Thomas More Institute Special Report, presented on Wednesday, April 7th, 2010 during the conference "Maghreb and the European Union: Enhancing the partnership for a sustainable security", Brussels.
The relationship between Europe and the Maghreb is a complex, multidimensional and somewhat passionate one. The two areas share a common history and are bound by common interests. United against a number of joint challenges (economic development, regional stability, fight against terrorism, migration, sustainable development), it is time for the two shores of the Mediterranean to reconsider the basis for their cooperation. As societies in the Maghreb undergo important transformations, security stakes rise and opportunities arise for regional integration and cooperation between Europe and the Maghreb, the aim must be the emergence of sustainable security from which the European Union (EU) and its members will profit just as much as the Maghreb countries and their populations.
Societies in the Maghreb are today undergoing radical transformations which have four main causes: globalised economic development, populations predominantly made up of young people, migratory phenomena covering the entire Maghreb and Sahelian area and tentative attempts at political and social reform. The transformation process, which is overall a positive one, takes different forms in each of the five countries which make up the region: Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. It is nonetheless fragile and political authorities must be extremely careful not to frustrate the populations by dashing their legitimate hopes for a safer future.
The EU is well aware of what is at stake and must now look for ways of making a more active commitment in the region, particularly on sensitive issues such as human rights and migration. Although the EU is already encouraging the Maghreb countries to promote democracy as a factor of stability and development, it could become more wholeheartedly involved in talks within the Maghreb as far as human rights and civil liberties are concerned – by helping to set up places of reflection and exchange for the Maghreb’s elite, for instance. The question of migration, which extends as far as the Sahelian area, is another area of cooperation which needs to be looked into in more depth, since the EU’s policy of limiting migratory flows can no longer be restricted to the northern border of the Maghreb. Reinforcing the role of the European agency FRONTEX throughout the area, for example by opening regional offices and assigning resources, is one possible solution. Intensifying efforts to coordinate development assistance policies between the EU and Maghreb countries to help Sub-Saharan African countries that represent sources of immigration is another solution that should not be ignored.
Security in the Maghreb also deserves a new approach and broader vision. The most recent changes (new forms of terrorism, increase in criminality, stalemates in interstate disputes) mean that all the protagonists – local, regional and global – must not only tackle the problems and the variations on them by taking an overall view but also by examining the interactions between them.
The EU has a duty to show particular concern for the current challenges facing the area on account of its geographical proximity and the ties which bond it to the Maghreb. Although a certain amount of cooperation already exists in the fight against terrorism and newly emerging forms of criminality, the EU must now work relentlessly to reinforce measures and to integrate the wider dimension of the Maghreb and Sahelian areas. However, whilst the fight against criminal activities must remain inflexible, the roots of the problem must also be tackled if sustainable development and security are to be achieved, i.e. huge socio-economic difficulties and unemployment affecting the population, depriving the young generation of any real prospects. In the long term, the only way to succeed in drying up the recruitment channels for criminal networks and terrorist groups is to give young people some hope of social success.
The challenges involving security also require constant reinforcement of regional cooperation, with support and backing from the EU. We all know how much of a setback interstate disputes can be when it comes to developing cooperation, no matter how vital.
The main obstruction is the Western Saharan conflict, which has been going on for thirty years. Its cost for the local populations, the countries involved and indeed the entire region should be enough to convince everybody that it is high time to find a concerted political solution to the conflict. To most observers, the proposal for autonomy put forward by Morocco in 2007 seems to be the only credible way of escaping from the crisis and, provided that all those involved are allowed to have their say, the most realistic basis for discussions in order to continue and strengthen the negotiations in progress under the auspices of the UN. The more general issue of border closure between Algeria and Morocco, which is the main reason for the region’s limited development over the last few decades, must also be discussed. The EU could pay special attention to this issue as part of a long-awaited ambitious policy to promote regional integration.
The lack of regional integration and cooperation within the Maghreb, which have resulted in the “Non-Maghreb” situation seen today, represents one of the area’s main weaknesses. Although there are some obvious fields of cooperation (energy, transport, sustainable development) which are full of potential, integration is still obviously a long way off. And yet integration forms an essential condition, if not a prerequisite, for sustainable security in the five countries concerned, as well as in the EU, as it represents the only guarantee of keeping a check on the key areas of North Africa.
Consequently, Europeans should promote and support the movement, in particular by encouraging the countries in the Maghreb to make the long-awaited efforts required to create the free trade area they have been talking about for fifteen years, whilst intensifying cooperation between Europe and the Maghreb at the same time. Amongst other things, it is therefore important to reintegrate these objectives on the EU’s political agenda on a more ambitious scale. We must also ask ourselves whether a sub-regional approach with the Maghreb at its centre would be more appropriate to deal with issues such as energy, transport or sustainable development promoted as part of the Union for the Mediterranean, which is currently being established.
For the Maghreb is waiting for Europe. Europe has authority, an ability to drive forward and a specific interest in making a substantial contribution. Sustainable security in the Maghreb depends on it, and consequently, sustainable security in Europe to a great extent as well.
Download the special report (28 pages).
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