On the historic date of March 08th – International Women’s Day, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered for the second consecutive summit in Vienna, Austria. This leg of the Vienna Process event titled: “Europe – Future – Neighbourhood at 75: Disruptions Recalibration Continuity”. The conference, jointly organized by four different entities (the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace) with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, was aimed at discussing the future of Europe and its neighbourhood in the wake of its old and new challenges.
This highly anticipated conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from three continents, and the viewers from Australia to Canada and from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the rethinking and revisiting Europe and its three equally important neighbourhoods: Euro-Med, Eastern and trans-Atlantic (or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”); the socio-political and economic greening; as well as the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials and Code, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century.
The event was probably the largest gathering since the beginning of 2021 for this part of Europe.
Along with the two acting State Presidents, the event was endorsed by the keynote of the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Excellency Olivér Várhelyi. The first, of the three-panel conference, was brilliantly conducted by the OSCE Sec-General (2011-2017), current IFIMES Euro-Med Director, Amb. Lamberto Zannier. Among his speakers was Emiliano Alessandri, OSCE Senior External Co-operation Officer.
In his opening, officer Alessandri reminded audience that after the Cold War – the age of great hope was there: “It was widely believed that the unevenly developed, conflict-torn Mediterranean region could finally stabilize around a rapidly integrating Europe, the gap between the Southern and Northern economies reducing through greater access to the European common market, and a truly ‘Euro-Mediterranean’ region emerging as a more coherent space” in economic, security and P2P terms.
A decade later, after 9/11, the region was singled out again as an epicenter of global insecurity. Unleashing long-standing grievances, the ill-named and ill-fated Arab Spring of 2010-2011 was prematurely welcomed as a region-wide movement towards democracy, portending the demise of an alleged Arab “exception”. “As protest movements gradually subsided, leading to what many have perhaps too harshly defined as a new “Arab winter”, views of the region have turned markedly negative again.”
Mediterranean: Promised but undelivered
For one, the Mediterranean appears less and less a coherent space – notable speaker claims: “Growing interdependence between Europe and the Mediterranean on the one hand, and the Mediterranean and Africa on the other, has not translated into convergence, let alone triggered a drive towards integration.” He suspects that the region is now linked up through its proliferating smuggling routes and fast-expanding organized crime networks.
“Contrary to what Europeans had envisaged, moreover, the Mediterranean region is also less and less a European “neighborhood”– a role that would have never done full justice of the region’s inherent diversity, multi-layered cultural identity, and wide-ranging international connections and influences. Europe undoubtedly remains a strong reference for some countries – economically as well as culturally. But the region increasingly looks in other directions –towards both Asia and Africa.” He claims that China invests heavily in the region. He singles out Turkey and Russia as key players in regional conflicts while the Gulf States and Iran expanding their clout either directly or through proxies. Therefore, the region looks as a global chessboard rather than a European “inland sea”.
Scholar Alessandri is concerned about Libya and its “divisive internal dynamics that create a dangerous vacuum of governance. But overall local regimes have recovered from the wave of protests of 2010-2011, either by adapting or fighting back.” This all despite dysfunctional governance and the challenges posed by terrorism and other transnational threats.
Mediterranean: Embracing the symmetric dialogue
Mediterranean regional dialogue is more important than ever, especially in the security realm, which – according to him – require a level of trust, and a “focus on a common positive agenda.”
Speaker claims that the rise of China, Russia’s re-engagement in the region after a post-Cold War hiatus, the Gulf States’ growing influence is an opportunity for the region, diversifying the region’s international portfolio. As dialogue continues to be in short supply, no available platform should be discarded such as the Barcelona process/ Union for the Mediterranean, the EU and NATO, the Mediterranean Partnership of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“The CSCE/OSCE process has traditionally addressed East-West relations, with a focus on European security. But from the start and before many others did the same, the CSCE/OSCE built ties across the Mediterranean basin in an attempt to foster regional security and promote an Helsinki-like “method” or “model” for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts. The OSCE Mediterranean Partners now include all of the North African countries with the exception of Libya (which, however, has repeatedly expressed interest in joining), as well as Jordan and Israel in the Middle East.
Over the years, the OSCE Mediterranean dialogue has come to look at the Southern countries as an actor rather than an object of security. Successive OSCE Chairmanships havefocused on outlining a positive agenda for Mediterranean security, that countries from the North and the South can advance together to tackle a growing set of shared concerns, from countering transnational organized crime to addressing environmental threats” – stated Alexandri.
Conference participants were reminded that the OSCE Mediterranean dialogue has two key features that could prove fitting for the specific challenges of the 21st century Mediterranean: To address international conflict and, despite a growing focus on transnational threats, the organization still relies on a security toolkit that is particularly tailored to preventing or mitigating inter-state tensions. This double focus feature on the inter-state and transnational security aspects is highly relevant for the present Mediterranean security environment.
Further in his talk, speaker reminded all about the freedoms and liberty which are alarming eroding in Europe now: “The 1975 Helsinki Final Act – the CSCE founding document – was among the first international texts to elevate human rights and fundamental freedoms to the rank of international norms. Through its Office on Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE has developed a solid track record of supporting free and fair elections, promoting democratic governance, and ensuring the protection of human rights.”
Contextualizing it, Alessandri stated “The notion that states are as secure as their citizens is most relevant in a region where too often the interests of states have been defined against those of the peoples.”
Revisiting the OSCE Med-Partnership
Although the OSCE Mediterranean Partnership remains visible with its capacity-building projects of cooperation in security-relevant policy areas, Alessandre believes that the future of the OSCE Mediterranean dialogue should benefit from:
First, conflict-cycle related issues, including the proper form of confidence and security building measures (CSBMs). This was initially concepted for the European context, but well fits for the MENA region, too (including the arms control and military activities CSBMs, energy to cyber security).
Second, the OSCE Mediterranean dialogue should promote economic cooperation and how to foster youth participation in decision making processes.
Third, the door should be kept open to other Southern countries to join the dialogue (including Libya or countries of the Sahel that are already part of other interregional formats). “In line with its vocation as an inclusive multilateral platform, countries from the Levant and the Gulf could also be brought into an expanded dialogue format in the future.” For the formats of the de-nuclearized MENA and similar, he proposes “a new dialogue between Iran, the Gulf States, and other key regional and international actors”.
Fourth and finally, Alessanri is convinced that “the OSCE could step up its engagement with other regional and international organizations, including some that are yet to develop a Mediterranean profile, such as the African Union (which, however, has a focus on conflict resolution). As the largest regional arrangement under the UN Charter, the OSCE is well placed to promote cross-regional connections. This would anchor the new Mediterranean dialogue to a revival of multilateralism, one based on the recognition that a more global and multipolar Mediterranean needs inter-locking institutions to support the creation of a stable and effective security regional order.”
*the above text is based on the informal transcript and conference recordings, which may have nonintentionally caused minor omittances or imprecisions in the reporting.