On 26-27 November, Spain will host an all-important conference in Barcelona to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the launching of the Barcelona Process, commonly known as the Euro-Mediterranean Cooperation.
Last Saturday, 17 October, Spanish Foreign Minister Arrancha Gonzales paid a visit to Egypt and held meetings with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and her Egyptian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. She invited Egypt to participate in this conference.
Both Egypt and Spain have been firm believers in the necessity and importance of bringing the two banks of the Mediterranean together to tackle myriad challenges, mainly political and economic, facing Europe and North African countries.
Back in 1995, there was a large consensus among member countries in the Barcelona Process that the way ahead necessitated closer cooperation in the three “baskets” that were incorporated into the process; namely, the political, the economic and the cultural-educational.
In an op-ed published Friday, 16 October, in Al-Ahram newspaper, the Spanish minister said that Spain is in talks with European partners to stress how important is the “southern neighborhood” of Europe. She added that the next conference in Barcelona at the end of November 2020 should assess the distance covered in Euro-Mediterranean cooperation, and how member countries in the Union for the Mediterranean — the successor organisation — should work together to deal with several new challenges in the fields of health, climate change, digitisation and its impact on job creation for younger generations, economic cooperation and the movements of persons and goods across borders. From a Spanish point of view, these important questions should not detract from much-needed attention to finding solutions to old problems, like illegal immigration and social questions like women’s empowerment and job creation.
Seemingly, Spain is looking forward to give new impetus to cooperation between the European Union and the Arab world, and in particular North African countries. The Barcelona conference scheduled for next month will be an opportunity for Spain to show new leadership, within the European Union, to bolster cooperation with the Arab world, benefiting from the shortcomings of the now extinct Barcelona Process.
The visit of the Spanish foreign minister to Egypt last week was part of a tour that took her to several Arab countries, including Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco, and other Mediterranean countries, namely Greece, Cyprus and Turkey. These visits were not only related to the upcoming conference in Barcelona but dealt with other regional questions like the present situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, which will cast its shadow on deliberations in Barcelona and Libya, and the Palestinian question.
Historically, Spain has played a role in bringing Arab countries and Europe closer together, a role that is reminiscent of the role that Egypt has played, from time to time, in being a bridge between the two banks of the Mediterranean. In fact, Egypt’s stature on the world stage and regionally has always been assured when Egypt determinedly and willfully played such a role.
The two countries, Egypt and Spain, are well-placed today to work together to instill a new spirit in Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. Such cooperation should benefit the two sides in order to be sustainable.
Both Europe and the Arab world face new challenges much more serious than the ones faced when they signed the Barcelona Charter 25 years ago. This time around, we need a new pact to govern relations among 750 million people who inhabit Europe and the Arab world.
The two countries stand at the threshold of new security, political, economic and social realities on top of old unsolved questions. The task is not easy, but it is not impossible provided there is leadership and a common vision as how to proceed despite present-day economic and financial challenges.
In light of the talks that the Spanish foreign minister had last Saturday in Cairo, there is no doubt that Egypt and Spain, with enough political will, could act together to breath new life into an age-old grand idea of turning the Mediterranean Basin into a space of peaceful coexistence and shared prosperity.
The road ahead is surely not easy, but it is worth walking. I am afraid there is no other alternative. The status quo in the Mediterranean is not sustainable in the long run.
*The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly