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The European Union and the Arab Spring…

The Arab Spring caused a new energetic consideration on the part of the European Union. These considerations were in relation to support modes for the transition from the authoritarianism to the democratization in the southern countries of the Mediterranean Sea.

One obstacle to aid is represented by the Union for the Mediterranean. The multilateral Union is considered too heterogeneous, with its 43 members, for political cooperation. Similarly it is too heterogeneous for the achievement of arrangements in reference to mechanisms of a sub-regional collaboration. France used an inter-governmental approach, making bilateral deals to gain the leadership in the partnership. However the French activism was unsuitable and that initiative never got off the ground. Failure was clear before Tunisian uprisings because of the postponement of the Union for the Mediterranean’s summit and of the useless attempts to renew the co-presidency.

Democratic uprisings, which took place in the countries on the south-east bank of the Mediterranean, imply a radical change in the European approach to euro-Mediterranean relations. As highlighted before, these relations have always been characterized by economic concerns, based on the false belief that if these countries’ economies had attracted foreign investments then globalisation would have brought well-being and prosperity to them.

The unrealistic European politics, whereby economic progress would have automatically triggered similar political and social progress, was an out-and-out collapse. Indeed Arab uprisings showed how euro-Mediterranean politics are weak regarding the introduction of democracy in these countries. They also show that political and social challenges must have the priority on euro-Mediterranean relations.

The Union for the Mediterranean’s strategy is to ignore social and political dimensions to endear authoritarian local leaders, whilst also leading several real projects (although not carried out yet), however this must be called into question. The European Union has always supported fragile local regimes, pretending to ignore their abuses on human rights; these regimes were considered as the lesser of two evils in a region supposedly torn apart by religious extremism, or even as secure allies to pursue their foreign policy plan for economical and energetic interests and for immigration management. In doing this they are giving priority to this issue rather than to the accomplishment of universal norms in relation to human rights. For a long period of time these regimes have persuaded their European partners that a change towards democracy would have poured out Islamic fundamentalist movements, with the imposition of the sharia law, increasing inequalities and leading to inner instability. Concerning this it is important to remember that in the various squares of the cities, demonstrators pronounced slogans in the name of civil rights and not of Islam.

Therefore the European Union should revise the whole euro-Mediterranean policy and revisit past initiatives to pursue them in a more consistent way.

The European Commission and the European External Action Service put forward proposals for the reorientation of the policy, with an Arabic translation, first towards the Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity’s support. They also pushed towards proposals arisen by a revision of the European Neighbourhood Policy and by the creation of a new “Task Force for the southern Mediterranean”. However more radical ideas, such as the visas’ liberalization and a wider access for fruit and vegetable products to the market, have already received cold responses from the member states. In the meantime the idea to create a “European Fund for the Democracy and the Civil Society” exists only as a draft.