The Barcelona Process that formed the basis of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) was launched in November 1995 by the 15 European Union members and 12 Mediterranean partners as a framework for the creation of a Mediterranean region of peace, security and shared prosperity. In 2003, the EU launched the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) to advance cooperation with countries neighboring the EU including those flanking the Mediterranean. To reinvigorate the EMP by making the process more visible in the daily lives of the people of the Mediterranean region, and to create a more balanced partnership through co-ownership, the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) was established in 2008 with six strategic priority, being business development, social and civil affairs, higher education and research, transport and urban development, water and environment and energy and climate action.
All was not smooth going though, as the Arab Spring and the developments that followed led to numerous changes in the Mediterranean Basin. The emergence of new actors and their competition in the post-Arab Spring era to become more influential in the region changed the status quo. The geostrategic significance of Mediterranean increased with the increasing presence of emerging powers, and a return to power politics was witnessed in the region, leaving the EU’s efforts to construct the Mediterranean in its own image out in the cold.
In the period of political turmoil and homegrown violence that followed, the Mediterranean became a mass grave for many refugees who risked life and limb to travel across its waters with eyes on a more secure life in Europe. The resulting immigration/refugee crisis has become a subject of a deep debate among the EU member states who see on the horizon a mass flow of refugees from Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries, in particular from Libya, Syria and Iraq. The migration crisis has exposed vast divisions among the countries within the EU, and terrorist attacks by the Islamic State (ISIL) has made the situation worse for the North African immigrants living in the EU member states by sparking a racist backlash against Europe’s Muslims. The Euro Zone crisis and the ongoing slow economic growth that has coincided with the refugee crisis and terrorist attacks in Europe have changed the status quo in the EU member states. Increasing distrust to the mainstream parties in Europe and popular anxiety has helped fuel the rise of anti-immigration parties in Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Finland, Sweden, Cyprus, Slovakia, Italy, Germany, the UK and Hungary with a common Islamaphobic and xenophobic agenda.
Although the EU’s approach to this rising anti-immigration sentiment in the EU member states is currently unclear, this newly emerging environment in the EU’s neighborhood led the EU to rethink its neighborhood policy and other existing instruments and initiatives towards the region. A review of the European Neighborhood Policy in November 18, 2015 emphasized radical change in the countries surrounding the EU. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Barcelona Process on November 26, 2015, the co-presidents of the UfM, Federica Mogherini, Vice-President of the European Commission and High Representative of the European Union for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and Nasser Judeh, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Jordan, hosted a meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the UfM member states to renew their political commitment to the development of regional cooperation.
Yet, the changes in the status quo in the both sides of the Mediterranean region indicated the significance of alternative diplomacy, such as citizen diplomacy and science diplomacy, as complimentary to the official diplomacy. The Mediterranean Citizens Assembly (MCA) that was founded in 2008 to create a Mediterranean community of peoples with the shared democratic values of freedom, peace, respect for cultural diversity and environmental responsibility through dialogue among the citizens of the region was transformed into Foundation based in Valencia in 2016. The citizens that have become increasingly vital components of this initiative on both shores of the Mediterranean, and are taking an active part in many projects of the MCA Foundation, dealing with issues that range from regional food policy to the refugee issue.
Increasing transactionalism between the people of these two shores became one the main themes of the Euro-Mediterranean University (EMUNI) 2016 annual conference held on May 12-13, 2016 in Barcelona and the regional event of project MERID (Horizon 2020 project funded by the EU) that addressed the role of the diaspora in intercultural dialogue, trust-building and the development of cooperation between the countries of the European Union, Southern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The potential use of the diaspora as bridges for building trust in the Euro-Mediterranean region was among the topics discussed at this meeting.
The most interesting item on the agenda was about employing science diplomacy to explore new avenues of cooperation in the region. The keynote speaker at the event, Javier Solana, the former Secretary General of NATO and former High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, emphasized the importance of science diplomacy. To underline the potential, he gave the example of Iran’s nuclear deal and two Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) connected physicists, Ernest Moniz, U.S. Energy Secretary and Ali Akbar Salehi, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, who played key roles in the process. He stressed that it would not have been possible to resolve this political problem without scientific contribution.
Another important repercussion of the new approach of the EU that was emphasized during the Review of the European neighborhood Policy issued on November 18, 2015 was that “the new ENP will seek to involve other regional actors, beyond the neighborhood, where appropriate, in addressing regional challenges”, which stems from the understanding that “the neighbors of the neighbors also deserves attention” that arose during the meeting. The MERID project, which is a pilot project of the European Commission, involved Iranian and Iraqi research communities in EU funding structures, expanding the Mediterranean concept into a broader Mediterranean area to make possible “Science Diplomacy in Practice” across a much broader region.
Although it is too early to speak about the positive outcomes of alternative diplomacy in the broader Mediterranean, it is clear that citizen diplomacy and science diplomacy are among the approaches that are taking active roles in reviving relationships and building mutual trust between the countries located on the shores of Mediterranean in a bid to find remedy the common problems in the region.