The Union for the Mediterranean budget drops by 60% and Member State experts have not yet been sent in

The organisation’s headquarters in Barcelona are half-empty with only 25 people currently working. The Arab-Israeli conflict is stopping the UfM's set up and the start of projects. The Secretary General of the UfM states that the organisation's work should focus on technical projects in economic and social areas, aside from politics.

CNA / María Fernández Noguera

December 3, 2010 12:02 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The Arab-Israeli conflict stopped not only the Euro-Mediterranean Summit –which was scheduled initially for May and then postponed to November–, but the Union for the Mediterranean’s set up and launch of activities. This organisation is formed of 43 Member States and has its Secretariat’s headquarters in Barcelona. It aims at fostering collaboration between Europe and the Southern shore of the Mediterranean. However, the political difficulties are becoming an obstacle for the organisation’s functioning. The UfM Secretary General is Ahmad Masa’deh. In an interview with ACN, Mr. Masa’deh said he was fully aware of this problem and stated that the organisation should focus on economic and social projects, aside from politics. Meanwhile, the Member States have decreased the organisation’s budget for 2011, leaving only 6.2 million euros. In addition, most of the countries have not sent their experts to work at the UfM’s headquarters yet. In face of these facts, the Secretary General reminds Member States that their commitment is needed.

When are we going to see the first Union for the Mediterranean projects in place? “We hope that we can deliver some results next year and the year after. But it has always to be remembered that the executive agencies cannot and do not operate in isolation of the stakeholders: the States.” With these words, in an interview with the ACN, UfM Secretary General, Ahmad Masa’deh, was stressing his fears about Member States not being sufficiently committed with the organisation’s.  Member States have in fact cut the budget initially foreseen for 2011 by 60%. This leaves an amount of only 6.2 million euros, an insufficient figure according to the Secretary General.

Ahmad Masa’deh was previously the Ambassador of Jordan to the European Union. Mr. Masa’deh is aware “the economic support may reflect the political support”, but hopes this is not the reason for the budget reduction. Although he finds the 6.2 million euros insufficient for putting his many ideas into practice, he has resigned himself to the situation: “we need to try using this reduced budget in the best possible way and get results in the months to come.”

Moreover, the Union for the Mediterranean and its initiatives will not be able to move forward if Member States do not put political issues aside, believes Mr. Masa’deh, stressing the Israeli-Palestine conflict as a particularly important example of this. This is, in fact, the main reason why the Union for the Mediterranean Summit has been postponed twice in 2010. The summit was supposed to take place in May, before being re-scheduled to November, and finally being postponed without further notice. The Summit was to bring together the heads of state and government of the 43 UfM Member States. Considering the failure of peace negotiations, Mr. Masa’deh is asking the partners to focus on economic and social cooperation.

However, until now, the insufficient political will has allowed the majority of ministerial meetings to end in failure. Some meetings did not even taken place yet while those that eventually did take place ended without concrete agreements. Member States, for instance, were incapable of signing an agreement on the region’s water management. Once again, the cause was rooted in the Middle East conflict.

Despite the difficulties, Mr. Masa’deh is optimistic about the UfM’s future. He expects the first projects of the organisation to begin in 2011. Simpler projects will take place in the first phase, says the Secretary General. One of these projects is creating a student exchange programme, similar to the Erasmus concept, in the Mediterranean region. Another more long-term project is a cross-Mediterranean plan to foster solar energy, one that Masa’deh is confident could be developed at a good pace. He is aware that his role is complicated, working within a particularly difficult time and context.

Barcelona, a potential Mediterranean ‘hub’

“Maybe there can be more engagement, maybe the Spanish authorities can start thinking of Barcelona, as the Secretariat is here, as a “hub” for the Mediterranean and so maybe they can become more focused on putting together lots of exercises, engagements, seminars, conferences in Barcelona on all topics. […] but I think they have done a great job so far.” In this way, Ahmad Masa’deh considers that more activities could be held to make Barcelona the Mediterranean capital. The Secretary General, however, does not blame the Spanish, the Catalan or the Barcelona authorities, as he thinks they have done as much as they could have.  The problem lies in the political context of the Mediterranean region, in particular, with the Middle East conflict.

The UfM headquarters in Barcelona are half empty

The UfM headquarters unveiling ceremony was held on March 2010. However, the headquarters, located in Barcelona’s Palace of Pedralbes, were completely empty for half a year, as the UfM did not started functioning until last September. Currently, 25 people are working in the offices, only a quarter of the future workforce. Many offices are consequently empty.

The Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean, Ahmad Masa’deh, has already taken office, as have five of the six vice-secretaries, leaving only the Greek representative. However, the majority of the state experts have not arrived. These experts are to be sent by the Member States. According to Mr. Masa’deh, they are “essential” in having the organisation start functioning normally. If state representatives are not there, “who is going to do the job?” Mr. Masa’deh wanders.

The Union for the Mediterranean is an international organisation that brings together the 27 European Member States and all the countries of the South and East shores of the Mediterranean Sea except Libya, making 43 countries in total. As agreed in the 2008 Paris Declaration, the UfM has 6 areas of work: environment (with a special focus on sea pollution); water management; renewable energies (with the Mediterranean solar plan as a star project); collaboration in higher education and research; fostering business exchange; and, sea and land transport infrastructure.