The Union for the Mediterranean cannot function without the Member States commitment, states its Secretary General

In an interview with ACN, Ahmad Masa’deh affirms that the UfM should work aside the Middle East political conflict and focus on economic and social projects. The Euro-Mediterranean Summit has been postponed twice this year and most of the Member State experts have not yet been sent to the UfM headquarters.

CNA / Maria Fernández Noguera

December 3, 2010 12:10 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- Eleven months after being appointed Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean and after having unveiled the organisation’s headquarters last March, the Jordan diplomat and lawyer, Ahmad Masa’deh (Amman, 1969) faces a budget cut of 60% for 2011. Mr. Masa’deh is now asking Member States for greater commitment. Most of the Member States have still not sent their national experts to work at the UfM’s Secretariat in Barcelona. In an interview with ACN, Masa’deh states that he needs to be “realistic”: the UfM cannot depend on a Euro-Mediterranean Summit, which will most likely not take place in the short term. This is why he proposes to separate UfM work from politics. Member States, which have already blocked several UfM agreements due to the Arab-Israeli conflict, will not make things easy for him.

After being postponed twice, do you think there is still hope for the Euro-Mediterranean Summit to take place?

I am very sorry that the Summit did not take place, it is a great political obstacle. But we have to be “realistic”. Considering the political context, we are not ready to have it. To have a Summit that may not be a success, means that it is better not to have it and look for other dates. Right now there is still no date for the Summit and if there are no advancements in the peace process, the Summit will not take place. The situation is therefore not very promising. We need to keep in mind that the Arab-Israeli conflict has been going on for more than six decades and it does not have an easy solution. The solution needs to be based on the creation of a Palestine state taking into account Israel’s security. In this context, the UfM must be wise. We must create other instruments to look for an alternative way to overcome this obstacle. We have to reach this by fostering cooperation in economic and social areas. We need to work in other areas, aside from politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

You say you should continue working alongside the conflict. However, it is precisely the Arab-Israeli conflict what is blocking important decision, such as the water management within the region.

I agree. We did not have successful ministerial meetings. The External Affairs one was postponed. Others have been cancelled. Others took place but the results were disappointing. In the ministerial meeting on water, there was an agreement in all the technical aspects, but not in the political. Neither was there an agreement in the ministerial meeting on labour. This is why it is very important to separate the UfM work from politics.

Therefore, the only way for the UfM to be successful is to work completely apart from the conflict between Palestine and Israel?

I’m not saying this is easy. But this is the only way we can move. Otherwise, we will throw the Secretariat, the executive agency and the technical work into the context of politics again. And by doing this, we will be committing the same things that we have been committing during the last 15 years throughout the Barcelona Process. Then, where are we? What is left? States have to reach a collective consensus to cooperate in the region. But, not taking into account the conflict between Palestine and Israel, there are still a lot of things to be done. You must take into account that the European Union only invests 2% of its budget in the Mediterranean, while Japanese and Americans invests about 20% in their areas of influence.

The Union for the Mediterranean was unveiled in March 2010 but we have not seen results yet. What is not working?

The Union is working, but it is a long process and nobody should expect immediate results. It must be taken into account that it will take a long while to see it fully functioning. Last March, after the unveiling ceremony it was only me in this historical space, given by the Catalan and Spanish Governments. Now there are 25 people in this house, among them, five of the six Vice Secretaries. The most important thing is that during July and August, the Secretariat worked hard to produce the first documents allowing us to start working: the budget, the programme, the staff regulation, the organisation chart and the directives to choose projects. Now I am proud to say we have delivered what was expected from us. The Secretariat is operative and is only waiting on political will’s green light in order to move on and start working.

When are we thus going to see the first projects of the Union for the Mediterranean?

As you know, this is a recent organisation and we are just starting. We hope that we can deliver some results next year, 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. We have all to work together. The institution could, unfortunately, pay a very high price if we do not work in this direction. I think that we need to send a very strong message: we cannot fail. We need to make a collective effort, together.

You proposed a budget of 14.5 million euros for 2011 and at the end there will be 6.2 million. Does this drop mean that there is no political will from the Member States?

I don’t want to look at it this way, and sometimes I try to convince myself this is not the case. But of course it can be read in this context. The financial commitment can always be read in the context of the political commitment. Maybe we need to look at it more positively, if I may say, [such as] the glass half full or half empty. I have to say that I am not that happy that the Secretariat did not get the budget that we wanted. And obviously it was reduced by more than 60% which reflects the willingness and the orientation that the countries have. But I want to think it is not this way. We need to mitigate what happened and transform it into a better situation. We need to try using the reduced budget in the best possible way and achieve results in the months to come.

Which are going to be the UfM first projects that we will be able to see?

The problem is that at the moment there is not an agreement on how we must implement the projects. And I believe this is a critical point. We must define what projects we choose, how we classify them and to what extent the Secretariat is pro-active or reactive. I think we will be able to see one or two projects in the coming year. We have two types of projects, the long-term ones and the short-term ones. From the long-term projects, I think that fostering renewable energies in the region, specifically the solar, will be one of the projects with some results to be seen soon. There are other projects that are easier to finish, such as those related to education, civil protection, women, student networks, the creation of an Erasmus Mundus for the Mediterranean zone, etc. As we have few resources, we must focus on one or two projects per sector.

Is Barcelona making the most of hosting the Union for the Mediterranean? Are the City Hall, the Catalan Government and the State Government doing enough to help Barcelona become the capital of the Mediterranean?

On March 4th, in my speech during the Secretariat’s unveiling ceremony, I affirmed that I would do my best to make Barcelona the capital of the Mediterranean. 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 Mediterraenan and so maybe they can become more focused on putting together lots of exercises, engagements, seminars, conference in Barcelona on all topics. And engage the Secretariat, under the umbrella of the Secretariat or in collaboration with the Secretariat […] But I think that they have done a great job so far.