Understandably, the crisis in the Palestinian territories dominated the foreign ministers' meeting for the member states of the Barcelona process for Euro-Mediterranean economic cooperation, which took place in the southwestern French city of Marseilles on November 16 and 17. But, at the same time, there were others issues discussed, of a more unadulterated economic nature.
But the meeting will be remembered mainly because of the role played by the current Middle East crisis. Indeed, the situation in the West Bank and Gaza was reason enough for Syria and Lebanon to boycott the Marseilles gathering.
And the other Arab delegates used the event to vent their displeasure about what they felt was an inappropriate European response to the situation "The Europeans had promised that they would have a clear stance on what is going on in the Palestinian territories; but come the meeting in France, this was not the case," an unnamed told Egypt’s Al-Ahram daily.
The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa, openly criticized for their “even-handed” approach, stating that holding both the Palestinians and Israelis responsible for the current crisis in the Palestinian territories, they were equating the aggressors with the victims. But at the same time he said that Barcelona process should not be hijacked by crisis in peace process.
On the economic agenda of the Marseilles conferences were the European Union-Southern Mediterranean partnership agreements and MEDA, an EU economic aid program to the countries south of the Mediterranean. Addressing the gathering, European officials called the full implementation of an already finalized agreement with Jordan, and they urged that the negotiation processes for similar agreements with Algeria, Lebanon and Syria be speeded up.
An agreement with Egypt has been on the table for about 18 months. But it still remains on the table. French officials stated that they would like to see the agreement at least initialed before the end of this current year, when the France’s EU presidency term comes to an end.
At the meeting, the EU promised 5.35 billion euros for the second phase of the MEDA program. This is slightly above the figure allocated for the first stage — 4.7 billion euros — but commentators said that it represented no real increase, considering the expected rate of inflation and the fact that that will cover more years than the first stage.
There still is no indication how the MEDA funds will be spent. They are not allocated to government, but rather to specific development projects, which must be approved by the EU. This requirement means that money may languish unused. Al-Ahram reported, for example, that only 22.9 percent of Egypt’s 686 million euros share of from the first stage of MEDA have been used.
A mechanism to discuss trade problems between both sides of the Mediterranean basin was suggested by Egypt, along the lines of a similar apparatus that the EU has established with the countries of Eastern Europe. Another subject discussed involved a technical support to facilitate an Arab Mediterranean Free trade area. A long-term goal of the Barcelona process is to establish a Mediterranean free-trade area by 2010. — (Albawaba-MEBG)
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