A Marshall Plan for the Arab World

By Franco Frattini

US President Barack Obama’s major speech on the consequences of the Arab Spring is also a challenge for Europe. Only if the trans-Atlantic partnership proves effective, as it did to meet the demands of the Cold War and the end of Europe’s division, can the West contribute to realizing the hopes engendered by the Arab uprisings.

The crisis in Europe’s southern neighborhood reflects a deep-seated transformation process that will have long-lasting consequences – for the region, for Europe, and for the world. The Mediterranean region is vital to Europe’s peace, stability, and economic growth. The continent’s Mediterranean neighbors look to Europe as their natural partner. And events there, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, have a broader impact that naturally entails the close involvement of global partners – first and foremost the United States.

Current events, not just in Libya, but also in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, mirror the political complexity of these countries. They also spring from different factors, such as frustration with rising food prices and widespread corruption, coupled with demands for greater democratization, reduction of economic and social inequalities, and job creation.

Europe’s response to this process must embody the goal of an orderly and rapid transition. Proposals for some sort of “partnership for transformation,” based on political reform and full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, should bear in mind that the region’s political landscape looks certain to remain volatile and tense in the coming months.

No surprise, then, that regional stability has emerged as a high priority for Europeans. Chaos, a resurgence of terrorism, the rise of radical Islamism, and massive waves of immigration towards Europe are just a few of the potential threats to the European Union that are now being contemplated. Given this, the EU should be doing its utmost to prevent any deterioration of the region’s security.

Just as the post-1945 Marshall Plan consisted of a financial-aid package aimed at reconstructing and re-launching Western Europe’s economies to support democratic transformation and political stability, the countries of the Arab Spring face similar challenges and needs. We need to enable countries like Egypt and Tunisia – and possibly a peaceful Libya – to strengthen their political stability through democratization.

The Marshall Plan was accompanied by partnerships for reconstruction in which the US and European recipient countries were on an equal footing. The aim was to strengthen cooperation as a means of creating a lasting peace. The situation in the Mediterranean region is at a more advanced stage. The broad planks of a partnership are already there, so what is now needed is to enhance Europe’s integration with its southern neighbors.

This is why Italy has proposed a new EU “Plan for the Mediterranean” aimed at supporting the transition process and building upon existing institutional and financial tools to provide the region with additional resources. The Union for the Mediterranean, launched by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008, must be revitalized and re-directed towards development projects ranging from highways and ports to the promotion of small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs).

But a broader economic initiative is also needed to mobilize a critical mass of European and international financial resources to attract investment to the region and modernize its infrastructures and services. Let us, together with the US, tear down the trade and economic barriers that are stifling these economies. Let us also grant some Mediterranean countries association status that will allow them to integrate progressively into the EU’s internal market and participate in EU programs.

To achieve all of this, a clear set of principles is required. We Europeans must favor stability, create a real spirit of co-ownership, and promote political responsibility. In this new framework, the EU should avoid excessive conditionality, especially during the transition period.

Europe’s strong support for the region’s economic development must remain the top priority, as Arab countries introduce necessary reforms. Moreover, a dedicated financial institution should be set up to aid in this task. One proposal worth considering is to upgrade and strengthen the European Investment Bank’s Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP), which would become an autonomous institution, perhaps headquartered in the Middle East or North Africa, with shares held by the region’s governments (or other institutions) and other willing parties.

The London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development could join this effort by extending its activities to the region, which could be coupled with the creation of dedicated services to support the growth of job-creating enterprises. The EBRD made an important contribution to the economic transition process in Eastern Europe; there’s a good case for drawing on its experience and expertise to help the southern Mediterranean.

At the same time, the EU must launch a “dialogue among equals” on political and security matters, aimed at confidence-building across the region. A Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean and the Middle East (CSCM) could quickly become a useful instrument for promoting this comprehensive approach to security and development. In short, we need to transform the Mediterranean countries into producers rather than consumers of regional stability.

We Europeans cannot afford to turn our backs on our Arab friends along the far shores of “mare nostrum.” They are part of our collective history, and they deserve the better future that we can help them to build.
Franco Frattini, Italy’s minister of foreign affairs, was EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security.

Project Syndicate/Europe’s World