From Region-Building to Bilateralism to Localism? Shifting Patterns in Relations between Europe and the MENA Region


While region-building was at the core of Euro-Mediterranean relations under the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (1995), it has been surpassed in relevance by bilateralism since the launch of the European Neighbourhood Policy(2004), the last edition of which (2015) further emphasises bilateralism across the Mediterranean. However, the reality on the ground shows how even bilateral relations across the Mediterranean seem of less direct relevance to the politics of the area than local actors, articulating a tension between national actors and sub-national ones including (and arguably most notably) non-state actors, often challenging states’ monopoly of force (from the civil wars in Syria and Libya to terrorism in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as in Belgium and France). Some scholars have also highlighted that the EU did not actually exhibit a true understanding of the composition of civilsocieties in the south (which is characterized for instance by influential trade unions, numerous governmental NGOs, and disguised religious NGOs). The EU means for funding and empowering CSOs is also controversial,which could be highlighted when critically assess the functioning of the still-budding EU's Civil Society Facility and Endowment for Democracy. More generally, it can be argued that regional and national actors (such as the EU and Mediterranean states) are intent in severing relations across the Mediterranean, in an attempt to stemmigration and stop terrorism, which indicates in many ways the (re)-prioritization of stability and security considerations over democracy promotion ones.

How widespread across the Mediterranean do we consider this trend (from region-building to bilateralism to localism)? How does it affect dynamics in the area? How can we characterise relations between localism and globalisation in this part of the world? What type of picture emerges in terms of networks (of people, trade, alliances), political allegiances, and patterns of territorial control? What kind of policy options does this present,especially for the European actors most committed to relations beyond the nation state? This author-workshop seeks to examine this broad topic and this set of questions by focusing on four more specific aspects and questions:

1. How can we best characterise security challenges in the Mediterranean and at which level? What are the most appropriate responses and why? Are sovereignty-building measures the new option, while security-, confidence- and trust-building measures are on the way out?

While the goal, at least in EU discourse, was to create a region of peace and security in the Mediterranean, thisarea seems to increasingly emerge as a regional insecurity complex, brought together by common security challenges rather than by the expectations of peaceful change. Beyond the obvious labels of civil war and terrorism, at what level are patterns of violence in the Mediterranean situated? What policy options do they confront policy makers with?

2. Is stability pre-empting the need for the universal values? To what extent is the new articulation of theENP, which highlights “the pressing need for stabilization” in the Arab southern Mediterranean, compatible with the EU’s normative approach, which stresses the need to promote universal values,democracy, human rights, rule of law, and economic openness?

This point is important, since the three questions of radicalization/terrorism, migration/refugees, and energy are particularly highlighted in the new ENP, which implicitly indicates the supremacy of security concerns that provoked the revision of November 2015. Again, the new EU plan to achieve the long-sought difficult balance between democracy considerations and pressing stability/security short-term requirements merits further scrutiny.

3. What are the suitable economic approaches and incentives to sustainable development?

With a specific regard to the economics aspect, it is important to pose the question of how the new ENP “will play its part in helping to create the conditions for positive development”. Also, how the pressing need for political and economic stabilization is dealt with in the new ENP?, and to what extent the EU approach to economic development is appropriate and suitable to the various economies of the southern Mediterranean?

4. What does “deep democracy” and “deeper engagement” with civil society mean in the contemporary Mediterranean context?How does the EU pursue the objective of achieving “deeper engagement” with civil society and social partners in Arab countries?

This question entails various analyses on: how the EU defines civil society and social partners in various Arab contexts? To what extent the EU’s civil society facility and the European Endowment for Democracy helped during the past few years in engaging with local actors? What are the challenges and opportunities for the EU to engage with Arab civil societies in what is increasingly becoming highly securitized contexts?

Find the program here (pdf)

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