Mixed Results

With currently 25 EU members and 10 Mediterranean countries participating in the project, the Barcelona process is something of a diplomatic masterwork in European multilateralism. Ten years after its initiation, Isabel Schäfer takes stock

Logo Euromed Partnership
The November 1995 EU conference of foreign ministers was the starting point for the Barcelona Process, also referred to as 'Euro-Mediterranean Partnership'

​​Established in 1995 in Barcelona, Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP), also called the Barcelona Process, is so far the most comprehensive attempt by the European Union to draft a regional concept for the Mediterranean that is global in scope. The EMP was considered the most ambitious example of what future European foreign policy towards third-party countries could look like.

The fact that first 15 and now 25 EU member nations and originally 12 and now 10 Mediterranean countries participated in the Process, some of them with ongoing conflicts among each other, makes this something of a diplomatic masterwork in European multilateralism.

The Oslo Treaty and the spirit of partnership

The foundational phase was in fact characterized by a spirit of partnership. This was possible above all because the Oslo Treaty of 1993 had eased tensions in the Middle East conflict. In the following years, however, realizing the goals of the EMP often proved more difficult than initially hoped.

The original innovative concept of the EMP was based on dividing the agreement up into three separate areas that are closely related: a political and defense partnership with the goal of establishing a region of peace and stability in the Mediterranean; an economic and financial partnership with the objective of establishing a free trade zone by 2010; and a partnership in the cultural, social and humanitarian spheres aimed at forging closer ties with Mediterranean society.

In order to successfully realize the plan, interaction between these three different areas would be necessary. But, for example, the notion that economic liberalization will automatically lead to political liberalization in the Arabic Mediterranean partner countries was quickly revised.

The involvement of civil society

Also new was the attempt to increase cooperation simultaneously at both the regional and the bilateral level, whereby the EMP is only about 10% related to the regional level. Further, another new aspect was the attempt to support reform "from within" and to go beyond collaboration solely at the state level by having civil society become involved.

The 10 Mediterranean countires participating in the process are: Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Cyprus, Malta and Turkey. In May 2004 Malta and Cyprus joined the EU.While the conceptualization of the EMP still offers an appropriate context for cooperation between the EU and the southern and eastern Mediterranean region, the results concerning its concrete realization are rather mixed.

One of the main projects in the political and defense partnership was the Charta for Peace and Stability, which was meant as a code of conduct for peaceful conflict management and was supposed to guarantee ongoing political dialog.

The Charta has not yet been signed because political dialogue has hit a dead end, primarily due to the failure of the Middle East peace process after 1996. It was for the same reason that all official foreign minister conferences took place on European soil and were boycotted by Syria and Lebanon in protest of Israeli policies in the occupied territories.

Informal discussions of Middle East conflict actors

A partial success can be noted for the first area of the partnership, however, in so far as informal discussions took place between the actors involved in the Middle East conflict, even if the official peace process talks were broken off.

Trust building measures are also taking place, for example a regular meeting of senior officials, the research network EuroMesCo, or informational exchanges about maneuvers. But the EU is not making use of the conditionality clause embedded in the association treaty; the Europeans are hardly exerting political pressure on the regimes of the "partner countries" concerning human rights issues, and they are neglecting the stipulation of democratization in favor of economic cooperation and political "stability."

The role of the economy and regional integration

The economic and financial partnership is the core part of the process and has thus far progressed the furthest. The EU has bilateral association agreements with all participating Mediterranean states, with the exception of Syria. Thus the first stage of establishing the planned free trade zone has been accomplished.

The next step will be furthering regional integration by having the Mediterranean countries sign free trade treaties among themselves based on the model of the 2004 Agadir Agreement.

Fundamental problems still exist for example in the underdeveloped private sector, the lack of direct foreign investments, continuing limits on trade, and lacking modernization and diversification of production.

Success in the area of cultural cooperation

With the cultural and social partnership the EU is acknowledging the cultural dimension of its foreign relations with the third-party Mediterranean countries. While the accomplishments in difficult areas of cooperation such as fighting international terrorism or respect for human rights are rather minimal, a few successes can be claimed in the area of cultural cooperation.

Numerous conferences and cultural activities have taken place, and the regional programs Euromed Heritage and Euromed Audivisual have been launched. Representatives of civil society meet regularly at the Euromed Civil Forum. The Anna Lindh Foundation for Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Dialogue started its work in Alexandria in the spring of 2005. This is the first institution on Arabic soil to stem from the Barcelona Process and it therefore has great symbolic value.

Via the cultural programs, cultural actors from around the Mediterranean region can realize projects together that will contribute to sustainable development and the transfer of technological know-how.

The pressing issue of migration – unresolved

Little has so far been undertaken on the issue of migration and no constructive plans have been worked out to address, for example, the situation of refugees on the borders between Morocco and Spain or Italy. The initial goal of improving the living conditions in North African societies in order to cut down the number of people migrating to Europe still seems a long way off.

Isabel Schäfer

​​Isabel Schäfer is among the academic staff of the study group Politics in the Middle East at the Free University of Berlin, Germany. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is one of her main areas of research.This is where the contradiction inherent to the Barcelona Process becomes visible: on the one hand the Mediterranean is being reinvented politically and culturally, in so far as attempts are being made to create a space of mutual understanding, peace and stability; but on the other hand the EU is fervently working towards sealing its borders even tighter than ever.

Co-ownership among the southern and eastern Mediterranean partners in the EMP is still very minimal. Among the EU member states, individual countries such as France, Spain and Italy are very active in the process, others are less so; a counter-productive atmosphere of competition has partly arisen, also among non-state actors.

There are constant complaints about the lack of visibility for the measures and for the EMP itself as a whole. The European Neighborhood Policy is supposed to complement the EMP and not replace it, but from a medium-term perspective this implies a return to bilateralism and neglect of regional cooperation within the EMP.

The US and the EMP

While the results in realizing the EMP have so far been partly disappointing, Europe's foreign policy approach as embodied by the EMP is experiencing an upturn internationally, as the debates about reforms in the Arabic world have shown. The EMP is the core piece of the new "strategic partnership between the EU, the Mediterranean and the Middle East." Even the United States is suddenly interested in the EMP.

The Process has made a contribution to furthering the participating actors' feeling of collective responsibility for the Mediterranean region. Mutual prejudices were dispelled and new transnational networks were created in the region which have now taken on their own dynamic. Bringing together European society and its southern and eastern Mediterranean neighbors is a long-term process that will not happen overnight.

This means that the high and often unrealistic expectations put on the Barcelona Process should be rethought. Even if not much is left today of the initial spirit of partnership, the goals of the EMP still make sense. The instruments for its implementation could be improved on, however.

Isabel Schäfer

© Qantara.de 2005

Translated from the German by Christina M. White


Ten Years Euro-Mediterranean Partnership
Questioning the State of the Cooperation
Commentators in the Arab world are increasingly criticising that the EU has been reducing the Euro-Mediterranean partnership to a joint struggle against terrorism, drug-trading and illegal immigration. By Götz Nordbruch

Euro-Mediterranean Partnership
Europe's Trump Card
Europe must not leave all the playing cards in America's hands regarding their "Greater Middle East" project. Especially since Europe itself has some trump cards, like the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. By Sarah Wolff

EU Agreement with Syria
Still Reaching Out
While the USA is keeping up the pressure on Syria, Europe is still working to intensify relations, with the EU partnership agreement. Following the elections in Lebanon, the last hurdle is coming up: the approval of all 25 of the EUs' foreign ministers. Manuela Römer reports from Damascus


  • Website EU Euro-Mediterranean Partnership
  • Website Anna Lindh Foundation