The European Union and the Union for the Mediterranean should consider developing a macro-regional strategy for food security in the Mediterranean, promote an agro-ecological transition towards practices that preserve soil and agro-biodiversity, and consider introducing a 'Mediterranean products' or 'Mediterranean diet' label, according to a report discussed by members of the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) on 29 October.
The recommendations, which are currently at the preparatory stage, also urge regions and cities to seek to become a driving force behind efforts to develop agricultural approaches that are more resilient to dramatic changes in the climate in the Mediterranean region.
The opinion, which is being drawn up by Agnès Rampal (FR/EPP), deputy mayor of Nice, was discussed by the commission for sustainable territorial development of ARLEM, a political forum that brings together politicians from the EU and from countries bordering the Mediterranean. It will now be discussed at ARLEM's plenary meeting in February 2021, together with a second opinion, on the digitalisation of small and medium sized businesses in the Mediterranean region.
Ms Rampal said: "Climate change is having an appalling impact in the Mediterranean… and it is aggravating a situation of marked vulnerability. My opinion is a plea for action. There is an indissociable link between agriculture, diet, and food security and we must maintain this link in the Mediterranean region. There is a deficit of governance and common vision at present because agricultural management policies are not a priority on the political agenda. We need agricultural practices that are far more resilient, we need to promote the Mediterranean diet, which is part of the UNESCO world heritage, and we need specific support for food sovereignty."
Presenting her report on the digitalisation of small and medium sized businesses in the Mediterranean region, Lizzy Delaricha, Mayor of Ganei Tikva in Israel, said: "Digitalisation is the next bridge that has to be crossed by SMEs", adding that a lack of digitalisation is currently "holding them back from competing with other companies".
Digitalisation is a priority of the European Commission led by President Ursula von der Leyen, who has emphasised that digitalisation – as well as climate action – is central to the EU's efforts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
The meeting was co-chaired by Lahcen Amrouch, Mayor of Argana in Morocco, and by Arianna Censi (PES), deputy mayor of Milan Metropolitan City.
Ms Censi emphasised the "challenges" now facing regions and cities in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. There is a need, she said, "to create and support economic models on development that put local communities at their heart, share policies to tackle climate change and the Covid-19 crisis, promote multilateralism, and revive the content of the Milan Charter – the cultural legacy of Expo Milan 2015, on access to food – to eradicate hunger by 2030".
Xavier Cadoret, of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, said that responses to the coronavirus "crisis must not hamstring democracy" and that measures taken by national leaders must have "democratic legitimacy" and be "temporary". He also described the crisis as "an opportunity for recognition of the specific and crucial role of local and regional authorities in the Mediterranean basin".
The European Commission said that the death toll from the pandemic in the southern neighbourhood currently stands at over 13,000, foreign direct investment has dropped by 45% this year, and remittances "are plummeting". To help, the Commission has accelerated payments for budget support to southern Mediterranean partners and it has re-directed €2.3 billion of its programmes in the region to provide emergency support, strengthen medical and social responses, and to improve water and sanitation. This aid includes measures to help refugees.
Members of ARLEM also attended a discussion of the Union for the Mediterranean's draft strategy for sustainable urban development. The European Committee of the Regions decided in 2008 to push for the creation of ARLEM in response to the creation months earlier of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), in order to ensure that a local and regional perspective could be brought into the work of the UfM. The UfM, which brings together 42 countries from the EU and the Mediterranean basin, emerged out of a diplomatic process that began 25 years ago in Barcelona.
This was the first meeting of ARLEM since the start of the new mandate of the European Committee of the Regions, from which European members are drawn. The change of the CoR's mandate also affected the composition of ARLEM. Due to the pandemic, the meeting was held online.
External speakers at the ARLEM meeting included: Isidro González, Deputy Secretary General of UfM in charge of Water & Environment, who noted that only the Arctic is being worse affected by climate change than the Mediterranean;; Jean-Paul Pelissier, International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies CIHEAM (Montpellier); and representatives of the European Commission. Speakers during the discussion on the UfM's strategy on sustainable urban development included politicians and officials from Leuven and Jordan, as well as by a range of academics and ARLEM members.
ARLEM's next meeting is its plenary session in February 2021. The event will also see the announcement of the third winner of the ARLEM Award for Young Local Entrepreneurship in the Mediterranean.