Eu/southern Mediterranean : New Strategy Combines Incentives and Benchmarks

Article excerpt

The European Commission is offering a package of incentives to the Southern Mediterranean countries, including loosening visa restrictions, greater support for civil society and closer economic cooperation, to encourage democratic reforms in the region. Its new strategy will be presented to the extraordinary EU summit, on 11 March.

"Europe must take the side of those who aspire to political freedom and social justice," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the European Parliament's plenary session, on 8 March, shortly after holding a discussion on the final version of the communication on a Partnership for democracy and shared prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean' at the College of Commissioners' meeting.

THREE PILLARS

"We are proposing to these peoples a partnership based on three pillars: democratic transformation; involvement with civil society and development solidarity," he said. The final version of the communication was not available as of Europolitics' New Neighbours presstime.

"We believe that now is the time for a qualitative step forward in the relations between the EU and its Southern neighbours," says the draft of the strategy, obtained by Europolitics New Neighbours. "This new approach should be rooted unambiguously in a joint commitment to common values," it adds.

Faced with criticism for engaging in the past in closer relations with the Southern Mediterranean countries in spite of their poor record in democratic reforms, the Commission wants to change its tack through building a "partnership for democracy and shared prosperity" with the region. A 16-page draft specifies three areas on which the Commission wants to concentrate its efforts: "democratic transformation and institution-building, with a particular focus on fundamental freedoms;" "a stronger partnership with the people, with specific emphasis on support to civil society;" and enhanced mobility and sustainable and inclusive growth and economic development". The document clearly states, however, that only those countries "that go further and faster with reforms will be able to count on greater support from the EU". It warns that "support may be reallocated or refocused for those who stall or retrench on agreed reform plans" - an idea supported by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in a letter sent to the EU's High Representative, Catherine Ashton, in mid-February. …