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The EU and North Africa on Energy and Migration: What Prospects after the Arab Spring?

19/03/2012 - 20/03/2012, Rome

The conference, The EU and North Africa on Energy and Migration: What Prospects after the Arab Spring?, held at the European Commission Representation in Rome, is part of the second stage of a series of meetings organized by IAI in collaboration with the Institute Parelleli of Turin on the future of the North African region following the transformative events unleashed by the so-called Arab Spring. The first meeting – held in December 2011 in Turin – focused on exploring the prospects for renewed economic and commercial cooperation between Italy and Libya following the collapse of the Gheddafi regime. The Rome meeting was organized in collaboration with the European Commission Representation in Italy and the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) with the support of the Compagnia di San Paolo, a strategic partner of the IAI. Given their traditional importance in defining the relationship between European countries and North African states, the issues of energy cooperation and migration were at the centre of debate. Energy and migration are two issues which are in turn intimately linked to the prevailing emphasis on security which has characterized relations between the two shores of the Mediterranean. Today, this paradigm must be revisited in light of the regional and internal dynamics that are emerging across North Africa and which require a thorough rethinking of the relations between the European Union (EU) and North African states.

The first session of the conference highlighted the deteriorating socio-economic conditions in North African countries and the need to review the Action Plans negotiated in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in such a way as to prioritize policies aimed at fighting unemployment, supporting the rule of law and addressing the pervasive inequalities present within these countries. Moreover, the EU’s use of conditionality must also be reviewed in light of the increased fragmentation that characterizes the region and in relation to the increasingly important role of other regional and international actors, such as Turkey, the Gulf countries and China.

The next two sessions respectively addressed the issues of energy cooperation and migration. Energy represents an important facet of the relationship between Europe and North Africa, given the interdependence between the two regions. However, the discussants pointed to the persistence of certain difficulties and misunderstandings between the two shores of the Mediterranean. These are related to the use of energy resources from Algeria and Libya, the prospect of North African countries using their energy revenue for new development projects capable of generating employment, the potential of EU-North Africa cooperation in the field of renewable energy and the need to create a multilateral European external energy policy towards the Mediterranean.

A further form of interdependence in the Mediterranean regards migration flows. A number of interesting points were raised during the presentations and debate. These related to the links between migration and development and the ways in which these can be employed, under certain conditions, as a means to favour investments that increase human capital and promote regional integration; the need for a change in perspective on migration which also addresses socio-economic issues and not only the security dimension; border issues between North African and Sub-Saharan states and between states in the wider African region which have witnessed much greater volumes of migration flows than those crossing the Mediterranean; and finally the risk of North Africa becoming a closed zone plagued by strong socio-economic and political tensions that might result in further crises in the future.

The final session of the conference was structured as a round table discussion focused on the challenges facing Libya during this time of transition. The vast and diverse challenges facing Libya, such as the need to address the country’s institutional void and to reform its political culture, the militarization of society and the vicissitudes of the national reconciliation process, the challenges of rebuilding the economy and that of addressing Libya’s underlining identity issues, all require a rethinking of the role of Europe in addressing these challenges, especially in view of the important opportunities that bilateral and multilateral relations with Libya hold in store for Europe. Since there has been a certain lack of attention towards these issues, their resolution must be considered a high priority for both Italy and the European Union as a whole.