FONDAZIONE LABORATORIO MEDITERRANEO
Reaffirming the value of partnerships through civil society
THE PALERMO’S CHALLENGE
by Michele CAPASSO
President of the Fondazione Laboratorio Mediterraneo
Palermo, June 4th 1998. 2:00 p.m., Press Room of Villa Igiea. Journalists, diplomats, specialists are waiting for the conclusions of the half-way Euro-Mediterranean Conference. The Conference is chaired by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs Lamberto Dini and Robin Cook (United Kingdom), and the latter is the one who outlines the conclusions summarized below: “This meeting in Palermo was conceived as an additional and ad-hoc event, out of the normal cycle of ministerial conferences. In order to review the progresses achieved in the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, since its historic beginning in Barcelona, and give a new impetus and pave the way for the next ministerial conference, which will take place in Stuttgart in April 1999, we have had this meeting to debate about the three chapters of the partnership: peace and stability, free exchange area, role of culture and Civil Society”. Once we have confirmed our commitment in the partnership and established our priorities for the next year, we have discussed the relationships among the Euro-Mediterranean partners and the initiatives started in order to grant peace, stability, and the development of the region; the support that the Process of Barcelona can grant to Middle-East peace process has been recognized by everyone as well as the role of the Union. The idea of global stability and the development of a shared perception of factors helping in reaching such a goal are leading to the production of a Charter for peace and stability. The serious threat uttered by terrorism against many objectives of the peace process makes the strengthening of our preventing actions necessary.
As for the economic and financial chapter, it is essential to create a shared area of prosperity including three important elements: free trading creation, reforms aimed at favouring the economic transition and actions designed to support private investments. The agreements of individual association between the Union and the partner countries represent a vital condition in creating the Euro-Mediterranean free trade area. Following the Conference in La Valletta, the first agreement with Tunisia has already come into force, and another agreement has been signed with Jordan.
The partner Countries have expressed their worries about the time needed to ratify the agreements all over the Union, and we hope that quick progresses are going to take place in the negotiations with Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Algeria: to this end, a generally satisfying compromise about agriculture has been acknowledged necessary by everyone. Regional and sub-regional cooperation and integration must be developed and it is necessary to add the cumulation on the rules of origin. As for the reform process concerning the economic transition we have recognized that the modes of this reform can be changed, but it is a process which must be constantly supported by the Union.
The recent meeting organized by the Commission has helped in improving the comprehension of MEDA Program, which is satisfyingly working globally, stressing some aspects related to its application and confirming that it is necessary to carry on the efforts aimed at realizing it and maintaining the constant dialogue with the Mediterranean partners, which are essential in this case.
Private investments will be decisive for the partnership´s success and the essential role of the European Investment Bank, which supports the development of the infrastructures all over the area and in private and financial fields, has been recognized. Besides, as established in Barcelona, the negotiations concerning the debt have to be performed in the appropriate places, not within the partnership. But, everyone of us wants to include the debt in the enduring dialogue concerning economic and financial issues. We have noticed the progress reached in fields like the short and long term action plan for environment, the information system about water, the energy forum: A ministerial meeting about industry is taking place next October in Austria in order to come to a further progress in industrial cooperation.
As for the partnership in social, cultural and human subjects, the Euro-Mediterranean process has to be accessible above all to our countries’ citizens: The Civil Society must hold a key role in the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, and this is the reason why we have appreciated the Commission’s decision to re-launch a decentralized cooperation program. Cultural cooperation has to be consolidated in larger skeleton programs concerning issues like heritage and audio/visual media and we recommended the result of the Luxemburg’s meeting about education, affirming the will to work in order to prepare a ministerial conference about culture in Greece in September. In conclusion, we have had a very constructive meeting; the partnership and the work we are doing are more accessible, more visible to our citizens and the whole world and we laid the foundations for the 3rd Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference to be held in Stuttgart in April 1999. I think that the foundations laid today are going to be decisive for the success everyone of us is wishing". Cook’s conclusions should feed good expectations. Notwithstanding, the dialogue between Civil society and institutions is still very difficult: the obstacle of bureaucracy seems to be insuperable and we cannot accept that hundreds of institutions (Universities, Cities, Regions, Research Centres, etc.) are mostly ignored or disregarded. Measures established by the EU in order to support the Euro-Mediterranean partnership need clearness and celerity. All this represents an answer that the civil society is waiting and steadily expecting. Wasting time, resources and hopes must not be allowed any more.