EU must engage with Arab transitions
Europe must support and engage with the political transitions in its Arab neighbours to ensure their success, said Stephan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) at a meeting at the headquarters of the Union for the Mediterranean in Barcelona, Spain on 8 March.
The EU began to do so with joint communications outlining how it intends to respond in March and May 2011. It has also reinvigorated the European Neighbourhood Policy which should now be able to provide a better response to the aspirations of Arab societies by being more flexible and more focused on achieving tangible results.
This new vision has since been fleshed out by specific initiatives which Fuele described as focusing on “money, mobility and markets.” Of these, SPRING is a new EU programme, with funding of €350 for 2011 and 2012, which aims to support countries of the Southern Mediterranean who are consolidating reforms.
More resources overall for the region are being complemented by a stronger focus on strengthening civil society organisations. “We think that governments are not the only channel for communications,” said Füle,” civil society now enjoys a very prominent position in our policy.”
Moves to facilitate mobility include negotiations to set up mobility partnerships with Tunisia and Morocco and additional grants to promote student mobility and exchange - 750 more Erasmus Mundus grants for this academic year alone.
“These measures will help foster mutual understanding as they will assist our neighbours in developing the skills and experience to make their transition a success,” said Füle. It is hoped that moves to free up trade, such as a recent agreement on agriculture with Morocco, will be followed by more comprehensive measures.
Tunisia, the country which launched the Arab Spring, has also been the first country to receive funding from the EU’s new programme. Since September 2011 SPRING has started financing microcredits for SMEs and channelling resources to some of the country’s least developed regions.
A prime example is the ETF’s new regional project due to be unveiled in Jerba on March 13. The project will concentrate on Médenine and the surrounding area and aims to bring all the relevant players together to finetune the education system to better meet the needs of the labour market. The Jerba seminar will launch this innovative regional approach and will be attended by Tunisia’s minister of vocational training and employment Abdelwahab Matar and ETF director Madlen Serban.