Department of Political Studies - University of Catania
Jean Monnet Chair of European Comparative Politics

Jean Monnet Working Papers in Comparative and International Politics

Alberto BIN

Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, University of Malta

‘Mediterranean Diplomacy’. Evolution and Prospects

January 1997 - JMWP 05.97

The Mediterranean has always been a crossroads of civilizations, peoples and religions as well as a place of meetings and clashes, distinguished by high levels of interaction and just as high levels of conflict among its component parts. Today, despite the degree of interdependence reached by countries and regions bordering the basin, the Mediterranean is still an area of great instability characterized by multiple problems which range from the enormous demographic and socio-economic inequality existing between the two opposite shores to the pressure of migration, from environmental risks to illegal activities, from the proliferation of arms to old and new conflicts and various forms of nationalistic or religious extremism.

The climate of instability and insecurity which results from this situation explains most of the increased interest in the Mediterranean on the part of states, international organizations, security institutions, government and non-government bodies, and their efforts aimed at creating a framework of dialogue and cooperation which would permit a more effective management of the already existing relationship of interdependence and contribute to preventing the Mediterranean from becoming a new ‘iron curtain’.

It also explains the proliferation of repeated and sustained diplomatic initiatives which has characterized multilateral relations in the Mediterranean since the early Seventies. For the purpose of this paper, the ensemble of proposals and initiatives aimed at establishing various forms of dialogue and cooperation in the Mediterranean will be referred to as ‘Mediterranean Diplomacy’. The growing importance of multilateralism as opposed to bilateralism and the globalization of problems which require collective solutions are indeed features of contemporary relations in the Mediterranean, a fragmented geopolitical area (1) characterized by different cultures, political regimes, economic and social structures and level of development.

This paper examines the evolution of this ‘Mediterranean diplomacy’ and compares various proposals and initiatives on the basis of two fundamental criteria: participation and content. It argues that the initiatives characterized by a global approach to Mediterranean problems and issues in terms of both participation and content, are likely to becoming the predominant feature of Mediterranean diplomacy in the years to come.

Three phases of Mediterranean diplomacy

The first phase of Mediterranean diplomacy begins in the early seventies in a context still dominated by the East-West confrontation. The relationships in the Mediterranean during the years which preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall were characterized by the launching of two important initiatives. The first started in 1973, within the framework of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, now OCSE). Indeed, the Helsinki Final Act (1975) contained a special section dedicated to "Questions relating to Security and Co-operation in the Mediterranean" in which participating states declared their intention to promote the development of good neighborly relations and to encourage the development of a reciprocally advantageous cooperation in various fields with the so-called ‘non-participating Mediterranean States’ with the aim of increasing mutual trust and thus contributing towards the promotion of security and stability in the region (2).

The inclusion of a ‘Mediterranean dimension’ in the Helsinki Final Act is due to the insistence, at times bordering on paroxysm, with which the then Maltese prime minister Dom Mintoff affirmed the principle (now widely accepted) according to which security in Europe could not be separated from security in the Mediterranean. However, one had to wait till 1992 and the Declaration of the second Helsinki Summit for the ‘non-participating Mediterranean States’ to be at last invited to make contributions to the Conference and for a CSCE Mediterranean Seminar to be convened (3).

In the meantime, meetings of experts in the fields of economics, science, culture and the environment were dedicated to the so-called ‘Mediterranean dimension’ of the CSCE and held in Valletta (1979), Venice (1984) and Palma di Mallorca (1990). One has to emphasize, though, that the lack of interest for Mediterranean problems shown by many participating states, both superpowers included, and the tendency to tackle these problems more in a formal rather than substantial manner, have contributed to transform the ‘Mediterranean dimension’ of the Helsinki process in what a well-known expert of the CSCE/OCSE has defined as "a simulacrum of dialogue" (4).

The second multilateral diplomatic initiative meant to create a climate favourable to regional cooperation is that which is referred to as the Euro-Arab Dialogue, launched in 1974 following the energy crisis which was the background to the fourth Arab-Israeli war, and which saw as chief protagonists the members of the then European Community and those of the Arab League. ‘Frozen’ for most of the Eighties as a result of the deterioration of the situation in the Mediterranean brought about by the worsening relations between the superpowers, the Euro-Arab Dialogue received a new push in 1989 before being definitely abandoned following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. The failure of the initiative is to be largely attributed to the initial lack of agreement between the two sides with regard to the agenda of the talks. In fact, while the European countries gave priority to the economic matters related to the energy factor, the Arab countries pushed for the inclusion of the Palestinian problem among the points to be discussed (5). This initial disagreement regarding content and priorities created the premise for the subsequent abandonment of the initiative.

The Mediterranean diplomacy of the first generation gave rise to other interesting initiatives which were, however, limited in participation and/or content. Among these one must remember the meeting of the ministers for foreign affairs of the four Central Mediterranean countries (Italy, Libya, Malta, Tunisia) held in Valletta in 1972 under the auspices of the Maltese government. During the meeting explicit recognition was given to "the existence of a particular interest of the four Mediterranean countries to establish concrete forms of cooperation in the following sectors: communications, tourism, fishing, agriculture or afforestation, sea pollution, seabed, economic and trade cooperation" (6). In spite of the lack of results as far as concrete achievements are concerned, the 1972 meeting represents a milestone in the recent history of Mediterranean relations in so far as it was the first regional attempt at cooperation in various sectors at a multilateral level.

A few months later, the Italian Foreign Minister of the time, Aldo Moro, even proposed convening a conference for security and cooperation in the Mediterranean. The Italian statesman’s idea, innovative in many ways and too advanced for the time, was not taken up. In fact, one had to wait till 1990 and the CSCE meeting of Palma di Mallorca for such an initiative to be put forward jointly by the Italian and Spanish Foreign Ministries.

A ‘functional’ approach to Mediterranean cooperation, that is one meant to create a structure for cooperation between governments of a strictly technical nature, characterized the initiative which gave rise to what is termed Action Plan for the Mediterranean, a regional agreement for cooperation in the environment sector which saw the participation of all the countries bordering the Mediterranean within the framework of the Barcelona Convention (1976).

Finally, one should not forget the first ministerial conference of the non-aligned countries of the Mediterranean, which was held in Valletta in 1984, and its follow-ups (respectively in Brioni and Algiers in 1987 and in 1990). The major drawback of the initiative was the fact of having restricted the number of participants to the few countries of the Mediterranean basin belonging to the non-aligned movement. Owing to the great identity crisis which is facing the movement right now, as a direct consequence of the end of the East-West confrontation, the re-launching of such an initiative seems highly improbable.

Deserving of being considered on its own is the ‘Mediterranean policy’ of the then European Community, in other words the network of agreements between the EC and individual countries of the regions to the South of the Mediterranean. The development of privileged relations with countries of the Mediterranean basin started in the Sixties, in the form of association agreements of a mainly commercial nature. In 1972 the Community gave the starting signal to the so-called ‘Global Mediterranean Policy’ which introduced technical and financial cooperation. Later on, as an answer to the upheavals which took place on the international scene following the fall of the Berlin Wall, what is termed the ‘Renewed Mediterranean Policy’ (1990) started off with the intention of strengthening cooperation especially on a ‘horizontal’ level. It was, and still is, a question of important forms of regional cooperation of a mainly economic nature. It has however been correctly observed that "the certainly positive aspects of this policy, on the more strictly political level, are weakened by its bilateral structure and by the lack of a truly multilateral forum in which the sense of a collective responsibility might emerge" (7). In this regard, one may point out that the recent initiative for a Euro-Mediterranean Partnership could constitute the first step towards a new system of multilateral relations on a regional level which may favour the setting up by the European Union of a ‘Mediterranean policy’ worthy of the name.

One is obliged to state that all the efforts aimed at promoting some form of dialogue and cooperation in the Mediterranean during the years which preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall have proved to be failures, with the possible exception of the Action Plan for the Mediterranean which however did not go beyond the limits imposed by its ‘technical’ nature, and was almost completely lacking in ‘political’ depth. The reasons for the lack of success are of course to be found in the specific origin and nature of each of the initiatives examined. But above all, it is the international context still dominated by the East-West confrontation, within which such initiatives were born and developed, which has largely brought about their failure. The two superpowers’ common interest in keeping the status-quo in the Mediterranean and their reservations with regard to any initiative which could change the political and military equilibrium on a regional level (more so in the naval sector) are among the factors that have definitely contributed towards the failure of this first phase of Mediterranean diplomacy.

The end of the Cold War and the downfall of the Soviet Union eliminated some of the obstacles which in the years of the superpowers’ confrontation hindered the creation of a regional framework of cooperation. On the other hand, the end of the East-West confrontation has laid bare the imbalances already existing between North and South. Thus, the new climate in international relations together with the heightening of regional tensions helped to give birth to a new series of multilateral diplomatic initiatives.

In September 1990, on the occasion of the CSCE meeting in Palma di Mallorca dedicated to the environmental problems of the Mediterranean basin, the Italian and Spanish foreign ministers jointly proposed calling a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean (CSCM). The CSCM, largely modeled on the CSCE, was introduced as an institution destined to develop political, economic and cultural policies on a regional level according to the principle of the three ‘baskets’, and to lay the foundations for the collective security of the various geopolitical groupings encircling the Mediterranean: the European Community, the Balkans, the Maghreb, the Middle East up to the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and Iran, but also the United States and the (then) Soviet Union.

The aim behind the new initiative was to eliminate the causes of instability and create the premise for the organization of security in the Mediterranean area through an institutionalized dialogue meant to boost economic development, improve social conditions and bring about a climate of trust and transparency in a framework of regional cooperation. The global approach to the problems of the Mediterranean area, promoted especially by Italy, had as its starting point the double consideration that stability and security were inseparable from the process of development and that one could not circumscribe the search for balance to some countries, ignoring others (8).

The main criticism aimed at the Italo-Spanish initiative was concerned above all with the geographical area taken into consideration, considered to be too large, and with how applicable to the Mediterranean the CSCE experience could be. In this regard it was pointed out that while the CSCE had been conceived to contribute to the healing of the artificial crack caused by the East-West confrontation within a culturally homogeneous and relatively stable area, the CSCM would have had to face a much more complex and diversified socio-cultural reality, characterized besides by a high level of instability (9). The initiative, eyed with hostility by the United States and welcomed somewhat coldly even by some European countries, especially Germany and Great Britain, foundered, however, due to the never-ending Arab-Israeli conflict and the harsh reality of the Gulf War which followed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Against convening the conference were above all the United States, showing quite clearly that they wanted first of all to make some initial progress toward a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict (as in fact happened a few months later). It is not surprising, therefore, that the Italo-Spanish proposal was ‘frozen’ and work began for the convening of the Madrid Conference (1991) which started the peace process in the Middle East under the aegis of the United States.

The ‘freezing’ of the CSCM did not stop France, who had also shown some interest in the Italo-Spanish project, from proposing its own initiative of regional cooperation limited to the Western Mediterranean, where French interests were more clearly to be found. The idea of a forum of Western Mediterranean countries, put forward already in 1983 by French president Mitterand, became a reality in October 1990, when the foreign ministers of nine countries of the Mediterranean basin met in Rome to launch officially the new initiative and approve a declaration specifying its objectives. Four countries of the European Community (France Italy, Portugal and Spain) and the five countries of the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), created in 1989 by Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia with the aim of promoting the process of integration among the countries of the Great Maghreb (10), thus gave birth to the so-called ‘4+5’ Group (later to become ‘5+5’ with the inclusion of Malta) (11). The initial success of the ‘5+5’ Group is explained by the existence of converging opinions among the participants with regard to the (limited) objectives of the initiative (in this respect it differs from the Euro-Arab Dialogue) and of the nature, mainly economic, of the subjects discussed. This notwithstanding, the ‘5+5’ Group did not go beyond a certain number of meetings at ministerial level: the aftermath of the Gulf War, the Algerian crisis and the international isolation of Libya following the ‘Lockerbie’ case, are among the factors that contributed to the progressive abandonment of an initiative otherwise worthy of the greatest attention.

‘Frozen’ at intergovernmental level, the project for a CSCM was re-launched on an inter-parliamentary level on the occasion of the 1st Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean. This was held in Malaga in 1992 under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an international body with headquarters in Geneva which since 1889 has been bringing together the members of the various national parliaments. As regards its composition, the ‘inter-parliamentary’ CSCM differed both from the original Italo-Spanish proposal and from the ‘5+5’ Group in that only the representatives of the countries bordering the Mediterranean were invited to take part in the conference. Portugal, therefore, was excluded, while the United States, Russia, Great Britain and Palestine obtained the status of associate participants. The final document of the conference recommended that the various national governments adopt a series of measures of cooperation in the fields of security, economy and respect for human rights, according to the by now well-proven principle of the three ‘baskets’ (12). The general preamble to the final document contained a paragraph, included on the insistence of the Syrian delegation, in which it was stated that the measures of concrete cooperation foreseen in the framework of the conference "may not materialize among those countries of the region which are in a situation of open armed conflict until a process of definitive settlement of such conflicts has reached a point of no return" (13). In other words, as had already happened when the Italo-Spanish proposal was launched, the Mediterranean continued being a ‘hostage’ of the Middle East deadlock.

If the end of the Cold War brought about the required conditions to create a climate more favourable to the launching of new diplomatic initiatives aimed at creating a framework of dialogue and cooperation, such conditions, however, were not enough, since the Arab-Israeli conflict still represented an insurmountable obstacle to their realization.

The happy start to the process of peace in the Middle East (1991) and especially the signing of the Washington agreements on Palestinian autonomy (September 1993) resolved a deadlock situation which had lasted more than forty years and kicked off a third phase of Mediterranean diplomacy which is still continuing (14).

In fact, the Arab-Israeli peace talks themselves constitute its first concrete manifestation. They have two components: a bilateral one and a multilateral one, treated separately and yet politically linked. The multilateral component, which is of special interest here, considering the close relations which link it to other diplomatic initiatives on a regional level, sees the participation of a number of actors, some from outside the region, meeting in five work groups (regional economic development, environment, water resources, refugees, regional security and arms control). The global approach to the problems of the region, which reminds us of the Italo-Spanish proposal for a CSCM, is assured by the presence at the head of each work group of countries and international actors that do not belong to the Middle East area: United States, Russia, the European Union, Canada and Japan (15). The chief role remains, however, that of the United States, and this is particularly seen in their being the only external actor that exerts a meaningfully influence on both the components of the peace process, the bilateral as well as the multilateral one. The European Union, which heads the group working on regional economic development (REDWG), is capable of having an important role but its action is not always well coordinated and, consequently, often lacks effectiveness.

Among the initiatives of this new phase of Mediterranean diplomacy that stand out, one must mention the Egyptian proposal for a Forum of Dialogue and Cooperation in the Mediterranean (or Mediterranean Forum), an idea which Egyptian President Mubarak had already put forward in 1991. Excluded from the ‘5+5’ Group, Egypt thus wanted to reaffirm its ‘Mediterranean vocation’ as a key element of its new foreign policy after the Gulf War (16). The proposal was received favorably by Foreign Ministry circles in many countries and brought about a first informal meeting (or Gymnich, according to the expression used in diplomatic circles of the European Union) of the foreign ministers of ten countries bordering the Mediterranean which took place in Alexandria in July 1994. During this first meeting various possible ways of developing cooperation on a regional level were considered. The participating States (Algeria, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey) adopted a document which emphasizes the necessity of creating an organ of cooperation characterized by flexibility and pragmatism which would permit, among other things, the conciliation of the aims of the Forum with those of the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) (17). One must underline the fact this last element is an absolute novelty in the recent history of Mediterranean diplomacy. Besides, in Alexandria the need was recognized to promote collaboration between governmental and non-governmental organizations, and it was decided to extend the forum, initially limited to a few countries bordering the Mediterranean, to all countries of the basin interested in regional cooperation (18). Finally three work groups were formed, respectively instructed to take care of the political questions which had a bearing on the Mediterranean basin, of the measures to stimulate socio-economic cooperation between the two shores and of the promotion of various projects in the cultural field, according to the well-tested model of the three ‘baskets’. One must not exclude the possibility that the activities already started by the Mediterranean Forum in the political, socio-economic and cultural fields will complement to such a degree those already planned in the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, that convergence between them will be inevitable.

If the Mediterranean Forum lacks a global component one can’t say the same thing of the 1st Summit of the Middle East and North Africa which brought together in Casablanca, between the end of October and the beginning of November 1994, the representatives of 61 countries and more than 1200 businessmen from all the world with the aim of promoting economic growth and business activity in those regions. Promoted by the United States and organized by two private associations from the US , the Summit is the direct result of the peace process which began in Madrid under the aegis of Washington and falls within a regional American policy meant to create the premise for an Economic Community of the Middle East and North Africa based on free market principles (19). The creation of an executive secretariat with headquarters in Morocco has besides transformed the Summit into a permanent institution. It is worth noting that the European Union, present in Casablanca with a low-key delegation, found itself on the fringe of the politics and the economics of an area which is really vital to its interests. The results of the 2nd and 3rd Summit of the Middle East and North Africa, held in Amman (October 1995) and Cairo (November 1996) respectively, confirmed the altogether secondary role of the European Union (20). This is a rather unfortunate situation when one considers that economic and political relations across the Maghreb and the Mashreq are expected to improve when the Bank for Cooperation and Development, promoted by the United States in Casablanca and approved in Amman, opens its doors for business towards the end of 1997.

A few days prior to the Casablanca Summit, the Commission of the European Union announced the guidelines of a new diplomatic initiative on a regional level: the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (21). The Commission’s proposal was a review of the orientations provided by the Council of Europe meetings of Lisbon (1992) and Corfù (1994) regarding the future relations of the European Union with the countries of the Mediterranean, and formed the basis of the Declaration of the European Council of Essen (December 1994) on Euro-Mediterranean relations. The initiative brought about a conference of ministers which saw gathered together in Barcelona (27-28 November 1995) the Union’s member countries and most of the countries bordering the Mediterranean (with the exception of Libya and the Balkan States having Mediterranean littorals).

To create a zone of peace and security, to develop economic cooperation and intensify the dialogue between the cultures of the Mediterranean area are the objectives of the European initiative, aimed at setting up a truly Euro-Mediterranean Partnership which should allow the creation of a vast free trade zone comprising almost 40 countries and 800 million people between now and the year 2010 (22). Even if the prospect of relations with the countries of the southern and eastern shores is not that of Union membership, the initiative should make possible the move from a system of relations of the purely bilateral type, characteristic of the old ‘Mediterranean policy’ of the European Community, to one including a multilateral component which ought to give greater effectiveness to regional cooperation and enkindle greater faith in all interested parties. Another element which distinguished the new European initiative from the feeble attempts which preceded it, is the inclusion of a political and security dimension, in line with the objectives of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) defined by the Maastricht Treaty on the European Union. It is exactly the combination of these elements, that is multilateralism and the inclusion of a political as well as economic dimension, that has made a well-known expert of Mediterranean affairs theorize the existence of a link between the Union’s initiative and the Italo-Spanish proposal for a CSCM (23).

And yet, despite the interest raised by the European initiative, it too, as others in the past, is to a certain extent ambiguous. Many express the doubt that its aim is not so much that of promoting a true partnership policy but rather of guaranteeing in primis the security of the Union’s member countries; and that, consequently, this initiative too is born more of the need to react to crises and developments of a contingent nature than of the real will to put in place a long-term policy. Moreover, the exclusion of Libya may push this country on to such positions as to render the objective of creating a zone of stability in the Mediterranean particularly difficult to reach. It now remains to be seen whether the second ministerial conference planned in April 1997 will be able to clear these doubts.

Even in the case of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership the major contribution to the realization of the project came through the progress made in the Arab-Israeli peace process. In fact, it has been argued that the success of the former depends to a large extent from the success of the latter (24). Notwithstanding the obstacles represented by Arab and Israeli extremist groups who oppose the peace process and the new Israeli administration’s intransigence over various issues, the path towards the elimination of one the chief causes which have so far stood in the way of a policy of cooperation and security in the Mediterranean area is arguably still open.

The greater interest in the Mediterranean which, as we have seen, comes mostly from the perception of the risks that the European continent faces in relation to the continuous worsening of tensions in the Mediterranean basin, is the reason behind other initiatives which may be mentioned among the ‘minor’ manifestations of this new phase of Mediterranean diplomacy.

Among these, one has to recall the Maltese proposal for the creation of a Mediterranean Council (1992), a flexible body modeled largely on the Council of Europe which would be called to work on various levels and in a multidimensional framework according to principles which closely resemble the way the Strasbourg organization operates (25). Moreover, during the final conference of the Pact of Stability in Europe, held in Paris in March 1995, the Maltese advanced the idea of promoting a Stability Pact for the Mediterranean. Later that year, the French put forward a similar proposal. Although details are still being worked out, the Pact is supposed to be an integral part of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (26).

Even the Western security institutions (NATO, WEU) have recently given proof of their interest in the Mediterranean. In fact, the Atlantic Alliance has always given scant attention to this area. During the East-West confrontation, for example, its action was limited to counterbalancing the Soviet naval presence in the region. Now, however, especially following the pressures exerted by those member countries of the Alliance who, like Italy and Spain, see the Mediterranean as one of the areas in which there is a concentration of almost all the hidden risks and of the potential challenges to their stability and security, NATO seems to want to endow itself with a ‘Mediterranean policy’. Thus, the Final Declaration of the Atlantic summit held in Brussels in January 1994 contained for the first time a passage dedicated to the problems of security in the Mediterranean which is not limited to just the military aspect (27). The Alliance has, besides, started a series of bilateral contacts with some countries of the southern and eastern shores.

One may also talk in similar terms about the Western European Union (WEU). In fact, the Declaration of the Councils of Petersberg (1992) and Kirchberg (1994) explicitly refer to the need of starting a gradual and progressive dialogue with the countries of the Mediterranean area on the problems of security in the region (28). They are, however, initiatives in which, like in the case of NATO, the bilateral dimension prevails.

Even the parliamentary organs of the Council of Europe, NATO and WEU have shown interest in the Mediterranean, especially through declarations of principles and recommendations to the respective national governments, which, however, did not lead to concrete initiatives. One should, on the other hand, mention the second Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean organized under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and held in Malta in November 1995 (the first one had been held in Malaga in 1992). During this Conference a document was adopted which foresees, among other things, the creation of an Association of Mediterranean States, a body meant to promote security and cooperation in the region. The Association is open to all countries having Mediterranean shores and to those that, though not bordering the Mediterranean, share the fortunes of this sea (29).

‘Mediterranean Diplomacy’ in Comparative Perspective

The analysis of Mediterranean diplomacy that we have been thus far examining shows how the failures of the first two phases are mostly to be attributed to the conditionings imposed by the two-block confrontation and to the impossibility of organizing security and cooperation in the Mediterranean area without having, first, started on the way towards a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Cold War being over and, more importantly, the Middle East peace process having been set in motion, there opened a third phase of Mediterranean diplomacy which is still in progress and is characterized by a proliferation of initiatives at various levels.

It is significant that this increasing interest in the Mediterranean is not restricted to just the bordering countries but involves also actors from outside the region, international organizations, parliamentary bodies, security institutions, research institutes, local authorities and businessmen, a sure sign of preoccupation with the deteriorating situation in the Mediterranean area, but also of awareness of the opportunities existing in this region.

There is no doubt that the abundance of diplomatic initiatives represents a positive fact in itself. It shows in fact a lively interest in the problems of the Mediterranean basin and above all the need to solve them collectively. On the other hand, it is opportune to start to reflect seriously on how to reconcile the aims of the various initiatives (while respecting their specific character) in such a way as to exploit to the full their complementary nature and so avoid useless duplication and damaging competition (30).

An analysis ‘by type’ of the many and varied diplomatic initiatives that have characterized relations in the Mediterranean basin in this latter part of the century can contribute to clarify the future prospects of Mediterranean diplomacy. The criteria on which it seems possible to base this type of analysis are essentially two: participation and contents. These in turn are characterized by the greater or lesser relevance given to the global dimension within each single initiative. By global dimension we mean, on the one hand, the extension of this or that initiative to the participation of actors that do not necessarily represent just the countries with shores on the Mediterranean (nor just their governments) and, on the other, the inclusion of various and multiple aspects of a political, economic, social and cultural nature in the agenda of subjects to be discussed.

The chief multilateral diplomatic initiatives that have characterized the recent history of Mediterranean relations may therefore be classified in the following manner:

  1. initiatives of a global nature as regards both participation and contents;
  2. initiatives limited in participation and/or contents.

To the first category belong the Euro-Arab Dialogue, the ‘Mediterranean dimension’ of the CSCE, the Italo-Spanish proposal for a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean (CSCM) and its partial realization at inter-parliamentary level, the multilateral component of the Arab-Israeli peace process, the Summit of the Middle East and North Africa and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership initiative of the European Union. To the second category, on the other hand, belong the meeting of Central Mediterranean countries, the conference of ministers of non-aligned Mediterranean countries, the forum of Western Mediterranean countries (or the ‘5+5’ Group), the Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation in the Mediterranean (or Mediterranean Forum), the ‘functional’ cooperation in the environment sector laid out by the Action Plan for the Mediterranean, and the many proposals for the creation of a Council of the Mediterranean and of an Association of Mediterranean States. Difficult to classify are the ‘Mediterranean policies’ of the European Union (association agreements, ‘global’ and ‘renewed’ policy) and the recent initiatives promoted by the Western security organizations (NATO, WEU), since they are characterized by a marked bilateral component.

What remains today of this Mediterranean diplomacy and what are its future prospects? A comparison between the evolution and the ‘typology’ of the Mediterranean diplomacy which we have thus far been examining highlights the existence of what we may call a ‘process of natural selection’ which tends to favor those initiatives in which the global dimension prevails (both at participation level as well as in contents). It is a tendency which is particularly evident especially in the more recent initiatives.

It is probable therefore that, notwithstanding the altogether positive experience of ‘functional’ cooperation in the environment sector, the framework laid out by the Action Plan for the Mediterranean will remain an isolated case. Besides, this seems to suggest that the conditions existing in the Mediterranean area do not seem particularly favorable to the spreading of a process of cooperation starting from an initiative of a ‘functional’ type, unlike what happened, for example, in the Europe of the Fifties.

The prospects are not better as regards those other initiatives, limited in participation and/or contents, which we have identified as belonging to the second category. In fact, the only process still alive in this area is the one which started in Alexandria within the framework of the Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation in the Mediterranean. On the other hand, it is not to be excluded that, sooner or later, the activities of the Forum may converge into the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership initiative. In the end, the Forum might ‘specialize’ in a specific sector (for example that of culture, considering the special attention which cooperation in this sector received in the document approved in Alexandria) thus bringing a concrete contribution towards the strengthening of the dialogue between cultures in the Mediterranean area which is one of the main objectives of the European initiative. As for the various proposals relative to the setting up of a Council of the Mediterranean or an Association of Mediterranean States, it is quite probable that they will remain at the initial project stage or, if they ever see the light of day, that they will be integrated into the vaster framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.

There remain therefore the initiatives which we have identified as belonging to the first category, that is those in which prevalence is given to a global approach to the problems of the region in a possibly institutionalized framework of cooperation. If one excludes the Euro-Arab Dialogue (now abandoned) and the so-called ‘Mediterranean dimension’ of the CSCE (which does not seem to have made substantial progress) the on-going processes are three: the multilateral component of the Arab-Israeli peace process, the Summit of the Middle East and North Africa and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership initiative. The first two share a specific interest in the Middle East area and in cooperation in the economic and regional security fields. In both cases, besides, the United Sates have assumed a guiding role. On the contrary, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership initiative, addresses the Mediterranean reality as an overlapping and interaction of different regions and integrates the various dimensions of regional cooperation, including the cultural one (which seems on the contrary missing in the first two), under the guidance of the European Union (31).

As things are now it is not possible to foresee whether there will be competition between the on-going processes or whether the so-called principle of ‘division of labor’ will prevail, with the United States committed to a guiding role in a future process of integration in the Middle East and the European Union called to develop a structural and operative tie with the Great Maghreb. What counts, in the end, is that the degree of interdependence now existing in the Mediterranean be governed by a framework of cooperation capable of taking into account the different interests, needs and perceptions of all countries in the region (32). Indeed, only such a broad framework will make it possible to concretely meet the challenges confronting the Mediterranean on the threshold of the third millennium.


(1) Geographically speaking, the Mediterranean area spreads over three continents - Europe, Africa and Asia. Yet it appears to elude a coherent and comprehensive definition. The confusion surrounding the concept of ‘Mediterranean’ is primarily due to the lack of regional political, economic, social and cultural cohesion. In reality it would appear that there is no Mediterranean region, but a number of regions around the Mediterranean. Indeed, there is a tendency to regard the Mediterranean merely as a ‘space’ where other regions meet: Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Back to (1)

(2) Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Final Act. Questions relating to security and Co-operation in the Mediterranean (Helsinki: CSCE, 1975). Back to (2)

(3) Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Helsinki Document 1992. The Challenges of Change. Mediterranean (Helsinki: CSCE, 1992). The CSCE Mediterranean Seminar was eventually convened in Valletta in 1993. Back to (3)

(4) Victor-Yves Ghebali, "Toward a Mediterranean Helsinki-Type Process", Mediterranean Quarterly, 4, no. 1 (Winter 1993): 92. Back to (4)

(5) Elfriede Regelsberger, "The Euro-Arab Dialogue: Procedurally Innovative, Substantially Weak", in Europe’s Global Links. The European Community and Inter-Regional Cooperation, ed. Geoffrey Edwards and Elfriede Regelsberger (London: Pinter Publishers, 1990), 57-65. Back to (5)

(6) Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Testi e documenti sulla politica estera italiana - 1972 (Rome: Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Servizio Storico e Documentazione, 1973), 435-436. Back to (6)

(7) Roberto Aliboni, "Percezioni e politiche della Comunita` Europea e dell’Europa Occidentale", in I paesi della sponda sud del Mediterraneo e la politica europea, ed. Roberto Aliboni (Rome: CeMiSS, 1993), 65-66. Back to (7)

(8) Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Mediterranean and the Middle East after the war in the Gulf: The CSCM (Rome: Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Servizio Stampa e Informazione, March 1991). Back to (8)

(9) Victor-Yves Ghebali, "Toward a Mediterranean Helsinki-Type Process", 95. See also Edward Foster, "‘An Interesting Idea...’: The Grand Mediterranean Design", in Brassey’s Defence Yearbook - 1992, ed. The Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies (London: Brassey’s Ltd., 1992), 115-128. Back to (9)

(10) Currently the Arab Maghreb Union is dormant primarily due to the crisis in Algeria, the sanction regime against Libya and divergence among member countries. Back to (10)

(11) Alvaro de Vasconcelos, "The New Europe and the Western Mediterranean", Nato Review, 39, no. 5 (October 1991): 27-31. Back to (11)

(12) Algeria, Israel, Yugoslavia and the United States did not participate in the Conference. On the 1st Inter-Parliamentary CSCM, see Inter-Parliamentary Union, Bulletin Interparlementaire, no. 2 (1992): 107-152. Back to (12)

(13) Inter-Parliamentary Union, Final Document of the 1st Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean (Geneva: Inter-Parliamentary Union, September 1992), par. 6. Back to (13)

(14) The implications of the Middle East peace process for Mediterranean cooperation are examined by Gabriel Munuera, "Prospects for Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean after the PLO-Israel Agreement. A CSCM Revisited ?", Helsinki Monitor, no.2 (1994), 48-59. See also Cyril Widdershoven, "CSCM and the Middle East Peace Process", Helsinki Monitor, no. 1 (1995): 59-65. Back to (14)

(15) Roberto Aliboni, Institutionalizing Mediterranean Relations: Complementarity and Competition, Paper presented at the 2nd meeting of the Mediterranean Study Commission (MeSCo), Alexandria, 30-31 March 1995, 4-5. Back to (15)

(16) See, for example, Mohammed El Sayed Selim, Mediterraneanism: A New Dimension in Egypt’s Foreign Policy (Cairo: Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Strategic Papers no. 27, 1995). Back to (16)

(17) See Istituto Affari Internazionali, The Med-2000 Project. Cooperation and Stability in the Mediterranean. An Agenda for Partnership (Rome: Istituto Affari Internazionali, April 1994). Back to (17)

(18) Malta has been the first country to profit from this opening, in spite of initial French opposition. Back to (18)

(19) Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), 11 November 1994, 6. Back to (19)

(20) Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), 10 November 1995, 7; Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), 22 November 1996, 6. Back to (20)

(21) Manuel Marin, Strengthening the Mediterranean Policy of the European Union: Establishing a Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (Brussels: European Commission, Document COM(94)427/5, 19 October 1994). Back to (21)

(22) International Herald Tribune, 20 October 1994. Back to (22)

(23) Roberto Aliboni, Institutionalizing Mediterranean Relations: Complementarity and Competition, 6-7. Back to (23)

(24) See, for example, de Lipkowski (rapporteur), La sécurité dans la région méditerranéenne (Paris: Western European Union Assembly, Document 1543, November 1996), 30. Back to (24)

(25) Maltese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malta Review of Foreign Affairs (Valletta: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Special Issue for the CSCE Mediterranean Seminar, May 1993), 1-7. Back to (25)

(26) Maltese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malta Review of Foreign Affairs, no. 9 (May 1996): 45-48. Back to (26)

(27) See, for example, de Rato (rapporteur), Co-operation and Security in the Mediterranean (Brussels: North Atlantic Assembly, Sub-Committee on the Southern Region, May 1994), 1. Back to (27)

(28) On the Declaration of Petersberg see, for example, Roseta (rapporteur), Security in the Mediterranean (Paris: Western European Union Assembly, Document 1371, May 1993), 16-17. Back to (28)

(29) Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2nd Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Security and Co-operation in the Mediterranean. Final Document (Geneva: Inter-Parliamentary Union, November 1995). Back to (29)

(30) See, for example, Roberto Aliboni, Institutionalizing Mediterranean Relations: Complementarity and Competition. Back to (30)

(31) This may be seen as the partial implementation of the Italo-Spanish proposal for a CSCM. Back to (31)

(32) This is also the message contained in the Charter of the Mediterranean, the document signed in Madrid by representatives of the civil society of a number of Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean countries on 11 January 1997. Back to (32)

ã Copyright 1997. Jean Monnet Chair of European Comparative Politics.

Alberto BIN.

Holder of the Italy Chair of Mediterranean Diplomacy and Relations at the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies. University of Malta.