The “Mediterranean Neighborhood” Concept as an
Element of Mediterranean-Middle East Stability
President of the Republic of Lebanon, 1982-1988
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XXIII European People’s Party Statutory Congress
Palacio Municipal de Congresos, Madrid
21 October 2015
“Mediterranean Stability: Security, Migration and Cooperation”
The European People’s Party (EPP) and the European Ideas Network (EIN)
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I would like to thank President Joseph Daul, Secretary General Antonio López-Istúriz, and Chairman Paolo Rangel for organizing this important consultation.
I will begin my brief remarks by discussing the “Mediterranean Neighborhood” concept as an element of Mediterranean-Middle East stability.
Then, I will rapidly survey three core challenges facing the Mediterranean Neighborhood, namely: governance—specifically, the lack of good governance in the Middle East—the refugee crisis, and the threat of religious extremism and terrorism.
I view the broad theme of our panel—“Mediterranean Stability”—as an echo of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, launched in 1995 in Barcelona during a conference between representatives of the European Union and a dozen Mediterranean zone countries, including Lebanon and Jordan.
Today, despite the multiple crises roiling the Mediterranean Neighborhood, I firmly believe that this region will, over time, find its footing as a cohesive cultural and, especially, economic community.
And even as we confront certain destructive aspects of the international scene, as I shall do in a moment, we must remember that the Mediterranean Neighborhood enjoys real advantages, such as the vast oil and natural gas deposits of the eastern and northern Mediterranean seabed.
We must also keep in mind that the Arab people represent a tremendous reserve of untapped human capital. Harnessing this human wealth for positive ends will help stabilize not only the Arab world, but also the Mediterranean Neighborhood and international relations generally.
Having suggested a case for cautious optimism, allow me to survey the scope and nature of some of the dangerous and interlocking storms buffeting the Mediterranean Neighborhood.
It takes no leap of analytical insight to conclude that the Arab Spring moment did not usher in the springtime of Arab peoples. Almost everywhere in the Arab world, popular demands for meaningful and democratic participation by citizens in governance have been thwarted, even reversed.
Furthermore, across the Arab world problems like poverty, corruption, lack of education, and inadequate healthcare have only worsened under the weight of ongoing wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and most recently Yemen. This has led, inevitably, to an intensification of terrorism, fanaticism, and extremism.
It is clear that Arab world will not overcome its deficit of good governance without international partnership and cooperation of the kind that an activated Mediterranean Neighborhood can provide.
Turning to the ongoing refugee crisis, this distinguished audience needs no description of the scope or magnitude of this calamity. For our purposes today, the refugee issue dramatically illustrates the reality that the Mediterranean-Middle East is, in fact, a linked “neighborhood.”
The European countries that are receiving refugee flows are faced with urgent questions about who should receive transit rights, temporary asylum, or permanent residency.
The refugee tidal waves that have struck Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries of the wider Middle East dwarf Europe’s refugee streams. In Lebanon, by some estimates more than one-quarter of the population is now composed of refugees.
As in the past, today’s refugee crisis in Lebanon and other countries has provoked a multiplicity of challenges, the most dramatic and immediate being threats to security, social cohesion, and the economy.
To manage and eventually solve the refugee crisis, the Mediterranean Neighborhood needs a coherent, coordinated, and multilateral approach. The starting point, of course, is to ask: “Why are so many refugees fleeing to Europe?”
The answer is brutally simple: the refugee issue can be resolved only when the wars in Iraq and Syria are terminated. Yet the needed “political solutions” are in equal parts urgent and elusive. This is why the United States and Russia must energize and coordinate their diplomatic efforts to end these wars through political settlements.
The refugee issue poses a dual, long-term threat to the stability of the Mediterranean Neighborhood. First, the loss of key sectors—especially educated and highly educated citizens—will retard the postwar recoveries of Arab societies.
Second, European host countries will face the long-term challenge of integrating sizeable and deeply traumatized immigrant communities. Failure to do so will raise the danger of additional frustration possibly leading to more extremism.
Finally, the emerging Mediterranean Neighborhood faces the grave challenges of religious extremism and terrorism. These twin phenomena cannot be defeated by states acting alone, but only by an international coalition.
The international cooperation called for must, in part, feature military, intelligence, and security components. But to defeat the so-called Islamic State and other extremist movements, the Mediterranean Neighborhood—and the wider international community—needs a broader and more nuanced approach.
For this reason, in addition to good governance and educational opportunities, I have called for the creation of a “Concert of Religions” that can lead multinational, multi-faith efforts to secure religious pluralism, above all in the Middle East.
As a first measure, the proposed Concert of Religions could bring together the senior leaders of the various faiths for a spiritual summit that formally initiates combined efforts to safeguard religious pluralism, especially in the Mideast.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share these brief thoughts. I fervently believe that the concept of a Mediterranean Neighborhood can open many avenues for mutual stability and development.
And I am convinced that, under its wise leaders, the European People’s Party will assume a prominent role in moving the Mediterranean Neighborhood from an emerging concept to a real-world element of stability.