A Wave Of Citizenship Breaks Across the Mediterranean

Aerial view of people on the Mediterranean coast.  Getty Images

Aerial view of people on the Mediterranean coast. Getty Images

The Mediterranean stands torn between renewal and crisis. New political, social and cultural realities struggle through the pain of birth. Both north and south of the sea, there is a palpable sense of expectation and uncertainty, and no clear path to follow.

The debt crisis in Europe has shaken people, politics and institutions and resulted in rampant unemployment that is particularly affecting the continent’s youth. The political costs include an increasing sense of powerlessness, an increasing distrust towards politics, and a worrying increase in intolerance against people of different beliefs or ethnicities.

Along the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean, the ousting of former authoritarian regimes has opened up a challenging arena in which competing actors are struggling to create an inclusive political transition. Meanwhile, the unbearable Israeli–Palestinian impasse remains, only overshadowed by the tragedy of the 80,000 dead in Syria.

A new Mediterranean impetus built around our shared space and values is badly needed. The opportunities are there, and so is the political and economic rationale. But does the political will exist?

Between April 4 and 7, the Anna Lindh Mediterranean Forum will be held in Marseille, Europe’s Capital of Culture for 2013, with the participation of more than a thousand civil society organizations and institutions from all 42 countries of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).

On April 6 and 7, building on the findings of the Forum, the first Summit of Heads of Parliament of the Union for the Mediterranean will be held, again in Marseille. More than 40 speakers of parliaments from the EU and Mediterranean countries will attend the gathering. This will be a landmark moment, the first high-level political gathering of the UfM since the 2008 Paris Summit.

The objective is clear: As much as Euro–Mediterranean cooperation is built on the principle of three Ms—money, mobility and markets—so political dialogue should be constructed on three Ps, people, parliaments and participation. The successful re-launching of Euro—Med dialogue must center on the mobilization of civil society, and of the citizens of the Mediterranean basin.

The recent Anna Lindh/Gallup Survey on Intercultural Trends has demonstrated that the citizens of the states along the shores of this sea are increasingly interested in the politics, economics and cultures of their neighbors. The survey, the first Euro–Med Opinion Poll carried out following the uprisings in North Africa, also reveals that citizens on both shores of the Mediterranean think the Arab Awakening will have an overall positive impact on Euro-Med relations.

But beyond polls, the mass mobilization on both sides of the Mediterranean show that citizens will not accept being sidelined in the governance of their countries. The toppling of entrenched regimes in North Africa eroded the prevailing assumptions that the outside world held in regard to Arab societies.

And while values may be shared, the challenges too are the same, and they need to be clearly identified for what they are. Economic instability, social inequality, youth unemployment and environmental degradation affect us all and must be treated as common issues. In the struggle to rebuild fractured societies and to create new democracies, the way forward must be focused upon these issues and on common, tangible projects.

If anything is clear from the society-shaking events experienced in the region, it is that governmental structures and other traditional sources of community authority need to be brought back to dealing with and for citizens. There must be a genuine partnership that implies shared ownership and a community of interests. Systems of power that merely feed the old system will not work.

In an international situation where economic and material resources are ever scarcer, the public must have a strong ownership of the priorities that are chosen. The potential of the region’s abundant youthful energy and dynamism, coupled with its entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, is enormous. We need to address the issues which have undermined previous attempts at building a union for the peoples of the Mediterranean. Top-down solutions will not work. Mediterranean partnership must be for the citizens, by the citizens and for the citizens.


Subscribe to the discussion