"The Southern Neighbourhood of Spain and the EU", a cooperation plan addressing new challenges in the region

The Alternativas Foundation has presented a new report that lays the new foundations for the challenges we will face in the coming decades
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ARCHIVO  -   The South-South Neighbourhood as a new challenge for today's society

The 21st century presents itself as a century characterised primarily by challenges. The last century, the era of the great wars, the Cold War and the latest decolonial processes, has left us with a world and international order that presents different challenges that need to be addressed. Today, immigration, the climate crisis, Europe's loss of influence and the emergence of new international powers such as China, together with social uprisings and the resulting wars, are shaping a panorama that no longer accepts the perpetuation of inequalities over time.

In this context, the Alternativas Foundation, in collaboration with eldiario.es, has presented a report by the Middle East and North Africa coordinator of the Alternativas Foundation, Itxaso Domínguez, and the professor of Political Science at the Complutense University, Alfonso Casani, which analyses the main political, social and demographic challenges of the south-south region. In addition, the study draws scenarios that could arise from the "megatrends" that are transforming the socio-political landscape and presents a panorama that shows us "what we can expect one to two decades into the future and how we can make the southern shore an opportunity for ourselves".

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In the virtual meeting, there was a colloquium comprising Irene Fernández Molina, Professor of International Relations, Department of Politics, University of Exeter, Ricard González, journalist and political scientist specialising in the Middle East and North Africa, and Isidro González, Deputy Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).

Along these lines, the Director of Foreign Policy at the Alternativas Foundation, Vicente Palacio, stated that "today we have a marvellous pretext for giving a new twist to the way of understanding the south-south neighbourhood, the presentation of a new document that has a prospective orientation of identifying trends, rigorous analysis and reflection on what the road map for the future could be". 

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The Southern Neighbourhood comprises 10 countries ranging from Morocco to Syria, a region where various events are taking place that deserve our attention as a Spanish society and, of course, for governments. This report comes at a time when 25 years have passed since the Barcelona Process, which later led to the Union for the Mediterranean. Moreover, in this referential framework, 2021 marks the tenth anniversary of the so-called Arab Spring, revolts that sought to overthrow authoritarian regimes and fight for greater political representation of society. According to Palacio, "today the situation is problematic, there are entrenched conflicts, Syria, Libya, Western Sahara ... We need a joint recovery that is as sustainable as possible".

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The director went on to emphasise Europe's role in this recovery and implementation of a new political perspective "from Europe, the commitment is at least in the political environment, and this is what the joint communication describes as a strategic imperative", which should promote "development in all these countries and generate stable partnerships, as well as help in the democratic transition". In this line, the partnership must be able to "identify the megatrends in the region and implement an action plan on how to move forward to make this happen".

Co-author Itxaso Domínguez stated that, in the report, "we wanted to focus on young people". Domínguez then presented the megatrends to which the world is exposed and how they are affecting the Middle East region. Firstly, Itxaso Domínguez addressed the issue of the climate emergency as an event that "is going to have a very particular effect on the southern neighbourhood and on the Mediterranean basin, a very vulnerable area in terms of conflict and hunger (water), which leads to what we already know as the climate refugee phenomenon". 

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In this sense, there is a "fragmentation of the international order which has different consequences in each region and is at the heart of the demographic transition, even though we are talking about the south-south neighbourhood as a whole, we must take into account its differences".

On the other hand, the fourth industrial revolution is emerging in the area, bringing new opportunities to the region, but at the same time there is a "digital divide that increases inequalities and affects the most vulnerable". There is an overpopulation in which "health dynamics have been one of the most affected aspects, health in terms of the worker, not the citizen" and where "mental health" has been forgotten.

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In this line, these dynamics are presented "in the medium term, looking to 2030, at first we have social fractures, the erosion of the Arab state system, this constant question of where the state is, the absence of good governance and young people who feel expelled from the system, which will lead to social mobilisations and migratory movements or greater conflict".

We find ourselves in a difficult context in which there are various challenges: "The pandemic crisis, the ecological crisis and the abyss of a possible economic recession must be approached as an opportunity for the standstill that has occurred, in which there is a rethinking of the model adopted. The inclusion of local communities, local empowerment and energy transformation with major environmental benefits. For this reason, the report proposes "how to move from a negative scenario to a good one in a context in which there is an increase in international and national conflict and there are unresolved conflicts, which have repercussions in the region".  

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For Irene Fernández, "what is happening in the southern neighbourhood is that layers of conflict are superimposed, which only increase conflict and do not provide solutions. There are frustrated decolonisation processes, conflicts that date back to Shia-Sunni rivalry, failed decolonisation processes, US-led struggles against terrorism, the consequences of the Cold War and, most recently, the outbreak of the Arab Spring".

In the Middle East, there is a confrontation between governments and societies, as they are the "least economically and politically integrated". On the other hand, Ricard González spoke of social changes in which there is "a phenomenon in the face of these new generations and a certain scepticism towards politics that is produced by co-optation. On the part of these new social leaders, in none of these countries is there a willingness to get involved in institutional politics, which means that they often do not have the capacity to translate these demands into substantial and direct changes. Young girls are asking for their duty in society, and now the delay in motherhood is giving us clues as to where society wants to go". 

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Likewise, Isidro González, emphasised the Union for the Mediterranean as an organisation that is trying to make itself heard". According to González, "at the meeting on the economy of the seas, we managed to get the 42 countries of the Union for the Mediterranean to approve a declaration of 80 points. The Mediterranean is home to a third of the world's population, 7% of the world's population and only 3% of the world's resources". In this sense, the Union for the Mediterranean is working to "get to the root of the problem, as we do not want to build walls, walls can be broken down no matter how big they are, we want to get to the root of the problem. We have created a hub for the creation of youth employment, the percentage of young people who want to emigrate is extremely high and we must respond to these challenges".

On the other hand, he stressed the construction of projects aimed at providing solutions to new problems, such as the "desalination plant in Gaza, which will provide 800,000 people with drinking water, or the programme to decontaminate a lake in northern Tunisia, which will allow agriculture to be boosted". In addition, he stressed the joint role played by "Israel and Palestine on an equal footing in the union for the Mediterranean, which should be normal, it is an emergency, we must take it to Brussels".

 Among these main ideas, the report presented by Alternativas Foundation aims to be the springboard through which the European Union and Spain address the new challenges that our century has to face. The challenges are numerous and complex, but not impossible, and they require a policy of cooperation and neighbourhood that seeks to build bridges and channels of communication in order to overcome these problems. The study does not try to cover the problems in a superficial way, but to go to the root of the problem in order to eradicate a series of conflicts that have a solid base, but that today's society is not willing to continue to maintain.