The Historical Background of European Union – Mediterranean Relations

The Historical Background of European Union

Mediterranean Relations

Arş. Gör. Merve AYTAÇ

The European Union has always paid attention to the relations with Mediterranean countries. Not only geographical closeness but also the sources that Mediterranean countries possess have led Europe to have good relations with them. Mediterranean region preserves its importance through the history. For hundreds of years, different civilizations and states had control over the region which is namely Carthage, Assyrian, Egypt, Hittite, Rome, Persian, Venice, Geneo, Ottoman and so on. Throughout history, dominating power has changed in centuries and that makes the Mediterranean a region which all civilizations were fought for the sake of. Since the main trade roads cross over the Mediterranean, the region has witnessed many battles and conflicts.

Even if it seems that in recent years the European Union has taken cognizance of the policies towards to the Middle East and North Africa because of Arab Spring, it is obvious that since decolonization period of 1960’s and 1970’s European Union, whose name was European Economic Community (EEC), had signed different bilateral agreements with the Mediterranean countries.

As of 1970s European states have made efforts to turn the Mediterranean into a peaceful and stable region (Adler & Crowford, 2004). In the process, Europe caught the pinpoints of relations between those countries because focusing on tradable countries instead of old colonies attitude brought these closer and be less reluctant to have economic relations in the first step.

After the decolonization period, European countries still need to have control over old territories. If we consider 1960s and 1970s were the harsh terms of the Cold War, it is acceptable that Europe tries to protect influence over the territory in a constructive manner in the name of protecting its existence in the Middle East and North Africa regions. Newly decolonized countries seek independence, however in the economic and institutional framework of the EU Mediterranean policies ultimately create a dependency between EU and Mediterranean countries with multilateral or/and bilateral agreements (Bicchi, 2009).

Global Mediterranean Policy (1972 – 1992)

In 1976 and 1977 the EEC concluded trade and cooperation agreements with all the Mashreq and Maghreb countries. These were the part of the EEC’s ’Global Mediterranean Policy (GMP)’ which was adopted in 1972 (Khader, 2013). Maghreb countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Western Sahara, seemed as the most open to get European support and to conclude bilateral negotiations in agreements.

Considering that the region embraces the countries from different cultures, religions and political structures, in this term under Global Mediterranean Policy European Economic Community has focused on economic relations with the countries which some of will be nominated and enlarged as Mediterranean Partners who are Greece, Algeria, South Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Portuguese, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. To eliminate or minimize the variation in practice GMP was revealed as a roof with a common policy to all Mediterranean partners (Khader, 2013).

However, if we consider the Arab and Mediterranean perception of Europe which is oil supplier and center of conflicts, the expected aids, and economic support were not delivered to these countries. During the period of Global Mediterranean Policy, the Israel – Palestine or Arab – Israel Conflict, 1973 Petroleum Crisis determined the progress of GMP.

Renewed Mediterranean Policy (1992 – 1995)

The Cold War ended, Berlin Wall fell, new members accessed to the European Union. All changes have made a new policy essential for Mediterranean states. Ineffectiveness of GMP revealed that in the beginning of the process, promised and expected plans should not wait for the peace in the region and the EU and partner countries should not let the instability in the region affect the relations of Euro- Mediterranean countries. Since before 1992, Europe focused on the establishment of the peace between Israel and Palestine and in order to set good relations they saw the solution to the conflict as necessary.

In 1992 Lisbon Summit, the Renewed Mediterranean Policy was welcomed by members. During this term, the relations between European and Mediterranean countries were negotiated within the framework of European Common Foreign and Security Policy. The European Council approved that to establish peace and stability in Europe, and the routes to follow in the relations with the Mediterranean countries were determined by the Council.

Before Essen Summit, the region of Mediterranean was defined as a source of instability. However, in the Summit, besides Central and Eastern Europe as neighbors, Mediterranean was called as ‘other neighbors’ and seen as a touchstone to ensure peace and security in the European continent. Therefore, it was expressed once more in Essen Summit that The RMP should have been strengthened with more dependent policies between Europe and Mediterranean countries. In that connection, The Euro – Mediterranean Partnership program rooted in Essen Summit under the headline of ‘The EU’s External Relations’.

Euro – Mediterranean Partnership (1995 – 2008)

Until 1995, EU tried to set closer relations as the foreign affairs and expressed that it is necessary to have more active policies with Mediterranean countries in order to provide peace and security within the EU. Because existing bilateral agreements were lack of certain dimensions of the Mediterranean region’s problems and were lack of supplying of the necessities to conduct policy (Attinà, 2004).

At the end of the Conference, the Barcelona Declaration of Euro Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) was signed in November 1995. According to the Declaration, three paths were admitted constructing partnership. For the political aspect, it is aimed to have a more strengthened dialog for the conflicts in the region, secondly, by 2010 a Mediterranean Free Trade Area (MEFTA) will be established, and lastly different from previous multilateral attempts of the EU, the Barcelona Declaration offered more emphasized social and cultural cooperation. To achieve social goals of EMP, some organizations which became such a bridge between European and Arab societies, have been set up (Khader,2013).

The accession of new members in 1980s led European Community to have more institutionalized and active policy towards Mediterranean region. Beyond the economic aspect, the European Council by ensuring cooperation and development in MENA region targeted to decrease the conflicts especially between Palestine Authority and Israel. Thus, a common ‘Barcelona Spirit’ is arisen and both European and Mediterranean states are united under the common roof of partnership.

According to Del Sarto and Schumacher, at the end of the last terms of EMP, break of the peace process, brought down the both political and social vision on the base of economic initiatives. Especially the terrorist attack in 9/11 has been identified with the Middle Eastern states, security concerns have moved ahead of the regional cooperation. Instead of the first attempt to develop Mediterranean economies, after 9/11 political reconstruction of the structure of the Middle East has become crucial (Del Sarto and Schumacher, 2005).

2004 Enlargement and ENP (2004 – 2012)

The beginning of the 2000s has witnessed the three major events in the MENA region. In 2000 the break of the peace process of Camp David Agreement between Israel and Palestine Authority with the Intifada inhibited the attempts to promote the peace in the region. Furthermore, the terrorist attacks of 9/ 11 and ensuing invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq changed the whole spirit of Barcelona Process (Khader, 2013). Therefore, to revive the relations and the redefine the security concerns of Europe over the Mediterranean, a new concept of neighboring has been introduced to both the Mediterranean and East European states.

At that point, it can be said that creating common political framework has become a priority for Europe’s security. The ENP’ s logic is to get the spillover effect of political transformation and decrease the security worries of EU beyond the borders (Bicchi, 2011). Considering international atmosphere, the security concerns have started to have wide coverage over the regional cooperation. Starting from Barcelona Process, European states pursued the stability and security in their ‘near abroad’ by economic aid and trade (Yacoubian, 2008).

While new Eastern European countries have sought for the membership, European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) is not promising the accession to the EU. As the founding document of ENP which has the title of ‘Wider Europe – Neighborhood: A New Framework for Relations with our Eastern and Southern Neighbors’ has clarified that neighboring actions have not led to an accession to the membership. Therefore, ENP can be evaluated as an instrument for the EU’s external policy (Cadier,2013).

On the other hand, if there is no open door for the membership, why would the neighbors cooperate as the EU wishes? The most criticized side of the Mediterranean policies is that contrast to the possibility of the accession in the Barcelona Process and the some of the GMP countries such as Spain and Portugal accessions, the ENP is lack of any incentive for the cooperation with the EU. As Missiroli stated the membership is a ‘Golden Carrot’ of the transformation and cooperation in EU ‘s regional policies. However, the future policies do not offer any possibility of accession. Moreover, separating the candidates and possible members located in Eastern Europe, the EU has eliminated the accession (Missiroli, 2004).


Adler, E., & Crawford, B. (2004). Normative power: The European practice of region building and the case of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership (EMP).

Attina, F. (2004). The Building of Regional Security Partnership and the Security Culture Divide in the Mediterranean. Info: Institute of European Studies, UC Berkeley.

Bicchi, F. (2011). The Union for the Mediterranean, or the changing context of Euro-Mediterranean relations. Mediterranean politics, 16(01), 3-19.

Cadier, D. (2013). Is the European Neighbourhood Policy a substitute for enlargement? The Crisis of EU Enlargement, LSE IDEAS Report, November 2013.

Del Sarto, R. A., & Schumacher, T. (2005). From EMP to ENP: What’s At Stake With The European Neighbourhood Policy Towards the Southern Mediterranean. Eur. Foreign Aff. Rev., 10, 17.

European Commission, (1995). Barcelona Declaration adopted at the Euro-Mediterranean Conference – 27-28/11/95. Retrieved on 4 June 2016 from

European Commission, (2003).Wider Europe — Neighborhood: A New Framework for Relations with our Eastern and Southern Neighbors. Retrieved on 4 June 2016 from

European Commission (2004). Communication from the Commission European Neighborhood Policy: Strategy Paper. Retrieved on 4 June 2016 from

European Commission. (2006). Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on Strengthening the European Neighbourhood Policy. Retrieved on 4 June 2016 from

Khader, B. (2013). The European Union and the Arab World: from the Rome Treaty to the Arab Spring. IEMed.

Missiroli, A. (2004). The EU and its changing neighbourhood. European Union foreign and security policy: towards a neighbourhood strategy. Routledge, London, 12-26.

Yacoubian, M. (2008). Promoting Middle East Democracy: European Initiatives. DIANE Publishing.

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