tensions, instability, and chaos continue to engulf some of the North African and Middle Eastern countries. 9/11 attacks and its aftermath, an upsurge in terrorism and violence, religious extremism embodied by the so-called Islamic State or Daash, particularly following the so-called Arab Spring, migrant influx; and the stalemate in which the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (one of the main incentives behind the Euro-med Initiative) has been mired in, have contributed to stalling the Euro-med Process.

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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that ushered in a new age of lethal diseases should be viewed as a new major challenge that constitutes a health basket for Euro-med partnership in addition to the aforementioned baskets.

In fact, the devastating implications of COVID-19 on socio-economic activities due to unpreceded lockdowns and disruptions have heightened awareness of the close link between health and economic development, social welfare, and prosperity.

In the past, states were not convinced of the correlation between diseases and national security and social-economic well-being. Health issues were not therefore considered as a priority on the international affairs agenda and for assistance objectives.  

Global threats like Pandemics cannot be solved with national policies and necessitate collective and planned actions regionally and globally” to paraphrase Minouche Shafik, Director of London School of Economics, LSE.

Developed and wealthy countries including European countries should not overlook the fact that the eradication of global pandemics implies regional and global inclusive strategies that do not exclude a single country. The non-eradication of a pandemic, which does not respect borders in one country or a region, would lead to the spread of the disease beyond its borders and to socio-economic fallout among countries left behind that would ultimately trigger unrest, threatening regional and global security and stability. “No monopolies or restrictions or selfishness should be allowed in times of lethal pandemics and global threats to human existence”, to quote in substance Ross Taylor from LSE.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us few lessons among which prioritization of health above all, and that regional and global safety, prosperity, and security in a globalized world imply that no one should be left behind, deep transformation should occur putting more focus on innovation, technology and knowledge exchange.

We have also learned from this health crisis that cooperation and solidarity among the developed and less developed, the Haves and the Have-nots, should be the guiding principle regionally and globally. “When the crisis comes, we will wish we had more funding and more global cooperation, but then it will be too late”, to quote substance journalist and geopolitics expert, Fareed Zakaria.

In closing, it is obvious that global change in the context of globalization had created challenges including climate change, population migration, economic and financial crisis, terrorism …but, under the current COVID-19 circumstances, a new era of lethal pandemics is being heralded.  Old and new challenges need coordinated policies, cooperation, and solidarity, regionally and globally, for the common benefit of the Euro-med region, our planet, and the entire humanity.

In the Euro-med space, more bold efforts and far-sighted actions should be taken to meet all of these challenges and revive the hope sparked by the Oslo Peace Accords, the Barcelona Process, the Euro-Med Partnership, and the Union for the Mediterranean.

The European Union ought to play to this end an active and diligent role to: 

  • Put in place concrete partnership and cooperation projects and coordination mechanisms for their materialization.
  • Extend euro-med cooperation to the health sector.
  • Include the concerns and needs of the southern shore of the Mediterranean in the EU’s Post COVID-19 Recovery Action Plan, involving 750-billion-euro Recovery Fund, as revealed months ago by the president of the EU Commission, Mrs. Ursula Von der Leyen.
  • Revive the Middle East Peace Process and the role of the International Quartet to achieve a lasting and just two-state solution, which is a prerequisite and indispensable condition for collective security, stability, development, and prosperity in the Euro-Med space. 
About the author:
Ambassador Ali Goutali, Tunisian top diplomat, serving numerous key posts on four continents, former Head of the national diplomatic institute. Author of several publications including a book on decision making in foreign policy. Current Director at the OIC General Secretariat in Jeddah, KSA.The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect IFIMES official position.Ljubljana/Vienna/Jeddah,14 March 2020

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