Last Thursday 28th of January at IE Business School, Madrid, several International Relations Students, with a vast background diversity, had the opportunity to attend a special seminar driven by Ambassador Fathallah Sijilmassi from Morocco. A recognized diplomat and economist, and the current Secretary General of the Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean.
He started working in the banking sector as representative of the Banque Commerciale du Maroc in Milan (Italy). His career within the Moroccan administration was then marked by his active role in the negotiations of free trade agreements with the European Union, the United States, and several Arab and African countries.
From 1999 onwards, he has held senior positions within the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Director of Multilateral Cooperation (1999-2001), Director of European Affairs and Ambassador to the Barcelona Euro-Mediterranean Process (2001-2003). In 2003, he was appointed Ambassador to the European Union (2003-2004) and later to France (2005-2009).
In 2009, he becomes CEO of the Moroccan Investment Development Agency, leading its launch and subsequent growth. He is an officer of the Légion d´honneur and grand officer in the Ordre National du Mérite of the Republic of France.
“Good Morning, ladies and gentleman. I am glad to say we have an important event to mark this year. It has been 20 years since the Union for the Mediterranean was constituted.” Ambassador Sijilmassi opened up the Seminar. In November 1995, in Barcelona, it was launched an arduous process of interstates cooperation and, certainly, we do have something to commemorate.
Officially, 43 countries are members of this intergovernmental Union. Unfortunately, only 42 of them are working on it and being active participants in its projects; Syria, for evident reasons, has some internal issues that occupy its full efforts today and had suspended its membership back in 2011. The Union for the Mediterranean countries, however, includes the entire European Union Member States, meaning that there are countries that are considered as ‘Mediterranean’ while, as a matter of fact, they are geographically not. Besides, Mauritania and Jordan are also included in the Union for the Mediterranean. “This is a very interesting set-up, it made me start my speech in Riga by telling ‘Nice to be in a Mediterranean State’”, ironized the Ambassador. Regarding the Member States of the Union, Mr Sijilmassi highlighted that “Palestine is part of this institution as a full member”, a fact that seems to strengthen one of the primary goals of the Union for the Mediterranean, which is sincere regional cooperation.
As this Union welcomes very diverse countries, it was a must at the moment of its constitution to assure that the gap dividing the countries in the North with the ones in the South will not increase, but be reduced as much as possible. Thus, regarding the Union for the Mediterranean’s governance, the presidency is established to be co-ruled by two representatives: one from a northern country, and the other one from a southern country. Hence, both shores’ interests can be to some extent guaranteed- at least, they can be balanced; and since this Union is marking its 20th anniversary, we can claim that it seems a working system.
Two decades of international cooperation appear to endorse the Union for the Mediterranean projects and activities. “The activities driven by the UfM have developed through the years quite significantly.” Said the Ambassador. “The plans are set through decisions done at a political level, however they are increasing its closeness with the private sector, with the universities, and so on. The idea is to stay and, moreover, to have something to say, in all parts of the region where we know that there are some challenges to be assumed and solved.” Here the Ambassador was making an implicit reference to international breaking issues such as terrorism, immigration and refugees.
The question at this point was pretty clear for the attendants: How can such a significant and different group of countries deal with those global problems? How are they supposed to overcome the words and speeches and turn them into real and tangible things? “By promoting activities and raise the hope; by promoting interaction among people through projects that share the same ambitious goal: bring cooperation together. Beyond the chat through the conferences, there are the real projects.” Silence, a drink of water and then: “Are we doing enough? No, we have to keep on working. But, is it the right approach? Yes, it certainly is.”
With regards to the regional projects that the Union for the Mediterranean carries through, Fathallah Sijilmassi explained that “working on local projects is complicated. Basically, we start with the identification of the project, which is usually covered by the main stakeholders. Then we develop it with professionals in the field; it means with relevant experts. The next step is the studying of financial viability: is this project financially possible?”. After having all this settled down “then comes the work of the Diplomats, who assess the feasibility of the political approach to the project. And, finally, it would follow the promotion and implementation of the project.” With this brief explanation, the Ambassador wanted to provide an idea of the projects’ life-cycle in which the UfM works on.
It is quite interesting to mention that more or less half of the projects that are carried by the Union for the Mediterranean are proposed by public institutions and governments and that the other half of the initiatives are suggested by NGOs. “Our main efforts are focused on trying to reduce as much as we can the youth unemployment and the environmental damaging pollution.” And not only that, Mr Fathallah Sijilmassi explained that Women Empowerment also occupies the center of the UfM’s agenda. “Increasing Women Empowerment and achieving gender equality, is an indicator of democracy, openness and development.”
The Ambassador wanted to end up the enriching seminar by strengthening the role that the private sector must play on every of these projects. “I believe in the role of the private sector as being the tool for growth and capacity. The private sector allows us to go faster than governments can do; this sector is beyond the bureaucratic approach. La Cámara de Comercio is focused on developing this framework trying to coordinate this issues: the opportunities to use the capacities and go beyond borders.”
Photo: steve p2008