Select Committee on European Union Ninth Report


51. The Committee perceived with a degree of scepticism the rationale for adopting common strategies in general, and their applicability to the Mediterranean in particular. In the absence of a firm political undertaking on the part of the EU to engage with difficult issues, in a clearly prioritised fashion, the common strategy is merely a shopping list with no strategic content.

52. The Committee broadly agrees with the High Representative Javier Solana's assessment of common strategies, in his internal report which was made public during the course of the inquiry. Three issues arise from this, namely, whether common strategies are over-ambitious at this stage of the EU's institutional development, except as inventories of what is already being done; whether the motivation of extending EU external action via QMV procedures is a sensible basis for strategy; and whether the strategies in practice are applied to the right targets. On all three counts, the Committee remains to be convinced. On the extension of QMV in particular, EU members have demonstrated little desire to use it.

53. The reason why the Mediterranean was chosen as a focus for a common strategy appears to have prejudiced both its content and its utility in addition to the Barcelona process. However, while some areas of the CMS are consonant with the aspirations of the Barcelona process, there is a need for greater clarity and explanation in some of the newer areas. Article 8 of the CMS, for example, states that

    "As far as security matters are concerned, the EU intends to make use of the evolving common European policy on security and defence to consider how to strengthen, together with its Mediterranean partners, co-operative security in the region."

54. This is an area where open-ended commitments of EU resources could pose problems, as well as opening possibilities for regional security co-operation. Nevertheless, this article predated the difficulties encountered with the "Charter on Peace and Stability" envisaged under the Barcelona process, which failed to be adopted in November 2000. Its terms are sufficiently vague to require monitoring as the ESDP evolves.

55. There are also a number of ambiguities—or "hostages to fortune"—implicit in the CMS which need to be clarified. The question of "who is in charge?" of the CMS remains crucially unanswered. To what extent, for example, can the High Representative for CFSP take initiatives on the basis of the CMS? Will the Commission, given its budgetary role and control over the MEDA funding line take a higher profile than the Council or Member States in implementing the CMS? Is the strategy as "watertight" from subsidiary policy implementation under QMV as the British government considers it to be?

56. It is still not evident what the "added value" of the CMS is over and above the Barcelona process. Seen in its worst light as a distraction from existing policy objectives, there is a danger that the CMS has diluted some of the achievable aspects of the Barcelona process. However, the launch of the CMS also coincided with the External Relations Directorate of the Commission's reflections on the shortcomings of the Barcelona model. Addressing these should become the focus for future action, rather than the CMS itself. The more fundamental question of whether, pending a resolution in the Middle East, the scale and scope of Barcelona is too broad to permit of substantive progress in the near future has not, however, yet been addressed.

57. The "comprehensive review of the Barcelona Process" proposed under Article 11 of the CMS could, in full consultation with the EU's Mediterranean partners, examine ways in which smaller-scale, sub-regional objectives might be met. Given existing southern Mediterranean concerns over the CMS, the EU needs to establish the timeframe, content and participation in this review process with some urgency.

58. It is clear that the lack of prior consultation with regional partners has constituted one of the problems with the CMS. Even though intended as an internal, EU-only exercise, the unclear message sent to the region about the real purposes of the CMS constitutes an obstacle to increasing the visibility of the EU's activities in the region as well as for building equal partnerships with regional allies. In a number of respects this disregard for regional concerns constituted, perhaps unintentionally, a neo-colonial attitude towards the states and societies on which the CMS focused. Following the multilateral and consultative approach adopted within the Barcelona process, this was perceived as a potentially backward step in building confidence and trust within the region.

59. The EU should also not underestimate the impact of policies towards Iraq and the wider Arab and Islamic world in reinforcing negative impressions of European intentions towards the Mediterranean amongst the populations of the region.

60. A final concern is with the future of the CMS. Most evidence from EU Member States seemed to suggest that while it may have added little to the Barcelona process, it would also, as a result, do little harm. It is also clear that bilateral relations between EU member states and individual Mediterranean partners remain the essence and basis for relations in the region.

61. Given the lack of enthusiasm for pursuing its more ambitious and over-generalised aims, the EU needs to resolve whether successive EU presidencies will continue to be obliged to spend time assessing progress under the CMS and setting out future objectives as is required by the Common Strategy. As put by Javier Solana, "The introduction by each presidency of a new working plan with new priorities has so far failed to add to the objective of deploying a consistent and coherent EU approach and has strengthened the impression of stop and go policies."[26] In the light of the criticisms by the High Representative in February 2001, alternatives might be either to reformulate the CMS to represent a genuine and progressively attainable set of priorities towards the region, or for the CMS to be quietly dropped. The High Representative's suggestion that future common strategies remain internal EU policy documents, either partly or wholly, was deemed not to be feasible, not least because the High Representative's own internal and confidential evaluation of common strategies was leaked within days of being produced.

Specific Recommendations:

62. The EU/European Council should reconsider the criteria for selecting targets for common strategies. They should avoid choosing broad, disparate areas already addressed by existing European policies and instruments.

63. In the longer term, the EU should consider more closely the feeling of the Committee that focusing policy at the level of such a large and diversified region is in fact self-defeating. Different issues—such as environmental co-operation, or the repatriation of illegal migrants—require different types of framework to achieve concrete goals.

64. In the case of the Mediterranean, the Barcelona process should take clear precedence over the CMS as a means of advancing European interests in the region and building partnerships. It is the instrument to which our Mediterranean partners respond best.

65. The EU should define clear leadership roles in both the Barcelona process and the CMS in order to articulate the stated priority it attaches to the Mediterranean region. The EU should in its management procedures identify the actors and/or agencies who should be expected to champion the region in general and the different dimensions of policy in particular. There is a growing requirement for the EU's Mediterranean partners to find a specific point of contact within the EU not only to channel their concerns in more positive ways, but also to respond to their concrete requests.

66. One area that the EU should address with some urgency is that of trade liberalisation, especially as regards southern Mediterranean exports of agricultural produce which enjoy a competitive advantage. It is also important that the Barcelona process should make a positive contribution to action against trafficking in drugs and people.

67. Another area, already being addressed by the European Commission, is the reform of the allocation and disbursement of MEDA funds, and the speed with which they are delivered to bolster strategically identified sectors of recipients' economies.

68. A key priority arising from this is for the EU to strengthen its management procedures with respect to the Mediterranean. There is clear potential for the Commission to improve its management of budgetary questions. The political and diplomatic aspects of policy nevertheless need to be more closely integrated with the activities of the Commission, under the clear direction and co-ordination of Member States via the Council.

69. The EU must make a clearer separation between the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) and the broader aspects of Barcelona. The terms of the CMS are posited on a "post-settlement" era in the MEPP, yet current circumstances indicate that the parties are unlikely to reach a final settlement for some considerable time. In the interim, the regional objectives of both the CMS and Barcelona are blocked by the stalemate in Middle East peace-making. Therefore, bearing in mind the EU's limited political role in the MEPP, it should concentrate on supporting the efforts of the US and others. It should also focus on promoting other aspects of the Barcelona Process, above all sub-regional co-operation elsewhere in the Mediterranean, which may be achieved without undermining the regional approach.

70. At the same time, the EU should shift its thinking from general conflict prevention provisions, to focus on the role it might play in resolving specific current conflicts. This applies not only to the Middle East, but also to the violence still claiming lives in Algeria. If left unchecked, the continuation of regional instabilities, including widescale human rights abuses, may prejudice other EU objectives in areas such as migration control and the spread of terrorist activity.

71. The more distant objectives of the CMS—such as the promotion of democratic governments—might be built into smaller scale initiatives in conjunction with regional partners. The region will reject EU initiatives if they are not consulted, especially policies which appear to be conceived as directives on how to run their lives. It is also important that the CMS should not inadvertently distract attention from the value of the specific association agreements between the EU and many Mediterranean countries and from the need to complete them where they are not in force.

72. The United Kingdom in particular has yet to articulate clear priorities towards the Mediterranean as perceived under the CMS. Most policy positions are articulated in relation to other EU Member States, or in terms not easily translatable into concrete policy initiatives. This means that the United Kingdom is not achieving the most from EU multilateral policy initiatives, preferring to concentrate instead on restraining the ambitions of other European partners, including over the use of QMV.

73. There are nevertheless issues arising in the Mediterranean, such as immigration flows, drug trafficking and organised crime, which are already affecting the United Kingdom, in addition to continental Europe. The Government needs to establish precisely what the United Kingdom sets out to achieve in the region and then allocate our efforts between primarily bilateral relations and instruments and use of multilateral channels, in particular the EU. Our purpose should be to influence EU policies in directions which suit our national priorities in promoting trade liberalisation and countering crime and the trafficking in drugs and people.

74. Looking to the future and an enlarged EU, it will be important to have a coherent EU approach which demonstrates to the predominantly Arab nations of the region Europe's commitment to their prosperity and well-being even while a Middle East peace settlement remains elusive. It would be contrary to Europe's strategic interests for any of our Mediterranean partners to feel alienated from or neglected by Europe, as further non-Arab countries are absorbed into the European Union and the EU develops its common foreign and security policy.

75. This report is made to the House for information only.

26   See Appendix 5, paragraph 21. Back

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