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Relations Between Europe and Middle East

Page history last edited by Leia Achampong 10 years ago


Europe and the Middle East 





From its inception in the 1950s, the European Union (EU) has placed a high priority on establishing and maintaining a close and special relationship with its neighbours from the Mediterranean and Middle East. However, in its youth, the relationship did not harbour any fruitful results and so after decades of political, economic and social stagnation, a new dynamic of transition characterizes the European Relations with the Middle East. This long standing partnership is today governed by two complementary “frameworks” the global Euro–Mediterranean partnership(EMP) also known as the Barcelona Process, now enhanced by the European Neighbourhood Policy, and the EU’s relations with the countries of the Gulf and the Middle East region. 

  Political Context of the Euro – Middle East Relationship



The increasing strategic relevance of the Middle East is well documented by a growing number of European initiatives, including:


The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP):


The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EUROMED) is the most comprehensive and far-reaching policy the EU has developed with neighbouring countries in the Mediterranean area, with the declared long-term goal of step by step establishing an area of regional security and free trade. However, more than ten years after the 1995 Barcelona Declaration, an assessment of what has been achieved so far was disappointing. Although the EUROMED was never envisaged as a short-term solution for the multitude of problems in the area, thus far its results have clearly failed to meet expectations. (Dinan, 2005 : 537).  EUROMED is complemented by the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) developed in 2004.


The EU's Neighbourhood Policy constitutes an important policy shift within EU policy.  Following endorsement of its proposals by the Council and European Council in June 2003, the Commission produced a Strategy Paper in May 2004 and a number of Country Reports. The ENP is inte covers Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, the Southern Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) and the Southern Mediterranean (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria and Tunisia). The overall objective of the ENP is to counterbalance possible fears that the future borders of the Union will become a new dividing line in Europe, and to create a ‘ring of friends’ from Morocco to Russia and the Black Sea. The emphasis is on promoting stability both within and between the neighbouring States, and economic and social development leading to increased prosperity and increased security on the EU’s borders. The mechanisms for achieving this objective may be summarised as the offer of an enhanced relationship with the EU based on the European Economic Area (EEA) model, that would be ‘as close to the Union as can be without being a member’. (Schumacher, 2005 : 18).  SInce 2007 The ENP and the Strategic Partnership with the Russian Federation has been financed by a new subsidiary, the European Neighbourhood Partnership Instrument Europa,a,.


The EU's Role in the Middle East Peace Process (Israeli-Palestinian conflict, influence of the Quartet)


Through economic, diplomatic and humanitarian means, the EU is a major contributor to the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP). As one of the four members in the Quartet (with Russia, the United States, and United Nations), the EU promotes a comprehensive, lasting peace and prosperity for the area. The EU takes a leading role in the international donors’ conference for the Peace Process (Ad Hoc Liaison Committee) and the international Task Force on Palestinian reform. Through its Partnership for Peace programme ('approximately €10 million per year Europa 2010') the EU supports activities that promote direct contact and dialogue between the parties and contribute to the reawakening of the peace process.


The EU (Commission plus Member States) is the largest donor of financial and technical assistance to the Palestinian Authority, providing over 50% of the international community's financing for the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the beginning of the peace process. Total community aid to the Palestinians since 1994 has been over '€2 billion in grants Europa' of which the largest part has been allocated to Palestinian institutions-building and promotion of reform, good governance, tolerance and respect for human rights; '€187 million to the humanitarian aid provided by ECHO; and €581 million as humanitarian support through UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) Europa' for assistance to the refugees, including food aid.


The role the EU has played in promoting reform in the Palestinian Authority (with the objective of laying the foundations for the viable Palestinian state foreseen in the Road Map), through the conditions attached to its financial assistance, has been recognised internationally by the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee of donors. At its December 2004 meeting commended the Palestinian Authority for its continued strong efforts at public financial reform that now place the Palestinian Authority in the front rank of regional performers. 


At the same time, the EU is the biggest trading partner and major economic, scientific and research partner of Israel and a major political and economic partner to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The Egyptian ties with the EU and non EU countries began in the 1960’s, well before EUROMED and the ENP.

The ongoing confrontations between Israel and Palestine, and the conflicts between the the Arab world and Iran are hindering the development for a stable and peaceful Middle East. The fragility of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict also hinders Israel’s membership to the Council of Europe regardless of Israel’s strong trade relations with the EU (  Robbie Sabel : 2007 ) . 


The signing of a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)


The treaty countries include:

  • Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (as of 2007)


The GCC is currently the EU's fifth largest export market and the EU is the top trading partner for the GCC with a share of 18% of total GCC trade. In fact, EU-GCC trade exchange is of a much larger significance than the rest of the Middle East and North African Countries (MENA) - notwithstanding the privileged bilateral relations between some EU Mediterranean states and the MENA countries. In 2007 GCC-EU volume of trade reached $104,600bn. While GCC exports to the EU have been rising, imports from the EU make up one third of total GCC imports resulting in a large and a persistent trade balance in favour of the EU. Additionally, trade in services is also in favour of the EU, with GCC investment in the EU significantly higher than that of the EU in the GCC. EU exports to GCC are diverse but largely dominated by machinery and transport materials, e.g. power generation plants, railway locomotives and aircraft as well as electrical machinery and mechanical appliances, a market in which Europe enjoys competitive advantage. Given the GCC states’ demand for such sophisticated equipment to meet its development needs, this trend is expected to continue despite competition from other region especially from developing Asia, which is likely to take over from the EU as the largest exporter to the GCC in not too distant future. On the other hand, EU imports from GCC are mainly fuels and derivatives '(70% of total EU imports from the region in 2006), (Babood and Edwards 2010)' .


The Progressing Economic Ties


The EU is the largest donor of non-military aid to the Mediterranean and Middle East, giving roughly €1 billion (£874,025,098.78; 07/05/2011) in grants and another €2 billion (£1,748,050,197.57; 07/05/2011) in soft loans in 2003. This is in addition to the assistance given by the EU Member States through their national programmes.


The MEDA Programme is the principal legislative financial instrument of the European Union for the implementation of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. For the period 1995-2004 MEDA accounted for €6.2 billion (£5.41896000000 07/05/2011) of the total €8.8 billion (£7.69142000000 07/05/2011)of budgetary resources allocated for financial co-operation between the European Union and its Mediterranean Partners. MEDA is now in its second programming period (2000-2006) with a budget of €5.3 billion (£4.6323300000 07/05/2011). 

'MEDA grants from the EU budget are accompanied by substantial lending from the European Investment Bank (EIB), through the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP). EIB loans in the Mediterranean region are designated for specific investment projects, particularly for the support of small and medium-sized enterprises, and are administered in close co-operation with the European Commission and, if necessary, with other international financial institutions 'MEDA'.


There are other ways in which the EU devotes resources to the region, for example: in case of a humanitarian crisis via ECHO (European Commission Humanitarian Office); or for a major catastrophe via the budget line of “Rehabilitation in Mediterranean countries” through which the EU earmarked €30 million (£26, 220 752.96 07/05/2011) to help Turkey after the earthquake in August 1999.

 Sustainable economic and political reforms in the Arabic world are key to stability and peace in the Middle East. In the last two decades, a number of Arab states have opened up economically for example Iran. However, these reforms did not have the expected overall impact on the ground. Whilst most states are now trading more generously than ever before the progress within shores is limited.  


The Fragile Social Context



For the Middle East, the “EU” is a role model, it is not just an actor in world politics recognized for its economic strength. The EU’s international significance derives from the fact that; a voluntary pooling of sovereignty provides a model that radiates not only to the periphery of Europe but far beyond. For a lot of Arab elites the EU serves as a successful role model for regional integration. Nevertheless, people in the Middle East  are still living with their colonial heritage as they feel threatened by a potential domina duel threat from the United States of America and Europe.


Poverty, regional and sectarian conflicts, and terrorism threaten the stability of the Middle East. Countries like Lebanon, Iraq or the Palestinian territories seem too weak to tackle these challenges. As previously stated on this page by my predecessor, "an erosion of power in Egypt, Syria and Libya seems possible to appear (2010)", and this has occurred due to certain groups and organisations abilitity to destabilize these authoritarian regimes. Globalization poses enormous challenges to every society, but also enormous benefits in a contemporary international system where everything is connected. The peoples of the Middle East region strive to be more substantially involved in the political and economic development of their respective countries. Under this pressure religious extremism is growing in the Arab world. Yet, in a lot of riparian states of the Mediterranean Sea Islamic movements are the only political alternative to the present regimes.  The increasing Islamisation of the Middle East negates several progressive opportunities between the regions.


The security situation in the Gulf region is deteriorating noticeably and becomes increasingly complicated. There is an atmosphere of mistrust between the actors are on the rise because of the civil-war-like conditions in parts of Iraq and the controversy around Iran's nuclear program.  The hostility against Iran’s nuclear program was clearly depicted when some Diplomats walked out at UN’s Anti Racism Summit in 2009 when few were even absent.

 Political and Social Stability is vital. In this regard, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the future of Lebanon, the stabilization of Iraq, the Iranian nuclear program, the establishment of collective-security structures in the Gulf region and the support for democratisation in the region are crucial challenges. The stabilization of this adjacent area is not only in Europe's interest, but also constitutes a crucial contribution to world peace.


The relation between the EU and the Middle East region is dominated by new social and economic disparities. It includes both Europe and Israel with a 'high rate of GDP, the oil-rich economies in the Gulf and countries that are resource-scarce but rich in population, such as Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon (Lucarelli 2010)'. Turkey and Iran are positioned in-between these two extremes, therefore widening the gap between the two regions.   


Additional Links


1) www.europa.eu

2) Europedia, 'EU's relations with Mediterranean and Middle East's countries' online Last Accessed 07/05/2011

3) Europedia,b, 'European Neighbourhood Policy' online Last Accessed on 07/05/2011.



8) Baabood,A (2003), Dynamics and Determinants of the GCC States Foreign Policy, with Special Reference to the EU, 'Review of International Affairs', Vol. 3, No. 2.

7) Babood,A, and Edwards, G, (2010), 'EU – GCC Workshop', Paper Abstract Last Accessed 22/04/2010.

9)Chirullo, M. and P. Guerrieri , (2002), GCC-EU Relations and Trade Integration Patterns, 'European University Institute Policy Paper'.

4) Del Sarto, R, and Schumacer, T, (2005), From EMP to ENP: What's at Stake with the European Neighbourhood Policy towards the Southern Mediterranean?, 'European Foreign Affairs Review' Vol. 10, 17-38.

11) Desmond, D, (2005),'Ever Closer Union,' Hampshire: Palgrave Macmilla.

5) Europa, 'MEDA' online Last Accessed 07/05/2011.

Europa, 'EU practical & financial support for the Middle East peace process' online Last Accessed 07/05/2011.

Europa 2010, 'The EU and the Middle East Peace Process' online Last Accessed 07/05/2011.

Europa,a, ' The European Neighbourhood Partnership Instrument' online Last Accessed 07/05/2011.

6) Gerstenfeld, M, (2007), European-Israeli Relations: Between Confusion and Change?, “Israel Should Become a Member of the Council of Europe”, by...Robbie Sabel, Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, September 2007.

10) Sonia, L and Lorenzo,F, (2010), eds, 'External perceptions of the European Union as a global actor', Abingdon: Routledge.


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