Biden victory, vaccine and an anniversary: good karma for the Mediterranean?

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Twenty-five years ago, the Barcelona Process established the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership between 15 European Union member states and 12 Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the region. However, 25 years later, progress in stability, peace and shared economic progress has not been achieved.

Since its initiation, several events have affected (and continue to affect) this process and its objectives. The 9/11 terror attacks in the U.S. (2001), the Iraq War (2003) and Al-Qaeda terror attacks in Istanbul (2003), Madrid (2004), and Amman (2005) led to change in security concerns in the Mediterranean. The 2008 global economic crisis and the subsequent austerity measures led to 2011-2012 anti-austerity protests in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy along with rising economic inequalities between and within the states of the Mediterranean. The Arab Spring that led to the emergence of failed states in Libya and Syria, and the emergence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and ISIS terror attacks in European capitals and Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries destabilized the Mediterranean.

Conflicts and economic problems led to mass immigration flows from the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries into Europe. In addition to conflicts and economic difficulties, climate change is causing drought, food and water scarcity, felt strongly in the Mediterranean and leading to climate refugees.

The Mediterranean became a mass grave for many refugees who risked life to travel across its waters seeking a more secure life in Europe. The refugee crisis has exposed vast divisions among the countries within the EU. The Euro-zone crisis that has coincided with the refugee crisis has helped fuel the rise of populism, xenophobia and anti-immigration in the EU member states, sparking a racist backlash against Europe’s Muslims.

The geostrategic significance of the Mediterranean increased with the increasing presence of emerging powers, and a return to power politics in the region, leaving the EU’s efforts to construct the Mediterranean in its own image out in the cold.

Discovery of hydrocarbon resources and subsequent research and drilling activities caused geopolitical rivalry and risk of war in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The effects of these challenges were further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has the potential to put endanger both human and food security and lead to chaos if it cannot be well-managed.

The 25th anniversary of the Barcelona Process coincided with this great disruption for the Mediterranean and the urgent need for inter-state cooperation and strengthening regionalism and multilateralism to fight the pandemic. 

In the COVID-19 vaccine race, good news came from BioNTech and Pfizer announcing a vaccine developed by Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Ozlem Tureci, whose families both immigrated from Turkey to Germany. This couple indicated how successful integration of immigrants can yield positive outcomes not only for the hosting country, but for all humanity. Dr. Şahin’s and Türeci’s company cooperation with Pfizer, whose CEO is of Greek origin, also shows how cooperation by putting aside long-running antagonism between two countries can yield successful achievements, a reminder that anything is possible if actors fuel their energy for cooperation and put aside cultural, religious, ethnic differences and historical antagonism — which the Barcelona Process founders aimed to see in the region.

The challenges in the Mediterranean necessitate new, innovative and more efficient tools, as well as rebuilding trust with traditional allies and strengthening the existing regional and multilateral institutions.

Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential election has raised hopes and expectations that a new U.S. administration will renew abandoned commitments to its Transatlantic allies. It appears that the new administration will place Asia back at the center of its foreign policy, but at the same time it will get its relationship with it’s allies back on track. Supporting democracy and advancing human rights globally will likely be at the heart of the foreign policy approach of the new U.S. administration.

The Biden administration can reassert America’s leading role in easing tension between NATO allies. Keeping equal distance from all NATO allies would make it a credible mediator. This role during the Trump administration was filled instead by NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Their efforts in holding technical military meetings and diplomatic efforts to start exploratory talks between two states to enable them to resolve disagreements on hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean eased tension between Turkey and Greece.

Regional integration and more inclusionary forums might foster peace and stability among hostile states in the Mediterranean. The EU High Representative Federiga Mogherini said at a meeting of Regforum of Union for Mediterranean that “The two things have a connection, and the European history has shown us over decades, if not over centuries, that the less integration, the less cooperation you have at regional level, the more conflicts you are likely to have and, on the other side, the more conflicts and tensions you have, the more difficult cooperation and integration become.”

The Biden administration’s foreign policy return to multilateralism and cooperation might improve and strengthen weak regional and multilateral institutions. The regionalism and more inclusionary policies supported by the U.S. and EU are more likely to rebalance their influence vis-à-vis China and Russia in the Mediterranean.

The U.S. re-joining the World Health Organization would contribute to developing a more effective international COVID-19 response. The U.S. rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement might have a considerable impact on fighting climate change’s negative effects in the Mediterranean region.

The coincidence of the 25th anniversary of the Barcelona Process, development of a vaccine for COVID-19 and Biden’s victory may be a sign of the good karma the Mediterranean has been waiting for so long.

Aylin Unver Noi is a senior fellow at the Transatlantic Leadership Network and an associate professor on international relations at Istinye University in Istanbul.

Tags climate refugees COVID-19 vaccine Economic integration Euro-Mediterranean Partnership International relations Joe Biden Mediterranean Sea Multilateralism Refugee crisis Regional integration Regionalism

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