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from issue no. 06 - 2005

For a more Mediterranean Europe

The lecture given by the former President of the autonomous government of Catalonia on 19 May 2005 in Rome, as part of the initiative promoted by the Observatory of the Mediterranean. Budget and prospects of the Barcelona Process ten years after its creation

by Jordi Pujol

Jordi Pujol

Jordi Pujol

The Barcelona Process began with the Barcelona Conference in the November of 1995 as an initiative of the Spanish government and its president, Felipe González, who in the second six months of 1995 also occupied the chairmanship of the European Union. Naturally there were antecedents. For some time Spain had been trying to draw the attention of the governments of the EU to the Mediterranean: there had in fact been in Spain, already for some time, a certain concern for the Mediterranean theme, in general little shared within the EU.
I hope that you will courteously allow me to explain the whole question not only from the Spanish, but also from the Catalan point of view, in the first place because of a professional deformation, meaning that for twenty three years I was president of the autonomous government of Catalonia and, in that post, I worked for a long time on this theme; secondly, because the initial and increasingly insistent demand for a Spanish Mediterranean policy came, in effect, precisely from Catalonia.
In 1987 the government of Catalonia initiated a campaign of contacts and conferences around Europe on two themes: on the Mediterranean in general and, in line with a more specifically Catalan interest, on the role and possibilities of the north-western Mediterranean, that is the north of Italy, the French Mediterranean coast and the Spanish Mediterranean coast up to Valencia and Alicante. We discussed these themes from Stockholm to Cairo, from Bruxelles to Munich and, naturally, in Casablanca and Tunis.
Now, however, I shall refer to the overall European argument, that is to the necessity, from our point of view, for the EU to pay more attention to the Mediterranean.
We strove at the time to make it clear that the interest of the EU was focused chiefly on central Europe and very little on southern Europe and the Mediterranean. Up till then this lack of interest had been very marked, despite the fact that Italy had participated in the process of integration from the first moment and had been a particularly dynamic country within the EEC. But the weight of the Franco-German axis, the principal worry represented by the communist countries of the East and the physical and mental distance of Great Britain made the Mediterranean an altogether secondary area. I remember that toward 1988, at a meeting of the “Jean Monnet” Committee in Paris, in reply to what I had said on the necessity of turning attention to the Mediterranean, Edward Heath, former British prime minister, left me speechless by the following remark: «But are you really sure, Pujol, that the Mediterranean theme is so important?»
But changes came toward 1990. On the one hand, the entry of Spain, Portugal and Greece into the EEC, strengthening the presence and weight of Italy, had shifted the center of gravity of Europe southwards. On the other, once the Iron Curtain had fallen, it had become more evident that the most problematic frontier of Europe was the Mediterranean. It was the frontier of underdevelopment, of the demographic explosion, of large migratory movements, of fundamentalism and of terrorism. Our admonitions on the importance of the Mediterranean then received greater acceptance.
All that had occurred contemporaneously with important progress in relations between Spain and Morocco and with a moment of prestige for Spain, made evident, among other things, by the 1991 Madrid conference on the Near East and the Oslo Conference. I must say, however – and I hope this gives offence to no one – that I was quite surprised by the fact that France and Italy did not exert much pressure to keep the Mediterranean in greater consideration. The attitude of France didn’t astonish me all that much, since I know that her obsession has always been with Germany and that, despite her interest in the Mediterranean, she always considered it a secondary matter. Italy’s attitude astonished me more.
Finally, in the second quarter of 1995 the favorable circumstances mentioned earlier coincided with the Spanish chairmanship of the EU. It was a moment in which the relations of Felipe González with Chancellor Kohl, Jacques Delors and President Mitterrand were particularly good. In that period, besides, the socialist government in Spain could only govern thanks to the parliamentary support of the Catalan nationalists, in particular of the CIU (Convergència i unió); and we asked with great insistence for a European policy more concerned with the Mediterranean.
Out of all that this came a strong demand by the Spanish government, which met a receptive attitude on the part of the Commission and, in general, of the countries of the EU.
So that you may understand the importance that this matter had for us in Catalonia, let me relate a particular episode. In September 1995 I went to Felipe González, the president of the Spanish government, to tell him that my party could no longer support his government, which was in the minority and depended on our votes. That meant early elections. The president understood the situation, but we agreed on not dissolving Parliament until the end of the year so that he would be able to complete the Spanish term as European chairman following two fundamental objectives: negotiating the funds of European membership and backing a new European policy on the Mediterranean through the Barcelona Conference. The Spanish political situation was very tense and the socialist government had lost public support. My party then had to bear much criticism for not having let the government collapse immediately. But the two objectives of which I have spoken weighed more in our minds than all the criticism.
On 28 December, at the conclusion of the semester of Spanish chairmanship of the EU, when the Conference had taken place successfully and the Barcelona Process was under way, a year before the end of the legislature, President González called the elections.
As I said, the Conference was a success. For the first time the EU, through the Meda program, had made a truly important economic commitment toward the north and south coasts. And in fact the commitment was above all to the south coast. For the first time the EU had manifested a clear political will in the matter. The prospects for the Process looked favorable.
It is well to remember that the Barcelona Conference was immediately followed by the Euro-Mediterranean Social Forum, which also took place in Barcelona. This event entailed the mobilization of the governing bodies of the European countries and institutions, but also of civil society, both in the North and of the South. The Forum also turned out a success.
Everyone was in agreement on the need to act quickly. The economic, demographic and social imbalances between the north and south coasts were becoming ever greater.
Unfortunately, however, ten years later the balance sheet is not positive. The favorable push did not last long, for a variety of reasons. First because in the second half of the ’nineties there were many conflicts in the Mediterranean area: civil war in Algeria, tension between Greece and Turkey (something that led Greece to block the application of the Meda program for a certain period) and, above all, the worsening of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The conflict in the Balkans meant a slowing-down, especially for Italy. Furthermore the primary objective for Spain and Italy was to assure their own entry into the EMU (Economic and Monetary Union). The rest was secondary. Finally the profound change in Spain was very negative. From the great promoter of the process that it had been, it began to lose interest. Spanish policy towards Morocco also changed for the worse. But in fact the whole of the EU has shown scarce commitment. And the Community administration has been fairly inflexible, indeed do-nothing.
It should be said that not even the response of the countries of the south coast has been very effective.
Proper development in these countries will only be possible through a process of serious and efficient reforms: democratization, improved efficiency and transparency in state administration, more rapidity and certainty in the administration of justice. It isn’t that there haven’t been positive steps in this direction since 1995 (in Morocco, for example, there has been obvious progress), but overall there has been a lack of agility and decision.
I say all this with a degree of disappointment. First of all because when I was president of Catalonia, from 1980 to 2003, the promotion of a Mediterranean policy was one of my goals – and was in general an objective of Catalonia – and I have to accept that our attempts at restarting the Process have turned out to be vain. In particular the government of the Partido popular has lost interest, despite the personal opinion in favor of Piqué, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Secondly because the damage has not been only for the south coast, but for the whole of the Mediterranean and for all southern Europe. And that has had particularly negative repercussions because in these years the EU has expanded north (the Scandinavian countries) and above all eastwards. This aspect alone represents, perforce, a loss of influence for southern Europe, that a powerful and productive Barcelona Process could in part have held back.
In the meantime, the distance between the north and south of the Mediterranean has become ever greater.
But now, exactly ten years after the Barcelona Conference, the circumstances are in my judgment such as to make possible a vigorous relaunch of the Process.
First of all the EU has finally set itself the problem of its neighborhood, of its neighbors. It’s true that it is setting the problem especially in terms of Turkey and the Ukraine, and even in terms of Russia, but, once the process has begun, the Mediterranean can’t be left out.
Secondly, the current Spanish government wants to maintain good relations with Morocco and with all the Maghreb. And wants to use the occasion of the tenth anniversary to relaunch the Process.
Thirdly, the Mediterranean conflicts of the mid ’nineties have been resolved or are considerably improved (Turkish-Greek tension, Balkan conflicts, civil war in Algeria, etc.). And, as I have said, Morocco has progressed from the democratic and civil point of view.
Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González during the Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Barcelona in 1995

Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González during the Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Barcelona in 1995

In fourth place, the considerable immigration from the south of the Mediterranean has sensitized European public opinion and governments.
In more general terms, one can say that everything that has to do with Islam is thought of much more interest today than ten years ago.
There is also, finally, greater awareness of the need to combat underdevelopment. This has been contributed to by very diverse factors such as globalization, terrorism, mass immigration and greater sensitization of global - and more specifically of European - consciousness. Evidence for this is the proposal from Great Britain that this time Gordon Brown has defended in the international arena and that Tony Blair will take to the G7. Further evidence is the fact that in the EU there is talk of putting a tax on air fares to be directed to encouraging the growth of the less developed countries. I don’t know whether this is the best yardstick, another one might be more effective, but it is evidence of change in mentality. It is also well to remember that some economists, such as Jeffrey Sachs, talk of “the end of poverty”, and talk of it in the belief that it is indeed possible; in part because we are now going through a very generalized economic growth; in part because various countries, such as Brazil, South Africa, India, etc., but also other smaller ones, are acting with great efficiency; and again, because in the richer countries it has begun to be understood that there are problems that concern all us – among them terrorism - that cannot be solved without great and very widespread economic and social progress. In our case, it is beginning to be understood that some problems that seriously concern Europe – above all terrorism and immigration - will be resolved only by better cooperation between North and South.
I have not spoken in technical or statistical terms. That the distance between the north and the south of the Mediterranean is still very great, that it has indeed not diminished, depite the fact that some steps forward have been made on the south coast, is all too evident.The facts, indeed, are available to all. What we must discuss is how to bring about an effective political initiative.
Allow me then to insist on a point. Finally, as I have said, though too late, the EU is beginning to set itself the question of its neighbors. It could be that the Union offers some countries a strategic agreement of an economic and social nature - also in fact political - without, however, contemplating the possibility of integration. Personally, I believe that this should have been done twenty years ago with Turkey. Now it’s late, despite the fact that there is still considerable resistance to Turkey’s entry.
Again twenty years ago, King Hassan asked for Morocco to be allowed to join the EU. The response was negative obviously. But the EU should not restrict itself to saying no. It should seriously study a proposal for very close collaboration with the countries of North Africa. A little on the line of “everything but institutions”; that is to say, not being a member of the Union but establishing a very privileged economic and social relation with it. And I believe that Italy and Spain should take the initiative in this matter.
However, I repeat, the Spanish government wants to take the opportunity of this tenth anniversary to relaunch the Process. What is Italy’s position, and what is that of France? What is the position of the EU?
The expansion to the East and the Russian problems, or the still unresolved tensions of some European countries with the US, may result in the EU continuing to fail to take an interest in the Mediterranean. It would be a serious mistake that Italy and Spain above all should avoid.

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