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The Mediterranean is waiting for Europe

Contrary to popular belief the European Union is highly involved in the Mediterranean.

It devoted three quarters of the 5.6 billion euros of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument to the region from 2007-2010. It will do the same between 2011 and 2013. Hence the direct aid paid to the ten countries of the Southern Mediterranean totals 3 billion euro. To these sums we might add the enormous contribution of the European Investment Bank (EIB) which lent some 8.5 billion between 2002-2008 and which has said it is prepared to devote 300 billion euros to in infrastructures in the region by 2030.

Moreover the Member States invest greatly in bilateral aid to the States and populations of the Mediterranean. France is by no means the least important of these with an investment of 700 million euro per year - it is the leading European budget in terms of aid to governance, economic development, civil society, healthcare and education. 

Finally via two modest European security and defence policy missions but above all via the five UN missions extending from the Western Sahara to the Golan Heights, Lebanon and Cyprus, Europe is present - even if this simply means via the five main contributors (UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain) for the whom the cost rises by 235 million euros per year.

Why then does Europe feel that it is not rising to the occasion in this present crisis? It is probably because these aid programmes, which are already generally conditioned by the respect of human rights and the rule of law are extremely disorganized and not adequately planned from a strategic point of view nor are they developed to work harmoniously together. Howeber it is more likely because they lack vision and a message that is directed primarily to the people before being delivered to the governments.

Of course it has not been easy to gauge the wave that is sweeping these undemocratic regimes away.

In addition to a long term lack of civil freedom, which has become unbearable in the face of a lack of any kind of hope for reform and development, we might add the obvious inequalities which are fed by corruption. The young generation - which comprises the majority in these countries - is fully aware of the remarkable changes ongoing in the world; they master the modern means of communication and they can no longer bear being cut off from the fruits of progress which are shared by an increasing number of people. This generation has preferred the uncertainty of revolutionary upheaval to a desperate status quo. But this is not without its dangers - however it is now a fact and it has certainly taken the world by surprise. 

For Europe, a continent of peace and freedom, prosperous and wealthy in spite of the crisis, the challenge is a major one - as it is for the entire Western world. But there is no alternative: it must stand by those who are demanding democracy, the respect of individual rights and the rule of law. If it does not do this it will be failing in its basic duties because this is its founding message. It is up to Europe then courageously to join those who are hoping for democracy, to side with freedom and promote this - concentrating its strength in aid and assistance in real projects that will support the economic rise of the countries in the Mediterranean.

It should not stand paralyzed because of what it fears - but offer a welcoming face to those who very often only have eyes for the model it provides. The inspiration given by the Union for the Mediterranean was the right one even though its implementation was difficult. A major share of European history, which often came from its borders, finds its sources on the shores of the Mediterranean.

There can be no sustainable future for European integration without a prosperous, democratic Mediterranean, which is the first step towards a stabilised Africa.