Countries are “doomed to work together and find common solutions” as partners, particularly in the face of the growing climate emergency in the region, Nasser Kamel, secretary-general of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), told EURACTIV in an interview.
Kamel said that though multilateralism may not have responded rapidly enough to the initial shock of the virus, “the world and region came to understand the value of regional cooperation and we’ve seen a lot of concrete action on the ground that showed solidarity.”
The EU pledged €18 million for immediate health needs and another €888 million to support the health sector in its southern neighbourhood within an aid package totalling €2.2 billion.
“Multilateralism is not a luxury and not even a choice… [it] is a necessity that we cannot bypass,” Kamel said, pointing to the cross-border nature of issues like climate change and loss of biodiversity.
“Sorry to use a negative word, but we are doomed to work together, to find common solutions. We are doomed to try to help our neighbours so we can help ourselves.”
UfM is a multilateral institution bringing together all the EU countries and their southern neighbours, created as a culmination of the Barcelona Process initiated 25 years ago to strengthen relations between the bloc and countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean.
Kamel is encouraged by the work of the Commission’s enlargement and neighbourhood chief Olivér Várhelyi, who he said is “taking a participatory approach [with southern Mediterranean partners], … it’s not a donor-recipient approach but more of a partnership.”
Várhelyi, together with the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, will soon meet with EU and southern Mediterranean ministers to discuss the priorities of the EU’s policy in the region.
Kamel sees climate among the top challenges the EU and its southern neighbours are facing together, as the Mediterranean is one of the “hot spots” of climate change.
“We are really living a climate emergency,” Kamel said.
The Mediterranean basin is warming 20% faster than the global average, with current policies, temperatures are expected to increase 2.2ºC by 2040, shooting fast above the Paris Agreement target of 1.5ºC and leading to 250 million people becoming “water-poor,” a 2019 report found.
UfM is also at the forefront of promoting the cooperation of regional and local authorities in the Mediterranean, jointly with the EU’s largest Cross-Border Cooperation (CBC) initiative, the “Mediterranean Sea Basin Programme,” implemented by the EU under the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) with the firepower of €209 million for the 2014-2020 period.
The UfM and the CBC Med Programme teamed up to promote economic and social development and to address common environmental challenges in the region by strengthening the impact of regional projects.
“Cooperation between local and regional authorities in Tunisia and Italy, Morocco and Spain, and others has yielded real results on the ground,” Kamel said.
“And, not to forget, they are symbolic. They show that people at the local level from two or three different countries are able to work together on projects to rid coastal areas of plastic waster, for example,” Kamel pointed out.
Gender “not a luxury”
A 2012 study found that just 5% increase in female labour force participation may lead to a cumulative increase in GDP of 1.3% from 2015 to 2030 in the southern Mediterranean region, in monetary terms bringing in an additional $525 billion at 2007 prices.
Kamel stressed that “gender is not a luxury, gender is an economic and social necessity.”
To speed up work on the issue, the UfM drew up a new monitoring mechanism, where the 42 members states will report to each other data on their progress related to gender.
The indicators will focus on four areas of women’s access to decision-making, economic participation, gender-based violence and the fight against stereotypes.
“I am pleasantly surprised since I took office a couple of years ago of the willingness of our members to engage in that exercise,” Kamel added.
“There is no north-south divide whatsoever between our members.”
The pandemic, Kamel said, “is an added incentive because it has shown that segments of our society are more vulnerable than others, they tend to suffer more during a time of duress, such as the one we are living through right now.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]