Select Committee on European Scrutiny Seventh Report


The European Scrutiny Committee has made further progress in the matter referred to it and has agreed to the following Report:—


COM(00) 497

Commission Communication to the Council and the European Parliament to prepare the fourth meeting of Euro-Mediterranean Foreign Ministers entitled: Reinvigorating the Barcelona Process.

Legal base:
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 24 November 2000
Previous Committee Report: HC 23-xxviii (1999-2000), paragraph 9 (1 November 2000) and HC 23-xxix (1999-2000), paragraph 10 (15 November 2000)
Discussed in Council: 15-16 November 2000
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: For debate in European Standing Committee B, together with the ECA Special Report on the programme of assistance to Palestinian society (see paragraph 4 below)


  1.1  The Commission Communication was intended as a "think piece" ahead of the Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial meeting in Marseilles on 15-16 November. We considered it on 1 November, when we concluded that it provided a useful overview of the various activities which the EU is pursuing in its relations with countries "to the south and east" of the Mediterranean. We expressed concern then that the initiatives launched should not be neglected by future Presidencies, allowed to linger on, taking up funds and precious time, but to little effect.

  1.2  On 6 November,[10] the Minister sent us an agenda for the meeting in Marseilles. It would be covering all three chapters of the Barcelona Process: political and security; economic and financial; human, social and cultural. The focus would be on proposals for speeding up movements towards free trade, particularly between southern Mediterranean countries, and single-market type harmonisation of rules of origin and standards.

The Minister's letter

  1.3  The Minister has now provided us with an account of the meeting. He recalls that it took place in difficult circumstances. Syria and Lebanon stayed away in protest at Israeli action in the Middle East. Yemen, Mauritania and the Arab Maghreb Union were present as observers and the Libyan Foreign Minister attended as a "special guest of the Presidency", as at the previous formal Ministerial meeting.

  1.4  Inevitably, events in the Middle East dominated the political discussion, but the Presidency successfully ringfenced this topic, allowing working sessions on 16 November to focus on the EuroMed agenda. An extra session on the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) was added straight after the formal opening ceremony, with discussion continuing over dinner with only Ministers present. The Palestinian Authority (PA), Israel, Jordon and Egypt made strong but measured statements expressing deep concern about the current situation and calling for an end to the violence and a resumption of formal negotiations. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis expressed appreciation for the help and support the EU has given to the peace process.

  1.5  The Minister continues:

    "Looking to the future, Ministers agreed on the need to keep building political dialogue and co-operation among the 27 partners. The main political issue was to have been the adoption of the 'Charter for Peace and Stability', providing for political and security co-operation between the 27 partners. As you are aware, the current political situation meant this was not possible but we hope that work towards this goal will resume when the political situation permits.

    "At the morning session on 16 November discussion of the economic chapter focused on the importance of providing new impetus towards the Process's key goal in this area: a Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area by 2010. Ministers generally agreed that partners needed to do more to liberalise their economies and make them more attractive to foreign investment, including agreeing free trade agreements amongst themselves as well as with the EU. In this respect, the announcement that Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia were planning to create a sub-regional free trade area was particularly welcomed. For its part, the EU needed to ratify Association Agreements more quickly. The UK pressed particularly for more generous agricultural access to EU markets."

  1.6  According to the Minister, the EU expressed its aspiration that MEDA funds would be more closely linked to the Association Agreements with EuroMed partners. He adds that:

    "Discussion of the social, human and cultural chapter revealed broad agreement that co-operation had to be made more effective. This should include involving civil society and developing, as the Commission has suggested, two new regional programmes in 2001: on social and JHA issues. The JHA programme would tackle organised crime, judicial administration and migration, including the social inclusion of lawful migrants to the EU. Specific proposals for reinvigorating the chapter (in addition to those in the conclusions) included a meeting of health ministers next year (Italy), a summit on the information society in 2003 (Tunisia) and a 'Year of the Mediterranean' in 2002 (Morocco)."

  1.7  Summing up, the Minister says:

    "In our view the meeting was a successful, and useful, stocktake of the Barcelona Process. The fact that Ministers were able to discuss all aspects of Barcelona, at a tense period in the Middle East, is a tribute to the importance of the Process and to the French Presidency's handling of the Ministerial. Overall, Ministers generally took the view that, while the Process had some useful achievements to its credit, renewed impetus was needed if it was to stay on track for its ambitious goals".

— Views of the European Parliament

  1.8  European Voice of 25-31 January 2001 reported that MEPs would be launching a "scathing attack" on EU efforts to promote peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean region, saying that they were ineptly run and largely ineffective. Only one of the objectives of the Barcelona Process had got off the ground — the establishment of a free trade area. The French socialist MEP, Sami Naïr is quoted as saying that the loosening of trade barriers had been lucrative for European business, and that the EU's financial contribution represents less than one-thirtieth of the advantages which Europe derives from the free trade area.


  1.9  In January, Mr Solana, the Secretary General/High Representative said that the common strategies were too broadly defined to be effective and lacked the sharpness needed to be useful for the European Union's internal purposes. He recommended that in future they should be internal European Union policy documents. The House of Lords Common Foreign and Security Policy Sub-Committee is conducting an enquiry into the Common Strategy on the Mediterranean and expects to report in March.

  1.10  We believe that the time has come for a re-assessment of the EU's strategy on the Mediterranean, the Euro-Med Partnership and the programme of assistance to Palestinian society which we consider elsewhere in this Report.[11] We question whether the substantial sums committed to assisting Palestinian society are likely to be effective in achieving the EU's objectives or whether these should be tackled by different means, with aid commitments reduced to a more realistic scale. We also question whether the EU should be making substantial aid available to countries bordering on the Mediterranean, while at the same time not wishing to be more generous in granting access for their agricultural products to the EU market. In addition, we ask why EU Association Agreements are not ratified more quickly.

  1.11  In September, Egypt, supported by Tunisia, expressed concern that the Euro-Med relationship was unbalanced, with the EU dominant. The Minister does not tell us whether these concerns were satisfactorily dealt with at Marseilles. Also, we were aware that the Charter for Peace and Stability had broken down after acrimonious exchanges between the Israelis and Palestinians. Is signature of the Charter a worthy goal, but over-ambitious?

  1.12  The Marseilles Ministerial meeting agreed that renewed impetus was needed to re-invigorate the Barcelona Process. According to the Minister, several specific proposals were put forward. Does the Government believe that these are sufficient, or does the relationship need to take a different direction, particularly with the breakdown in the Middle East Peace Process? Is it realistic to expect progress with the current membership of the partnership, or should this be reviewed?

  1.13  We recommend that the issues we have outlined above, and others which are likely to be dealt with in detail in the House of Lords report on the Common Strategy, should be debated in European Standing Committee B, after the Lords Committee has reported. The debate should address European Union policy on the Euro-Med partnership and assistance to the Middle East. This document should, therefore, be debated together with the Special Report by the European Court of Auditors on the programme of assistance to Palestinian society which we consider elsewhere in this Report.

  1.14  Our Reports on the Mediterranean Common Strategy and the Charter for Peace and Stability should be tagged to the debate.[12]

10  (21492) 11381/00; see headnote to this paragraph. Back

11  (22007) 14778/00; see paragraph 4 of this Report. Back

12  (21271) - ; see HC 23-xx (1999-2000), paragraph 10 (7 June 2000) and HC 23-xxviii (1999-2000), paragraph 7 (1 November 2000). Back

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