Foreign ministers of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) countries are meeting in Barcelona this Thursday to discuss ways of strengthening Euro-Mediterranean cooperation and facing the climate challenges that threaten economic development in the region.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat on the eve of the conference, UfM Secretary-General Ambassador Nasser Kamel said the Euro-Mediterranean region, with its 43 states did not have an option but to become a cooperative and integrated bloc if it wanted to have its voice heard in tomorrow’s world.
“The geostrategic situation and the relative stability of the region had given way to further strengthening regional cooperation in all matters relating to sustainable development in the Mediterranean basin,” he noted.
“Tomorrow (Thursday), we need to review the Union’s activities in our six areas of interest, including climate change, new and renewable energy, business and trade, scientific research and education, social affairs, specifically women’s and youth empowerment, infrastructure and urban development, and environment and water,” Kamel underlined.
He explained that the evaluation of the Union’s activities would be based on the road map adopted by the UfM foreign ministers in 2017, noting that the participants would also set the necessary directives to give a new impetus to the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation 25 years after the announcement of the Barcelona Declaration.
Asked about cooperation between North and South Mediterranean countries, given the economic disparities and various political challenges, Kamel said: “This cooperation is not only a political will, I think it is an urgent necessity. The past ten years have unquestionably confirmed that what happens in one of the two shores of the Mediterranean adversely or negatively affects the opposite bank.”
He went on to say that the effects of the so-called “Arab Spring” had real repercussions on EU countries, mainly the emigration crisis and its resulting tension.
“The Euro-Mediterranean region, with its 43 countries… can only become a cooperative and integrated bloc if it is to have a voice in tomorrow’s world, where economic powers such as China and India are rising alongside the American economic giant. Thus, regional integration is not an option; it is now inevitable, so our voice can be heard in the international economic scene,” Kamel emphasized.
On whether the UfM foreign ministers meeting would adopt a plan of action to reverse the effects of climate change, in light with the recent report on climate change in the region, he said: “The Union for the Mediterranean is a regional window for the implementation of the sustainable development goals set by the international community through the United Nations. One of the priorities of these goals is to deal with climate change.”
He noted that a network of more than 80 scientists from across the Euro-Mediterranean region (Medecc) undertook a major and unprecedented report to serve as the largest scientific assessment of regional climate and environmental change in the Mediterranean region.
The study concluded that the Mediterranean region was the second most affected by climate change, after Antarctica, he warned.
He stressed that the potential repercussions of climate change led the UfM to address the issue from a holistic perspective and saw it as an opportunity to promote economic and commercial cooperation and integration “based on a blue economy that is capable of dealing with the inevitable negative impacts of climate change on one hand, and creating jobs and economic growth associated with sustainable and environmentally-friendly development on the other.”
Kamel underlined several initiatives launched by Mediterranean countries to protect the environment, including the experiences of Egypt and Morocco in the field of new and renewable energy.
“The two countries have decided to invest for years in solar energy, where they have developed one of the largest solar power plants in the world. The same applies to wind power in a number of countries, such as Jordan and Tunisia,” he remarked.
The UfM secretary-general also touched on economic cooperation between Mediterranean countries, saying that it had improved relatively over the past three years.
“Although there are some hotbeds of tension in the Mediterranean basin, the degree of political stability has increased, along with the economic growth rates in the southern Mediterranean countries, which reached about 3 percent in some countries and exceeded 5 and 6 percent in both Egypt and Morocco,” he stated, adding: “But the challenge we have not yet achieved is to create a comprehensive Euro-Mediterranean free trade area. The reasons, of course, are known: the absence of a just settlement of the Palestinian issue.”
On the emigration file, Kamel emphasized that the crisis reached its climax in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
“What we are witnessing today is by no means comparable to previous flows. This is due to the relative improvement in the political and economic conditions of the countries of the region and the more effective policies of controlling illegal immigration in the countries of the North and South,” he affirmed.