International Spectator

The International Spectator

Volume XXXIII No. 4 (October-December 1998)


Re-Setting the Euro-Mediterranean Security Agenda 1
By Roberto Aliboni


In its three years of existence, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) has duly progressed in implementing its agenda of economic cooperation. Less so in fleshing out the various aspects of the security cooperation envisaged by the first and third chapter of the Barcelona Declaration, that is, “hard” and “soft” security, respectively. 2

The balance sheet, after the second ministerial meeting in Malta (15-16 April 1997) and the ad hoc ministerial meeting in Palermo (4-5 June 1998) is somehow disappointing. Cooperation in the field of soft security has not seen any significant progress. As for hard security, only few CBMs have been approved. At the Palermo meeting, the Presidency’s concluding remarks pointed out the parties’ intention to pursue talks on the Charter, the instrument that is meant to regulate security relations, but no significant change in the South’s negative or reluctant attitudes to the approval of such an instrument seems in sight.

Apparently, the factor that hinders progress in the EMP’s “area of peace and stability” is the standstill in the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP). The connection was very clear and obvious at the time of the Malta ministerial meeting. Though there can be no doubt that a success in the MEPP would allow the EMP to proceed towards a more or less significant implementation of its “area of peace and stability”, it must be pointed out that the MEPP standstill is but a proximate cause of EMP difficulties, notably in relation to “hard security” cooperation. In fact, there are structural causes hindering EMP’s implementation above and beyond the fact that a final resolution of the conflict in the Middle East still is slow in coming.


Obstacles to security cooperation in the EMP

The EMP’s ambition to establish an “area of peace and stability” based on cooperation is exposed to a number of challenges of a strategic as well as of a political and institutional character. From a strategic point of view, the “Mediterranean” area is fragmented into a number of diverse disputes and conflicts which are only loosely or not at all linked to one another. On the other hand, it does not make sense to talk about a “Mediterranean” Islamism or a “Mediterranean” arms proliferation. Furthermore, South-South threats come from a range of countries that lie beyond the area contemplated by the EMP (e.g. threats from Iran and Iraq). With respect to this fragmented reality, the multilatera lcooperative security scheme put forward by the EMP may look incongruous.

From a political perspective, it must be pointed out that the Arab countries see the EMP primarily as an instrument for upgrading their political and, above all, economic relations with the European Union. They do not conceive of it as a tool for solving the most important outstanding disputes in the area, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Western Sahara issue. This limitation is embedded in the Barcelona Declaration, which states that the EMP as a security initiative “is not intended to replace the other activities or initiatives undertaken in the interest of the peace” in the area.

Finally, there are institutional challenges to EMP’s congruity with Mediterranean security: do EMP institutions fit with its security agenda? The first such challenge concerns the EU-centric character of EMP. The EMP has not been endowed with its own secretariat; it is the Commission that acts as the de facto secretariat of the EMP. Besides, the Senior Officials’ Committee is chaired by the six-month revolving EU presidency. Such arrangements exacerbate the southern partners’ sense of estrangement from EMP by confirming that it is less attuned to their security needs than to those of the EU.

Another crucial institutional challenge concerns the EU institutional capacities themselves, rather than EMP. The EU is not regarded by its southern Mediterranean partners as a credible political and military power. It is perceived mostly as a “civilian power”, with no inclination and means to get involved in “hard” security policies in the area. The southern partners are fully aware of the weaknesses of the Common and Foreign Security Policy (CFSP) as well as of the weaknesses and ambiguities of the role of the Western European Union (WEU) as the EU’s military arm. Political power still resides in the European national capitals; as for military power, it is shared by the European capitals, the United States and NATO.

The entire politico-military organisation of the West is in a state of flux. But even in such a state, the new role of NATO, the multinational forces (such as Eurofor or SFOR and the ad hoc coalitions for managing crises internationally (such as in Albania or Northern Iraq) are more definite and clear than the role of the European Union and the defence and security identity to which it aspires.


Re-setting the Euro-Mediterranean security agenda

Undoubtedly, in initiating the EMP, the EU intended to make a strong political investment in the security partnership. This stems from two factors: one historical and cultural factor is Europe’s familiarity with and trust in the CSCE/OSCE process; the second is the EU’s need to promote its common defence and security policy and identity as well as its political cohesion (in the face of its growing Eastern relations).

Promoting a cooperative security scheme dealing with “hard security” issues in the Mediterranean for the sake of reinforcing the CFSP and strengthening EU cohesion is a perfectly good and legitimate goal to pursue. It seems clear, however, that for the time being political conditions are not ripe enough to make such a functional relationship feasible. Consequently, while EU’s EMP agenda does not need to be changed for the long term, it must be re-set for the short and medium term. How can the EU bring its EMP agenda more into line with the real political conditions and, perhaps, make it more successful? The last part of this brief comment offers five responses:

Soft security in a comprehensive security framework

Earlier European thinking about Mediterranean security was basically a reflection of the increasing importance of non-military factors on security in the area and the consequent pursuit of “stability” through “comprehensive security”. While there is no doubt that in the longer term and in a wider international context of security cooperation arms control and anti-proliferation policies have to be pursued, in a shorter-medium term perspective EU security interests are better reflected by this earlier conception than by the ambitious chapter on the “area of peace and stability”. As a consequence, in implementing EMP, priority should be given to cooperation in the fields of socio-economic development and soft security. In this sense, priority should be given to achieving what were termed “partnership-building measures” in the statement of British EU President Robin Cook at the end of the ad hoc ministerial meeting in Palermo.

Developing this kind of cooperation is no easier than developing “hard” security cooperation. In fact, interests are uneven and unevenly defined between the north and the south of the Mediterranean. They entail thorny questions, for example, regarding terrorism and migration. The point being made here is that, though interests differ significantly, there are strong incentives for both sides to deal with soft security-related issues. This may bring about the cooperation in the field of security that the partners have been unable to promote so far by concentrating on “hard” security.

Conflict prevention

The EMP was not established to serve as a conflict resolution instrument; since its inception and by its very conceptualisation, it has been meant as an instrument of conflict prevention. This is the substantive meaning of the clause of the Barcelona Declaration stating that the EMP initiative “is not intended to replace the other activities or initiatives undertaken in the interest of the peace” in the area. In the talks held by the Senior Officials since the Declaration, this focus has been somewhat neglected; it should, on the contrary, be given priority.

True, the MEPP standstill and other unsolved conflicts in the area will not ease the work of the EMP, even if the latter leaves aside conflict resolution and emphasises conflict prevention. But the medium-longer term learning effects and advantages of a working political dialogue on conflict prevention cannot be overlooked. In the end, the cornerstone of a cooperative security scheme, like the one the EMP would like to achieve, is a good conflict prevention capacity, made possible in turn by a good mechanism of political dialogue.

Sub-regional articulations

Besides underlining the need to move more explicitly towards partnership-building measures (thus de-emphasising the search for operational and structural CBMs), Cook’s concluding remarks in Palermo acknowledged that some sub-regional articulations must be sought in the implementation of EMP. A sub-regional approach could correspond more effectively to the real political conditions in the EMP area, as it would take the fragmented nature of Mediterranean relations into account. Most of all, it would reckon with the substance of the current situation, which consists of two separate key crises, one in the Maghreb and one in the Mashreq: Algeria and the standstill in the MEPP, respectively.

A sub-regional approach can, however, conceal the risk of excessively diluting the notion of security indivisibility, which is a fundamental ingredient of the overall EMP security concept. But such a risk can be offset by reinforcing the political dialogue, which would allow for common decisions while permitting differentiation in the stage of implementation and the possibility of opting-out of specific actions.

Improving institutional settings

The institutional machinery of the EMP does not fully reflect the notion of partnership, that is, equal participation in a venture. This is essentially for two reasons: first, the Senior Officials’ Committee is chaired by the revolving EU presidency instead of revolving among all partners, that is, also among non-EU partners; second, the work of the two institutional EMP Committees, the Euro-Med Committee and the Senior Officials’ Committee, is prepared and followed up by the services of the European Commission and the EU Council instead of by its own secretariat. This EU-centric character of the EMP should be modified by giving the two institutional EMP Committees more independence from the EU and Commission structures. A more autonomous institutional setting would strengthen the EMP and, most of all, reinforce its North-South cohesion.

Another institutional improvement regards the EU decision-making process in relation to the EMP. While the Europeans can do little about the inherent weakness of the CFSP as it is currently regulated by the Amsterdam Treaty, there is certainly nothing to stop them from improving the EMP’s definition in terms of what exists of CFSP. Defining the EMP as a “common strategy” or a “joint action” would, by simplifying and speeding up common decisions with respect to EU positions within the EMP thanks to the possibility of voting on a qualified majority basis, make the management of security cooperation easier and reinforce the EMP as a whole.

Roberto Aliboni is Director of Studies at the IAI.



Note 1: This address was presented at the Mediterranean Training Seminar on the Organisation and Monitoring of Democratic Elections (Halki Island, Greece, 10–18 September 1998), which was organised by the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) with the support of the EU MEDA Programme for Democracy, and will be included in the forthcoming publication of the seminar proceedings.  Back.

Note 2: Hard security includes cooperation in a number of political, military and military-related fields aimed at preventing conflict, establishing confidence-building measures (CBMs), limiting and controlling conventional armaments as well as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and inhumane weapons. Soft security refers to cooperation in the struggle against terrorism, international organised crime, drug trafficking and illegal migration.  Back.