European Liberals in Barcelona seek a “real Marshall Plan” for North African countries
The European Liberals in the European Parliament have organised an international summit in Barcelona to discuss the Arab Spring within the framework of the Union for the Mediterranean, which has its headquarters in the Catalan capital. At the meeting, the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, who is also the leader of the Catalan Liberal Party (CDC), asked the EU “not to turn its back on emerging democracies in the southern Mediterranean”. Furthermore, Mas emphasised the need to create jobs in the region. The European Liberals also urged the international community to take immediate action in Syria.
Barcelona (ACN).- The European Liberals have proposed a \u201Creal Marshall Plan\u201D for North African and Middle Eastern countries, at an international summit held in Barcelona on Thursday March 29th and Friday March 30th. Within the framework of the Union for the Mediterranean, which has its Secretariat\u2019s headquarters based in Catalonia\u2019s capital, the Liberal Group of the European Parliament (ALDE) organised a meeting to discuss the Arab Spring. The President of the European Liberals, the former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, urged the international community to immediately act in Syria, assisting the opposition to Bashar al-Assad\u2019s regime and creating a peacekeeping force. In addition he also asked to strengthen the Mediterranean policies of the European Union. The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, asked the European Union \u201Cnot to turn its back on emerging democracies in the southern Mediterranean\u201D. Mas, who is also the leader of the Catalan Liberal Party (CDC), stressed the importance of creating jobs in the region, which is \u201Ca real priority of all the initiatives in the region, as jobs are a source of stability and growth\u201D. Besides, the Catalan President also proposed to channel all EU funds for the area through the Union for the Mediterranean. He spoke of the strategic importance of the Mediterranean region, which \u201Cif economically integrated, could become the largest and most dynamic market in the world, able to compete with emerging markets\u201D with \u201C800 million consumers\u201D.
Immediate action in Syria
At the international summit held in Barcelona on Friday, at the Union for the Mediterranean Secretariat, the ALDE President, Guy Verhofstadt urged the international community to immediately act to stop the casualties in Syria. Verhofstadt stressed that a political solution to the conflict \u201Cis very difficult because of Bashar al-Assad\u2019s attitude\u201D; therefore forceful action is needed. According to him it could include the following three possibilities: creating a peacekeeping force mainly formed by soldiers from Arab countries; creating humanitarian corridors and safe zones near the border with Turkey and Jordan; and, \u201Cproviding all assistance that the Free Syrian Army needs today\u201D.
A \u201Ctrue Marshall Plan\u201D for the southern Mediterranean region
Verhofstadt emphasised the need to create a \u201Ctrue Marshall Plan for North Africa and the Middle East\u201D, funded by the European Union, with the objective of supporting the new democracies and to set a new regional cooperation framework. The former Belgian Prime Minister asked the EU to work on a new Neighbouring Policy, strengthening cooperation with southern Mediterranean countries.
The President of the Catalan Government asked the EU \u201Cnot to turn its back on emerging democracies in the southern Mediterranean\u201D. He stressed the need to tighten \u201Call economic and social links\u201D for the civil society organisations of those countries so that they \u201Cdo not feel alone\u201D. Mas regretted that \u201Cthe EU has traditionally dealt with the Mediterranean with a certain distance, and a sort of coldness. And what we are trying to do -and the Liberal Democrats are really helping us- is that Europe becomes aware of the decisive importance the Mediterranean game has for the entire EU\u201D, not only for the countries near the Mediterranean but for the entire EU, he emphasised. He asked the European Liberals to assist the moderate Islamic parties that have won the elections in countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
Jobs, the first priority
The Catalan President set the creation of jobs as their main priority. Mas said that there are 20 million people from North Africa and the Middle East who live outside their home countries. Catalonia has great experience with this reality, since 25% of Moroccan migrants living in Spain live in Catalonia. Mas referred to the \u201Cbrain drain\u201D that emigration represents for southern countries, and the challenges that represents in northern countries. He praised the creation of jobs as \u201Ca source of stability and growth\u201D for the Mediterranean region.
Artur Mas also vindicated Barcelona\u2019s role in the Mediterranean. \u201CBarcelona is to the Mediterranean what Brussels is to Europe\u201D. He asked the European Union to channel all its funds for the region to the Union for the Mediterranean, which has its permanent Secretariat in the Catalan capital. Mas stressed the potential capacity that the Mediterranean region has, \u201Cwith 800 million consumers\u201D. \u201CIf economically integrated, it could become the largest and most dynamic market in the world, able to compete with emerging markets\u201D. For this reason he asked the EU to strengthen Mediterranean policy and involve all EU countries.
The challenge to create 40 million jobs in 15 years
The new Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean (UpM), Fathallah Sijilmassi, was satisfied to hear that there was \u201Cunanimity\u201D to change the UpM\u2019s methodology. He said that this unanimity was \u201Cboth in the North and the South\u201D. The international summit was the second meeting Sijilmassi had attended since he took office two months ago. The UpM Secretary General reminded that in the South Mediterranean there are 80 million youngsters. In the next 15 years, the region will have the great challenge of creating 40 million new jobs.