Opening Europe’s Mediterranean Window

MADRID – One year after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, with popular upheavals continuing to roil the Arab world, it is increasingly clear that Europe can no longer sit still and do nothing. The ongoing protests have exposed an urgent need for renewed engagement by the European Union with the region in general – and, in particular, with the countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean that are the Union’s neighbors.

Until now, the European Neighborhood Policy, born as an afterthought of the EU’s successful policy towards Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, has governed the Union’s actions in the southern and eastern Mediterranean. Over time, however, the ENP was largely hijacked by immigration and security considerations. Moreover, it provided an economic lifeline to the region’s autocratic regimes.

On the Mediterranean’s southern shore, a panoply of grievances, from corruption to a desire for liberty, has motivated the unrest. But the one underlying theme has been the absence of viable economic opportunities for the region’s growing population of unemployed, and underemployed, young people.

One year after the Arab Spring erupted, however, economic opportunities are even fewer. The economies of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia have all contracted sharply. National budgets are strained, and foreign-exchange reserves are dwindling. Instead of foreign investors jumping in, capital is flooding out.