The European Union should make improving the health of the Mediterranean Sea one of the priorities of its cooperation with countries in its southern neighbourhood, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has said in recommendations that also praise the EU for making support for youth entrepreneurship central to its new strategy for the region.
The recommendations, which the CoR adopted on 30 June, provide a local and regional perspective on the EU's revised strategy towards a region, which was agreed in April 2021 and which emphasises the need to increase economic growth and create jobs. The European Union in February 2021 as part of the New Agenda for the Mediterranean also announced an Economic and Investment Plan for the Southern Neighbours to support 12 flagship initiatives focused on resilience and economic development.
Vincenzo Bianco (IT/PES), member of Catania Municipal Council and the rapporteur on the 'Renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood: A new Agenda for the Mediterranean', said: "On many important issues, from the environment to security, from youth policies to the protection of rights, from migration to mobility, the EU-Mediterranean relationship is central to the economic, social, humanitarian and security balance of our countries. The renewed attention paid by the Union to its southern neighbourhood is a positive factor, but it is not enough. We ask the EU to be more determined and courageous in guaranteeing a greater role for local and regional authorities, so as to allow the creation of a real form of multi-level governance. Our future, which is largely and on many issues truly a common future, depends on these decisions."
The Committee's recommendations describe local and regional authorities in the southern neighbourhood as "key" to sustainable development, as potential partners in programming and part of the "ecosystem for Mediterranean SMEs", as well as being providers of education and basic services to a young population. The opinion, which notes that "almost 50% of the population in the Southern Neighbourhood are under the age of 25", praises the centrality of support for youth entrepreneurship in the EU's agenda. It underlines the CoR's commitment to promoting women's empowerment and gender equality, in terms of rights and opportunities, as an essential means to promote regional stability and socio-economic development. The opinion emphasises the need to support agriculture in the region, suggesting that the EU should try to develop a joint strategy for food security and food sovereignty in the Mediterranean, to support "an agro-ecological transition to practices that preserve soil and agro-biodiversity" and implement sustainable food systems, from production to consumption. One result could be a "Mediterranean products" or "Mediterranean diet" label.
The opinion also calls for deeper collaboration between cities and regions in the Mediterranean region and counterparts in the European Union. The CoR recognises and welcomes the EU's decision to increase funding earmarked for cities and regions in its new budget, which runs from 2021 to 2027. However, the CoR suggests that the new instrument – the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) – should dedicate more funding to climate-related objectives, including support for initiatives to protect the Mediterranean Sea.
The recommendations specifically refer to the CoR's work with Libyan cities as a model that could be developed and used more widely. The CoR has been helping Libyan cities to find partners in the EU since 2016, a process that has seen early contacts and workshops at the technical level transformed into projects and partnerships and, since the start of 2021, into full-fledged programmes supported through the EU's long-term budget. Through the partnerships, known as the Nicosia initiative, the CoR is helping Libyan cities to improve not just their provision of basic services – such as waste management and water management – and to develop their administrative capacity, but also to run peace-building projects among young people and to develop the local fisheries industry.
The EU's new strategy was presented in February 2021, ten years after the Arab Spring and 25 years after the EU began to deepen its relationship with its nearest southern neighbours through the Barcelona Process. The Barcelona Process led to the creation of the Union for the Mediterranean in 2008. The CoR subsequently established a political forum with local and regional authorities in the southern neighbourhood – Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) – to provide a local-government perspective on the work of the Union for the Mediterranean and the EU. Each year, ARLEM now awards a prize to young entrepreneurs whose businesses have benefited from collaboration with local administrations. The first three winners came from Libya, Algeria and Albania. The current edition is now open for applications.