by Dr. Arslan Chikhaoui Executive Chairman, Nord-Sud Ventures Consultancy Center and NESA Alumnus

18 November 2020 – Twenty-five years after the Barcelona Process, the Mediterranean region remains the theater of low intensity conflicts, with all their malicious corollaries, and politico-diplomatic maneuvers. Indeed, ever since Themistocles and the legendary naval battle of Salamis we know that the sea is a key factor of power. The Mediterranean is consequently at risk at three levels: strategic, economic, and ecological.

  1. Economic and ecological challenges

With 46,000 km of coastline and its unique underwater resources, the Mediterranean is the region’s fifth largest economy in terms of GDP. Today, the European Union’s Blue Growth strategy tells us that it is a huge source of wealth. According to a report published in 2017 by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the activities related to the waters in the Mediterranean generate an annual economic value of more than 450 billion USD. The importance of the Mediterranean is illustrated by the fact that although the sea constitutes less than 1% of the world’s ocean, it represents 30% of the world’s gross marine product. It is thus recognized that the industries of the blue economy will continue to support the growth of other sectors of economic activity in the region, both in terms of added value and employment. This is part of a global megatrend that is highlighted by the OECD in its recent report, “The Ocean Economy in 2030”. It points out that the ocean is the new economic frontier and continues to predict that a “business-as-usual” scenario will increase the value of the output of the ocean economy in 2030 by double what it was in 210. Offshore hydrocarbons, maritime and coastal tourism, maritime trade, maritime equipment and ports, and fishing and aquaculture are the main drivers of this trend. Their long-term prospects depend on their capacities to connect and use innovative marine technologies and their capacities to engage in transnational cooperation. Technological advances, social and demographic phenomena, and other long-term trends constitute the substrate for many economic activities such as marine renewable energies, environmental protection, marine biotechnology, aquaculture, tourism, etc. All of this represents tremendous fields of opportunity, especially in countries in economic transition looking for new sources of growth, such as the countries of North Africa.

Over the past decades, the evolution of operational oceanography has been supported by a deep-rooted scientific tradition and a fairly substantial investment by the European Union (EU) in research and technological development. This has resulted in the creation of a vast ocean observation system, including the “Odyssea / EU-H2020” project intended exclusively for the Mediterranean, which produces large amounts of data, which must be transformed into information that can be used to shape decision-making in business, society and governments. This challenge is accentuated by the fact that the countries of the Mediterranean basin that are not members of the EU are not always so well-endowed with observation means and that many of them allocate few human resources to the same level of capacities and that the access of these countries to cooperation programs is hampered by legal and regulatory obstacles as well as geopolitical rivalries. The logic of “smart power”, which is defined by the ability and intelligence to make the partnership resonate at the right time, with the right information, and the right network, is currently required to fill the capacity and skills gap between the regions of the North and the South which border this multifaceted space of exchanges by contributing to the development of exponential and sustainable blue growth.

For its part, the World Economic Forum (Davos Forum) had drawn up, in March 2011, a report on future scenarios concerning the Mediterranean region. It lays out, in particular, a major axis of development called “Mediterrafrica”, of which three key points are to be noted on this subject:

  • The increase in economic potential in new emerging markets in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The South Mediterranean countries will look more and more towards the South for its economic development.
  • A withdrawn Europe will not recognize this trend and ultimately miss a new period of growth and prosperity in the southern Mediterranean.

It emerges from this report that, although the new elites of the South have been relatively successful in guiding the political consensus, they will be increasingly exasperated by the lack of support from Europe from which they initially benefited. They will be more and more reluctant to devote their energy to fostering cooperation with the North and instead focusing on South-South development. It highlights the fact that China will undoubtedly contribute to the renewal and development of infrastructure in the region. Partly driven by massive investments and growing demand from BRIC and GCC countries, North African companies and entrepreneurs will be at the center of developing new regional links. Consequently, the southern shore of the Mediterranean will position itself as a key gateway to the rapid growth of emerging markets in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. This WEF report highlights that over year 2020, Africa will become the surprise growth story of the decade. Driven by sustained investment and demand from other emerging markets, several countries in sub-Saharan Africa will lead the entire continent towards greater economic integration. The North African business community will inevitably join this process. Europe, for its part, will become more and more inward-looking as the economy of the eastern and southern Mediterranean will become the main hub for Africa’s growing trade and investment. Thanks to these new and dynamic potential markets, North African countries will gradually lose interest in EU initiatives. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at this time will begin to achieve relative stability. With the increase in South-South cooperation, a new South Mediterranean identity will develop and the region will establish itself as an increasingly influential emerging market power with new and well-consolidated governing elites.

  1. Strategic challenges

The socio-political upheavals that the Mediterranean and MENA region are undergoing aims to have control over natural energy and water reserves to ensure, over the next five decades, stability and security for the populations of Western countries (North), including consumption requirements which will grow exponentially to maintain the comforts and requirements of life. The fear of these countries is that their national security is threatened. The strategic interest of Western countries (EU and US powers) is not to let China take control of these resources. Since 2011, various international Think Thanks reports have shown that the fall of the elites of the regimes in power in the region will give way to the new elite of rulers which have been called “Generation 11”, with which Western countries have affinities and will be in line with vision and communication. These are elites of liberal persuasions regardless of political or religious way of thinking. This new elite would reassure them about the control of energy, mining, and water reserves. This change is taking place with the blessing and support of public opinion in the countries of the region.

The upheavals experienced by the Mediterranean region, in general, and MENA, in particular, are an extension of what Europe experienced after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and which allowed it to expand within the framework of its policy of economic and political convergence of the satellite countries of the former Soviet Union. Military force has at times contributed to this (Bosnia, Kosovo, etc.) as is the case today for Libya, Syria, and Yemen. The process of supporting the establishment of new ruling elites in the region that began with the fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is the completion of the process of globalization and harmonization of modes of governance useful in consolidating this new system. They follow the multidimensional structural and institutional crisis that affected the entire world starting from the crisis of subprime mortgage, followed by a financial crisis, an economic crisis, a crisis of budget deficits, an employment crisis, and finally by a social crisis with a strong impact on current political governance. It is reinforced by the health crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the eyes of the Western powers, the establishment of the new “Generation 11” elite will allow the establishment of new relational networks that will supplant old networks that are becoming useless. A decade of independence has been followed by the decade of the fight against nationalism, then the decade of disarmament, the decade of human rights and humanitarian aid, and finally the decade of networks.

This process of renewing networks in the Mediterranean revolves, among other things, around the various cooperation frameworks. Most of them are strongly institutionalized, gathering a very large number of actors and dealing with all sectors of cooperation. It is the same underlying doctrinal philosophy that dictates all the cooperation frameworks from the Barcelona Process to the Union for Mediterranean (UfM), through the association agreements, the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), as well as NATO’s Mediterranean Political Dialogue. These cooperation frameworks can be summed up by the following:

  • They are inclusive and dilute their regional specificity;
  • They are unilateral in nature and destroy the role of Southern countries as a pole of proposals;
  • They are highly institutionalized and dependent on heavy bureaucracy;
  • They are strongly marked by the imbalance in the balance of power between a converging and integrated Europe and the countries of the South in dispersed ranks.

To a certain extent, the “5 + 5” dialogue and cooperation framework appears as an alternative for the shortcomings of other cooperation frameworks. Indeed, the Barcelona process is almost paralyzed by the interruption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the war in Lebanon in 2006, the war in Gaza in 2009, and the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011. The struggles for influence and leadership deprived these cooperation frameworks of flexibility and pragmatism.

Moreover, Europe is gradually being sucked in by the whirlwind of wars and so-called low intensity conflicts in the MENA. Support from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the development of an Eastern Mediterranean pipeline that could economically harm Qatar combined with opposition from Greece, Cyprus, and France, and Turkey’s tactical moves, leaves Europe without much room for maneuver. The proxy wars between the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt against Qatar and Turkey have spread throughout the Eastern Mediterranean area. European countries, including France, Greece, and Cyprus, feel threatened by Turkey’s use of Libya to expand its grip on regional gas-rich waters.

As a result, these conflicts and their malicious corollaries around the Mediterranean are becoming serious matters for the development of renewed, peaceful, and balanced cooperation between the two North and South shores.

The views presented in this article are those of the speaker or author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its components.

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