Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Forging New Ties across the Mediterranean A Special Report Looks at How States in Europe and Africa Grapple with History's Legacy as They Seek a New Partnership

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Forging New Ties across the Mediterranean A Special Report Looks at How States in Europe and Africa Grapple with History's Legacy as They Seek a New Partnership

Article excerpt

WHEN hundreds of illegal immigrants showed up on Spain's beaches last year after short but treacherous boat rides from Morocco, Europeans confronted a troubling image.

"We discovered that, like the United States, we too have our wetbacks," says Juan Miguel Moratinos, director of the Spanish Foreign Ministry's Institute for Cooperation with the Arab World. "Suddenly the Mediterranean didn't seem so big. It resembled more the Rio Grande."

The arrival of North Africans in Spain last year added to intense concerns among French, Germans, and others about migration from the South and the East and its impact on a Europe with economic woes of its own.

It is not so much the magnitude of North African immigration that is causing Europeans to focus on the Mediterranean's southern rim - the numbers pale in comparison to what the US faces from Mexico - as it is worries over the region's potential for instability and what a major blowup might produce.

Unemployment touches a high percentage of North Africa's youthful population (more than a quarter of Algeria's 26 million people are out of work) while Islamic fundamentalism continues to rattle the region.

"If the FIS {Algeria's outlawed Islamic fundamentalist political party} ever takes over in Algeria, we're certain to have 1 to 1.5 million Algerians arrive on French shores seeking refuge," says an economics specialist on the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya) in Paris.

Meanwhile, Europeans and North Africans have watched the US, Mexico, and Canada work out a North American free-trade zone bigger than the European Community's new single market.

For the nations of the western Mediterranean - Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal in the North, and the Maghreb countries in the South - it was time to reexamine the nature of their relationship.

"By following a policy of stabilizing Mexico, the US is acting much more intelligently than Europe is toward the Maghreb," says Abdel-Madjid Bouzidi, economic adviser to Algerian President Ali Kafi. "The old relations in this region must be replaced with a partnership."

Most North Africans say their region is not seeking handouts from its wealthy neighbors, but a partnership recognizing mutual interests.

"The US is developing a coherent strategy with its south, but we don't see anything like a strategy coming out of Europe," says Nadji Safir, a sociologist at the University of Algiers. He says Europe will only begin seriously dealing with the Maghreb when it decides, as the US has with Mexico, that it must do so out of its own interest.

The US wants to strengthen Mexico as a "buffer country" against the South beyond it, says Mr. Bouzidi. Yet even though Algeria already faces an illegal immigration problem from African countries south of it, he adds, Europe is not really working to strengthen its southern neighbors. …

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