- Reinvigorating the Parliamentary Dimension of the Barcelona Process:The Establishment of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly
On 27 November 1995, fifteen members of the European Union and twelve Mediterranean states met in Barcelona, Spain, to seek ways of integrating the Mediterranean region into the broader EU political-economic partnership. This came to be known as the Barcelona Process. The declaration adopted on that occasion expressed the wish of the participants to establish a Euro-Mediterranean area of peace and stability based on fundamental principles that included respect for human rights and liberties, shared prosperity through the progressive establishment of a free trade zone among the EU and its Mediterranean partners, and the development of the human resources of the entire area through substantial EU support to help in the transition of Mediterranean countries into a partnership of equals.
Though the initiative to advance the Euro-Mediterranean parliamentary dialogue of the countries participating in the Euro-Mediterranean process was entrusted to the European Parliament in 1995, little attention has been paid to progress made since then by academics or political analysts. The idea of setting up a Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Forum, in the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, was introduced at the time of signing of the Barcelona Declaration. In the chapter titled "Follow-up to the Conference," an explicit reference was made to the Euro-Mediterranean parliamentary [End Page 85] dialogue and the need to boost communication among members' national parliaments. However, references to cooperation among the parliamentary entities were limited (only two), which suggests that little or no special attention was paid to the parliamentary dimension, at least at the outset of the Barcelona cooperative process. It was rather treated as an initiative, among several other activities included in the Barcelona Declaration, but its role was to be purely informative, as a forum in which viewpoints and ideas could be exchanged but in which there would be no other essential activity.
Despite the inefficiencies and the significant problems that have plagued the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Forum as an institution throughout its short history, it nevertheless has satisfied a need for the exchange of ideas between the two coasts of the Mediterranean and has furthered cooperation between parliamentary bodies. The parliaments of the countries of the Mediterranean Basin will be called on to play a significant role in the future, since parliamentarianism is the cornerstone of democracy and an indispensable condition for cooperation and development. It has been generally accepted that the parliamentary work of the Euro-Mediterranean Forum facilitates open discussions and the expression of varying viewpoints, which not only influence situations but can lead to the identification of areas for joint action. The various political perspectives (socialist, liberal, and so forth) from both sides of the Mediterranean frequently agree on issues that the governments of their countries are unable to deal with directly because of the persistence of outdated and ineffective diplomatic objectives. Parliamentary cooperation can serve as a catalyst for overcoming deadlocks that develop in diplomatic channels, making it possible for members of the forum to jointly submit proposals and recommend solutions to common problems. There is no such flexibility at the governmental level, since there are inherent limitations that reflect the need to promote and protect other interests.
Cooperation among parliamentarians of Europe and the southern Mediterranean countries should continue both within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and through bilateral and multilateral initiatives. This can only contribute to an invigoration of the political dialogue and achieve the expectations of both sides. Four Parliamentary Forums have taken place to advance cooperation by applying the principles agreed upon in [End Page 86] Barcelona in 1995. The first Parliamentary Forum was regarded as a significant step since it took place at a particularly difficult phase in the new Euro-Mediterranean partnership. Its occurrence meant that a significant provision of the Barcelona Declaration on the cooperation of parliamentarians was fulfilled. At the second Parliamentary Forum, procedures were established to pave the way for parliamentarians from participating countries to hold annual meetings. The third meeting illustrated that, despite extraordinarily difficult international circumstances (the terrorist attack of 11 September), parliamentarians from the...