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Europe's southern future

Updated: 2011-07-30 12:48

By Elisabeth Guigou (chinadaily.com.cn)

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PARIS – Economic crisis has now reached both shores of the Mediterranean, and the risk of a lasting depression has become very real. Austerity policies in Europe threaten to backfire, causing enduring harm to growth prospects and thus stoking unemployment and budget deficits. And southern Mediterranean countries can't hope to make up in America and Asia the opportunities and investments that they are losing in Europe, certainly not in the short term.

In these circumstances – and especially in view of the political upheaval in the countries of the southern Mediterranean – re-launching the Euro-Mediterranean process, and putting it on a new footing, would benefit both sides.

The Barcelona Process, which Jacques Delors initiated in 1995 as head of the European Commission, had its merits, but failed to meet the expectations that it created. In 2005, on the 10th anniversary of its launch, I joined political leaders from both sides of the Mediterranean in calling for a re-formulation of the partnership through the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean community.

Such a community has now become an urgent necessity. Europe has technology and provides a secure framework for investment, but it is the southern Mediterranean that increasingly can point to strong economic growth. Europe is aging and will lose 20 million people by 2030, while the southern Mediterranean has a dynamic young population that desperately needs job opportunities.

The EU currently imports half of its energy supplies – in 20 years, the import share will be 70%. Yet, to its immediate south, energy resources and raw materials are plentiful. A European energy community would accelerate Europe's low-carbon transition and stimulate development of renewable energies. It could also eventually lead to a Euro-Mediterranean energy community – one of the proposals made by the European Commission earlier this year.

These complementarities hold great potential for both sides. A return to economic growth is crucial for Europe, which needs secure new investment flows. North-South flows are already extremely low, with the southern and eastern Mediterranean countries receiving only 3% of global foreign direct investment.

To boost investment in both directions, a zone of monetary stability should be created. A Euro-Mediterranean monetary system would avoid the discrepancy between euro- and dollar-denominated trade – indeed, eventual expansion of the eurozone should not be ruled out. A reliable legal framework for exports and investments is also needed, and a targeted development bank would help to create a financial environment favorable to investment.

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