Recommendations by local and regional politicians highlight concerns about access to COVID vaccines and "huge" regional inequalities within Mediterranean countries.
The European Union's
for its partnership with its southern neighbours has won the support of local and regional politicians from across the Mediterranean region and the EU – but they have insisted that that the "cooperation benefits must reach beyond the capitals" and must reduce, not increase, the "existing huge territorial disparities within neighbouring countries".
recommendations adopted on 22 February in an online plenary session, the
Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) also drew particular attention to concerns about "the risk of a vaccination-divide and urges political actors to facilitate fair and equitable access for health".
ARLEM was established by the
European Committee of the Regions (CoR) in 2010 to bring a local and regional perspective into the work of the
Union for the Mediterranean , created in 2008, and of the EU. ARLEM's
plenary meeting on 22 February was addressed by both the secretary-general of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement.
(EL/EPP), co-president of ARLEM and president of the European Committee of the Regions, governor of the region of Central Macedonia, said: "The new agenda for this vitally important partnership and the accompanying investment plan could do much to increase the resilience of the Mediterranean region – a region that is the second-most affected by climate change and already faced major economic, social and political challenges before the pandemic. COVID-19 and the climate emergency show how life-changing these challenges are. The European Committee of the Regions therefore fully supports policies that enable cities and regions to reduce, adapt to, and recover from such threats. But most of the hard work needs to be done at the local and regional level, and it is essential that national governments and the EU listen to and cooperate with local and regional politicians and authorities to achieve these goals. We welcome the intention to provide extra financial, technical and political investment, including more funding for sub-national administrations, but – as our declaration states – these ambitions must be transformed into benefits that reach beyond the capitals and reduce the existing huge territorial disparities."
Mohamed Boudra , Mayor of Al Hoceima and President of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), who co-chaired the meeting, said: "The European Union has confirmed its ambition to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050 through the Green Deal project, to which local and regional authorities will make an indispensable contribution. The same ambitions and decentralised approach must dictate our thinking and our climate action in the Mediterranean. The COVID-19 crisis demands a double transition, a greener and more sustainable transition. We need to build forward."
Nasser Kamel, Secretary-General of the
Union for the Mediterranean , said: "No person, organisation or region can face the amplitude of the current challenges on their own. In that respect, the 42 Member States of the Union for the Mediterranean will only succeed by working closely with local and regional authorities. There is a clear circular link between climate, energy security, economic growth, development and health. We need to build a development strategy that helps us improve human health, greens our economies, yet still drives competition, and provides a digital basis for key public services and sectors."
Olivér Várhelyi, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, said in a recorded message that: "The new Agenda for the Mediterranean is tailor-made, accounting for the region's diversity, and aimed at seizing the opportunities that stem from the green and digital transitions. The Agenda also proposes an Economic and Investment Plan for the southern neighbours. Its 12 indicative flagship initiatives will be the blueprint for our action, and will help support long-term sustainable and inclusive economic recovery." He said the Commission would "prioritise youth empowerment" and expressed confidence that the winner of the third ARLEM Award for Young Local Entrepreneurship would inspire others to turn their ideas into business ventures.
In the "
Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood - A New Agenda for the Mediterranean " presented on 9 February, the European Commission and the European External Action Service
state that they are "ready to set up an EU vaccine sharing mechanism" that would "ensure the sharing of access to some of the 2.3 billion doses secured by the EU with special attention given to the Southern Neighbourhood, alongside the Western Balkans, our Eastern Neighbourhood and Africa". The European Commission also proposed to mobilise up to 7 billion euros, which it believes could help leverage private and public investments of up to 30 billion euros. The agenda has yet to be endorsed by EU member states.
recommendations for 2021 welcome the EU's "reinforced commitment to its Southern neighbours" expressed in the "
Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood - A New Agenda for the Mediterranean ", stating that "delivering tangible outcomes through cooperation is crucial to find a way for a more prosperous, equitable, sustainable and safer future for the Mediterranean region". It also calls on the EU and its partner countries "to systematically take into account local and regional authorities as drivers of a territorial development that is close to the people, when planning economic development, trade and investment in this context". The 23 recommendations also cover COVID-19, climate action, sustainable economic development, sustainable urban development, women's empowerment, the EU's 2021-27 budget, and supports the UfM's proposal for a Day of the Mediterranean every 28 November.
The EU's New Agenda for the Mediterranean identifies
five key policy areas
. The first focuses on human development, good governance and the rule of law; the second, on resilience, prosperity and the digital transition; the third, on peace and security; the fourth, on migration and mobility; and the fifth, on the green transition.
The ARLEM plenary adopted two reports, both of them covering aspects highlighted in the proposed New Agenda. One of the reports – on "
A new Green Deal for the Mediterranean: the Agenda 2030 for a Greener Mediterranean " – was drafted by
Agnès Rampal (FR/EPP), Deputy Mayor of Nice. The other – "
The power of transformation: Digitalisation as a key factor to boost business around the Mediterranean " – was authored by Lizzy Delaricha, Mayor of Ganei Tikva in Israel.
The EU's "Renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood - A new agenda for the Mediterranean" also emphasises the need to foster entrepreneurship. ARLEM each year awards a prize to a young entrepreneur whose business has been helped to flourish by business-friendly policies adopted by a local administration. This year's winner – announced on 22 February – is Erilda Krasi of
1001 Albanian Adventures , a tour operator that has benefited from collaboration with the city of Berat. The four others on the shortlist were: Ahmed El Sadi of Blue Filter, a waste-water treatment company in Palestine; Amal Labriny, who runs an agricultural cooperative in Morocco; Mustapha Samir Laoufi, who established a solar-panel company in Algeria; and Abdelkader Zerrougui, manager of a water and waste-management company in Algeria.