Little known though it is, the EU has
already formed its own version of the North American Free Trade
Agreement in the Middle East — in the form of the Euro-Mediterranean
A movement toward free trade
The EMP was launched in Barcelona, Spain, in 1995 and aims to
bring 12 Mediterranean countries — including the Palestinian
Authority and Israel — into a free-trade zone by 2010.
|All the Mediterranean
countries, with the exception of Syria, have bilateral
trade agreements with the EU.|
Two of those countries, Cyprus and Malta, are due to become EU
members in 2004. Furthermore, the EU has committed $5 billion to its
developing partners to encourage them to liberalize their economies.
That ambitious effort by the EU created bilateral trade accords with
several Arab countries — and pressed them to encourage free trade in
the Middle East.
Significantly, the EMP has become the only forum of its kind to
have Israel and the Arab countries sitting around the same table.
Proof shown in numbers
The EU also established cooperative economic arrangements with
the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1989 — and
concluded a common external tariff arrangement this year.
Figures published by the European Commission in 2003 point to the
growing level of trade integration between the 12 Mediterranean
countries and the 15 EU members since 1980. In 2001, 53 % of exports
from Mediterranean economies went to the EU — and 62.9% of those
economies’ imports came from the EU.
Trading with Israel
At the same time, all the Mediterranean countries, with the
exception of Syria, have bilateral trade agreements with the EU.
|The EU — through the use of
diplomatic and economic resources — could achieve the
kind of goals that the Bush Administration is trying to
advance through the use of its military
It is interesting to note that, notwithstanding the accusations
that Europe is “anti-Israeli,” EU-Israeli trade in the last decade
alone, has seen a threefold increase.
This confirms the EU as Israel’s major trading partner and the
number-one market for Israel’s imports — surpassing even the United
States in volume.
The process of trade liberalization has not been perfect.
European markets have remained closed to some of the Mediterranean
countries’ main products, especially agricultural goods. And the
initiative was severely undermined as the Israeli-Palestinian peace
European-Mediterranean economic integration
But the level of economic ties between the EU and the
Mediterranean countries, including the growing dependency of Israel
on trade with the EU, provides the Europeans with an opportunity to
assert their diplomatic status in the region. Preferably, as part of
a cooperative strategy with the United States.
To accelerate the process, the European leaders should remove the
obstacles to the prompt entry of Turkey into the EU. That act,
combined with the entry of Cyprus and Malta, will confirm the EU’s
status as both an Eastern Mediterranean and a Middle Eastern power.
A strategy of constructive engagement
An even more ambitious approach would be for the EU to announce
its readiness to open negotiations with a free and democratic Iraq,
as well as with Israel and an independent Palestinian state.
|The entry of Turkey into
the EU will confirm the EU’s status as both an Eastern
Mediterranean and a Middle Eastern
That could lead to the Palestinian state’s gradual accession to
the EU — a goal that would admittedly take many years to achieve.
By adopting a strategy of constructive engagement in the Middle
East, the EU could try — through the use of both diplomatic and
economic resources — to achieve the kind of goals that the Bush
Administration is trying to advance through the use of its military
power: Challenging the status quo in the Middle East, while
advancing the cause of peace and political and economic reform.
Economic leverage vs. diplomatic influence
Indeed, it is time for the Europeans to conclude that they cannot
secure their interests in the region with which they maintain
strategic business, and demographic ties by burnishing their ties to
corrupt political elites.
That policy may have helped to protect short-term economic
interests, while redirecting the hostility of the “Arab street”
against the United States. However, perpetuating the rule of Arab
autocrats has only helped to turn the strategic and economic
periphery of Europe into one of the least advanced and most unstable
parts of the global economy.
Demographic time bomb
The Middle East exports not only oil to the EU, but hundreds of
thousands of poor and angry immigrants as well. Some Europeans look
upon them as a demographic time bomb.
|The level of economic ties
between the EU and the Mediterranean countries provides
the Europeans with an opportunity to assert their
diplomatic status in the region.|
But there is another critical truth the EU has to contend with:
As long as both the Israelis and the Palestinians regard Washington
as central to any resolution of their conflict, the EU will remain
marginalized in the peace process.
That is true despite the fact that Europe is the largest provider
of aid to the Palestinian Authority and is Israel’s most important
trade partner. The EU has so far failed to translate that economic
leverage into diplomatic influence.
Signaling to the Israelis and the Palestinians that a peaceful
resolution to their conflict could be a ticket for admission to the
EU would be more than just enticing them with economic rewards.
Joining the EU
Conditioning Israel’s entry into the EU on its agreement to
withdraw from the occupied territories and dismantle the Jewish
settlements there would strengthen the hands of those Israelis who
envision their state not as a militarized Jewish ghetto, but as a
Westernized liberal community.
The tragic fate of European Jewry served as the driving force for
the creation of Israel, and welcoming the Jewish state into the
European Community makes historical and moral sense.
The prospect of joining the EU could even help launch a process
of economic and political liberalization in an independent Palestine
and an Iraqi federation.
|Despite the accusations
that Europe is “anti-Israeli,” EU-Israeli trade in the
last decade alone has seen a threefold
The establishment of NAFTA produced pressure for democratic
reform in Mexico. In the same way, the evolution of trade and
institutional ties between the EU, Palestine and Iraq — and
eventually Jordan, Syria and Lebanon — could lay the foundations for
a movement toward democracy in the entire Levant.
Hopes for EU membership have already played a critical role in
accelerating democratic change in Turkey, leading to the collapse of
the old political order and the election of a reform-minded
Turkey: A move to democracy
Putting Turkey’s EU membership on hold only gives a boost to
those in the military and nationalist Islamic groups who want to
reorient Ankara’s foreign policy from the West toward Iran and
If anything, the recent tensions between Washington and Ankara
over Iraq and the Kurds only demonstrate that anchoring Turkey in
the EU is in the interest of both the Americans and the Europeans —
and could also help stabilize post-Saddam Iraq.
Indeed, notwithstanding the recent rift between the EU and
America over Iraq, it is possible to envision these two players
working together to achieve some of their common goals in the Middle
|Perpetuating the rule of
Arab autocrats has only helped to turn the strategic and
economic periphery of Europe into one of the least
advanced and most unstable parts of the global
These include integrating Turkey into the West, resolving the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and working together to liberalize
the economic and political systems in the region.
America should certainly provide incentives for the Europeans to
devote more of their resources to creating a stable and prosperous
Middle East, which would have a direct effect on European interests.
At the end of the tunnel, the presently much-maligned Europe
could end up providing the economic and diplomatic resources needed
to help create a New Middle