In 1995, the Barcelona Process was launched to improve ties between the EU and its southern neighbors and to promote justice and prosperity. Its work continues with various degrees of success.
Trade flourishes but the real fight is for democracy in places like Syria
This year, the European Union celebrates10 years of the Barcelona process, a forum for dialogue between European states and their neighbors across and around the Mediterranean Sea.
The Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Ministers of Foreign Affairs was first held in the Spanish port city of Barcelona on Nov. 27-28, 1995.
It marked the starting point of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) which would become known as the Barcelona Process, a wide framework of political, economic and social relations between the Member States of the European Union and Partners of the Southern Mediterranean.
At that first meeting, the governments of 27 countries, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission established the EMP with the overall objective in mind of turning the Euro-Mediterranean basin into an area of dialogue, exchange and co-operation guaranteeing peace, stability and prosperity.
The Barcelona Declaration was drawn up and adopted on a multilateral level. The declaration comprised of three elements which would form the basis of a political and security partnership, an economic and financial partnership, and a partnership in social, cultural and human affairs between the EU states and countries such as Israel, Turkey and Egypt and also the Palestinian Authority. It was also agreed that a free trade zone would be created by 2010.
Commitment to human rights and the rule of law
Those who attended, and those who subsequently joined in the 10 years that followed, also committed themselves to respect a number of human rights principles including adherence to the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the development of the rule of law and democracy in their political systems and to pursue equality and integration within their societies.
Within the decade that has passed, the EU and its partners, now collectively known as Euromed, can celebrate a number of successes. Free trade agreements already exist between the EU and Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt and Israel while signed contracts with Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey wait to be ratified.
As a result of the Barcelona process, the European Union has become the most important trading partner for the region. Ten years on, it still strives to create a free market without duties and barriers to trade with its southern partners.
Flourishing trade must be encouraged
Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn
Luxembourg's Foreign Secretary Jean Asselborn said that the future of the agreement rests on Euromed's ability to develop.
"The partnership can be improved if there is real action taken by the southern countries together," he said. "Without a common market in the south, all our efforts will be wasted."
While trade slowly blossoms, the quest for democratization and liberalization of the societies around the Mediterranean Sea has not been so successful. Only Israel and Turkey are considered to be functioning democracies while the EU is working with Lebanon to create a sustainable and democratic election process as the country prepares to govern itself in the wake of the Syrian army's withdrawal.
Middle East failure has not deterred Euromed
The Middle East has become an increasingly important area for Euromed in the last 10 years. The Barcelona forum is seen as a counter model to the American Middle East policy with its focus on negotiation and dialogue. Discussions with all parties are encouraged provided that violence and the use of force are renounced.
However, the Barcelona process has always operated under the shadow of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Throughout the previous and current Intifada, the Mediterranean forum has sometimes been the only place where the two sides have had contact. Despite this open channel, there has been little success.
But the summit at Sharm el Sheikh last year between the Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Autonomy has once more given the Europeans hope that Euromed can play a role in achieving goals set out for the region in 1995 and develop a lasting peace in the region.
"It is not our task to play the mediator, to teach or direct," Asselborn said. "We only want to get the two parties to the table and for them to talk about the peace process. It is quite simple. Sharm el Sheikh should show us the way."
Next decade pursuing the goals of the first
The Barcelona process continues to work towards the goals set out in 1995 with the Israelis and Palestinians due to meet at another hosted summit sometime possibly in June. The EU wants to oversee concrete steps towards the peace process and promote the original pillars of the agreement, those concerning rule of law, human rights and tolerance, as the Barcelona process enters its second decade.