Building Connections - Regional Programme Political Dialogue and regional Integration in the Southern Mediterranean
President Ursula Von der Leyen's 2019 declarations regarding the desire to launch a more geopolitical EU Commission – one keen on more proactive and effective international projection in view of the goal of European strategic autonomy – have often remained on paper. As a matter of fact, the health crisis first, then the ensuing economic crisis, and finally the difficulties in the energy and defence domains due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine have forced purely reactive measures, taking away space for other initiatives.
Europe cannot risk focusing its efforts on a single front, namely the defence of Ukraine, while forgetting its Mediterranean and African neighbours. Not least because the same actors that threaten security and economic relations on a global level, Russia and China, are increasingly present in the MENA region, while regional actors such as Gulf countries and Turkey are also advancing their strategies in the area. It is therefore necessary for Europe, in view of the new European elections and the new Commission to be appointed in 2024, to go back to designing fruitful relations with the EU Southern Neighbourhood, so as to avoid falling victim to new arising crises without due preparation, and to outline its strategy to engage with other actors involved in the region at its own terms.
Against this backdrop, the need to overcome previous patterns and past projects – from the Barcelona Process to the EU Neighbourhood Policy – is dictated by a broader competition over the region in comparison with the past, as well as by evidence that the EU southward approach – geopolitically speaking as well as the level of more sectorial policies – has much room for improvement.
In this sense, a new European narrative and policy based on a partnership between equals, on mutual economic benefit, inclusiveness, and sustainability is increasingly needed. To do so, the EU should adopt a more pragmatic approach, drawing on a tool such as the EU Global Gateway, and increasingly orient it towards its Southern Neighbourhood with the ultimate goal of economically developing and politically stabilizing an area of renewed centrality.
While reviewing its main pillars of engagement with the region, such as conditionality, in a more effective way and in tune with the current dynamics of power, Europe should not put aside its principles on the respect for human rights and the rule of law. Rather, it should work to promote them hand in hand with greater socioeconomic opportunities for the countries in the area, thus also creating solid alternatives to the phenomenon of emigration to Europe.