The summit of the two shores: a missed opportunity to fully revive Mediterranean cooperation

The Summit of the Two Shores concluded last Monday 24 June in Marseille. This initiative, launched by French President Emmanuel Macron to develop a "strong Mediterranean policy", brought together officials from 10 countries of the Mediterranean (five from each shore of the sea: Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Malta for the northern shore, and Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia and Libya for the southern shore).

Based on the expertise of a 100 representatives of civil society and trade unions from both sides of the Mediterranean, the emphasis was put on a ‘positive’ dialogue and an ‘unprecedented’ participation of civil society, with the ambition of implementing "the values of inclusive solidarity, gender equality, understanding and mutual respect". The ultimate goal being to bolster cooperation in the region through human, economic and sustainable development projects. The main topics on the agenda were: youth, education and mobility; energy; economy and competitiveness; environment and sustainable development; culture, media and tourism)

Despite the alleged 'unprecedented' participation of civil society and trade unions, doubts have arisen regarding the independence of some of the organisations invited, and opacity in the selection and involvement process has somewhat dominated the entire process.

The issue of ‘mobility’ has been approached in a peculiar way: it has been circumscribed as virtual exchanges to allow students to access other countries’ studies remotely, without needing to travel. Surprisingly, the physical mobility of people was not discussed at the Summit, except negatively in a narrative explaining that concrete cooperation projects ought to address "the root causes of the current problems related to south-north migration, trafficking or radicalism". The thematic discussions on economy and competitiveness encouraged better economic integration between the two shores through partnerships and innovations, but overlooked the prerequisites for equity and social justice. Yet economic growth and social cohesion must progress together.

The Summit was presented as the new French initiative to revive the cooperation between the two shores of the Mediterranean, succeeding the feeble Union for the Mediterranean put in place by Nicolas Sarkozy. The final ceremony was intended to gather the heads of state of the 10 partner countries. Eventually Mr Macron was the only head of state who attended the Summit.

The high expectations that this initiative had raised have not been met. The Summit has been reduced to an encounter between a handful of civil society organisations and political leaders for the financing of a few flagship projects. The lack of transparency throughout the process, notably regarding the criteria for selecting civil society representatives, and the choice to omit the most sensitive and complex subject in the current relationship between the two shores, migration, have led to a somewhat meaningless and disappointing process.

SOLIDAR believe that economic and social rights, as well as the right to physical mobility of people, must be frankly addressed in the regional dialogues. The inclusion of civil society in this new process was undoubtedly positive, but it is important to acknowledge the worrying narrowing of freedoms and space for truly autonomous civil society and trade unions in the Mediterranean region. SOLIDAR calls for the respect of freedom of expression and for the recognition and significant participation of all civil society and trade union actors in all countries. A climate of trust is essential for a truly fruitful partnership between the countries on both sides of the Mediterranean.

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