EU must fundamentally redesign its Mediterranean policy

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The EU should fundamentally redesign its policy towards its Southern Neighbourhood given the current wave of tectonic change sweeping across the region, writes Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski in an exclusive op-ed for EURACTIV, arguing that that the EU's Mediterranean policy must be generous towards the people and demanding towards those who govern.

The following op-ed was sent exclusively to EURACTIV by Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a member of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP).

"From today's perspective of tectonic change in the Southern Mediterranean, I believe that we should fundamentally redesign our South Neighbourhood Policy.

We have not been clear-cut enough in our attitudes and ambitions of projecting democracy and human rights. We have been too short-sighted, self-satisfied and felt safe with the status quo. In most cases we have been confusing status quo with stability, while in our nearest neighbourhood we need a dynamic change and proper management of this change, which would respond to the democratic aspirations of the people.

Our interests have prevailed over our values in our relationship with the South. Deliveries of oil and gas were of higher importance than the democratic and human rights aspirations of the people. We have too often turned a blind eye to the numerous violations of human rights and all other standards, preached by us to such an extent in the EU itself but not sufficiently promoted in our Neighbourhood Policy.

Clearly, there is a need to change our paradigm of thinking and acting with regard to the South. Societies, much more than governments, should be our partners. [EU foreign affairs chief] Catherine Ashton recently stated that we should now listen to the revolution. But being à l'écoute is not sufficient, and time is scarce.

The revolutions are happening now and so now is the time to act. From the perspectives of those who once upon a time awaited, sometimes in vain, support for their democratic movements in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and so forth, taking on an active role is a necessity and a moral and political obligation.

The EU must react to what is going on in the South Mediterranean in at least two ways. Firstly, by supporting an immediate plan to end the killing of people in Libya; and secondly, by establishing a new paradigm in the policy towards its neighbours.

We should be frank enough to say that massive killings are a fundamental breach of international law and justify an intervention by the international community. I am very satisfied with the position taken by [European Commission] President [José Manuel] Barroso indicating strongly that Gaddafi must leave.

Nevertheless, this will not happen by itself. Instead, it should be achieved by the establishment of a no-fly zone, with this being done with or without the UN Security Council resolution. If the situation in which civilians are faced with military planes shooting at them continues, part of the blame will be on us and our conscience will not be clean.

The EU should push forward the decision to establish a no-fly zone over Libya's territory. International law allows intervention when murders are being committed on a massive scale. If the EU had properly developed security and defence capabilities, we would be able to act on our own. Now, unfortunately, this is not yet the case.

There is also a long-term perspective to be taken into consideration. The EU will hopefully have an enormous role to play in post-conflict resolution and reconstruction. And then all of our strength and efforts need to be oriented towards building democratic civil societies in those countries and towards helping them in economic terms.

It is about more than the flow of money. Libya, for example, has enormous sums of money coming from oil and gas. The problem is that these funds are being expropriated by dictators and sent to Western banks. The money does not serve the people.

What they need are endogenous sources of growth – more trade, greater openness of the EU (in economic terms), their inclusion into the wider economic space of the EU, solid trade and economic interdependencies. All that must be based on principles of 'more for more', conditionality and differentiation.

One might ask whether the Libyans and other Arab societies are ready for change and democracy. They are much more prepared than we think. Our intelligence was not sufficiently intelligent. It is a mistake to say that Arab societies are not fit for democracy – as much as it is probably incorrect to say that they are unable to organise themselves.

We should place much more trust in the capacities of those who aspire to freedom and democracy, those who organise themselves, as Poles once did in the Solidarno?? movement, and in fact already create alternative elites in these countries. We should immediately liaise with them and help them. The same goes for Egypt.

The EU, in all cases, should be on the side of the pro-democratic forces and not on the side of stability at any price. We need to attach more importance to relations with societies and not limit ourselves to relations with, in most cases, non-democratic authoritarian regimes.

This would entail support for civil society and pro-democratic groups, NGOs and those who want to introduce democracy and freedom of expression in those countries.

We need to run a much more value-based policy, to have much more respect for ordinary citizens of those countries, and to be much less tolerant or permissive of authoritarian regimes. Our policy towards the South has to be much more generous towards the people on one hand, and much more demanding towards those who govern on the other.

An approach, preferred by some, which says 'if there is a problem, let's give more money', is not a sufficient answer.

Firstly we need to revise our Neighbourhood Policy. The current review of this policy conducted by the European Commission could be an excellent opportunity to introduce urgent and necessary changes. They are needed both in the tectonic South and in the East, where the EU is in retreat.

It is a fundamental mistake to believe that there is a zero-sum game between the South and East dimensions of our neighbourhood. Both directions are equally underfinanced and neglected. Per capita indications of our funding are very close – 3.6 euros per capita in the East and 3.3 euro per capita in the South.

However, the problem is not only that our financial effort is not sufficient, but also that it is wrongly allocated. And it is not only money which counts. We need to start using different sets of tools and different types of policy.

In the medium and long run our policy needs to help to build self-sustained countries with democratically-elected authorities, self-governing societies, strong civil society dimensions and free media. That can be done by various means, not only by sending money.

There is a role to be played by various public actors in the EU, e.g. business circles should help the business sector there. The same goes for trade unions, for journalists and other media, for universities and academia, for young people and students, and many more. Every sector of the society in our neighbourhood, both South and East, should be taken care of by the respective EU public sectors.

For the upcoming Polish EU Presidency, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) i.e. both east and south, is a top priority. We believe that the ENP is indivisible and that the ultimate goal is to establish a ring of friends around us and a ring of friends among the countries themselves – from Morocco to Belarus.

This is a precondition of our own security and prosperity, and also a test for the EU's foreign policy. With energy prices rising, we now see what impact such situations in our neighbourhood might have on our economic security, growth, trade, prices and jobs.

It is thus not only our moral duty, but also in our security and economic interests, to help build around us a ring of democratic and prosperous countries. We should care, to the same extent, about our neighbourhood wherever it lies – East or South, South or East. They both deserve equal attention and symmetric financing. 

At the same time, we should benefit from those who have know-how of how to run such a transition-oriented neighbourhood policy, and use it wherever: for example, the experience of transformation in Central and Eastern Europe can be useful in the South.

I think that more than money, what is needed is a new paradigm of support for the transition to democracy and the transition to a normal economy; a policy which once was the playground of those countries which are still called 'new member states'. A policy which will more or less resemble what we are trying to pursue with the countries in the Neighbourhood East.

I would advise merging the knowledge and sensitivity of the southern flank of Europe towards North Africa-Middle East with the know-how that is not in the South but in the Eastern flank of the Union.

We should build upon this synergy and put into use the transition know-how which we have today thanks to the Central-Eastern European experience, which forms part of our common acquis and heritage.

I believe it plays in our favour that in these difficult and challenging times we have the Hungarian Presidency, to be followed by the Polish one, and that the commissioner for the ENP comes from Central and Eastern Europe.

We need to help the change and not petrify the status quo. And that is the essence of the experience of Central and Eastern Europe."

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