The new head of a 43-nation Mediterranean union said in an interview Tuesday he will support Arab Spring reforms but the West can no longer dictate the terms for a country's acceptance.
The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), which has struggled since its birth in 2008 to deal with tensions in the Middle East, now faces upheaval in its Arab member states.
"In 2008 the situation was totally different," said Moroccan diplomat Youssef Amrani, who takes over as secretary general of the union at a ceremony Tuesday in Barcelona.
"Today reforms and democratic modernisation are the order of the day in most of the countries. The UfM must work and propose projects in the areas of democracy and civil society," he told leading daily El Pais.
"Neither the UfM nor any other international organization are in a position to give certificates of democracy," he added.
"The time when one could dictate from the West the criteria for a country's acceptance has gone."
Revolts against authoritarian rule have swept the Arab world from Tunisia to Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Libya -- where NATO-led air and sea forces are fighting on a UN mandate to protect civilians -- and Syria.
The union's previous leader, 41-year-old Jordanian lawyer Ahmad Masa'deh, quit 26 January after one year in office, saying "the general conditions against which he accepted to assume the job have changed."
Launched by France and Egypt at a Paris summit in July 2008, the union groups all 27 European Union member states with countries in North Africa, the Balkans, the Arab world and Israel.
Asked about his priorities, the incoming chief said he wanted to take steps to make the Euro-Mediterranean area a reality.
"Regional integration and democracy have to go hand in hand in the Mediterranean as they have done in Europe. The UfM can play an important role," Amrani said.
The union was created to foster cooperation in one of the world's most volatile regions.
But it had to scrap plans for a Barcelona summit in 2010 because of deadlock in the Middle East peace process.
"The UfM is not the framework for negotiating peace but it is the only meeting place for all parties of the conflict," Amrani said.
Egypt and France co-chair the union while Spain hosts the headquarters in Barcelona.