Answers of Mr. Kader Arif

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Mr. Kader Arif is member of the European parliament from Arab origin. One of the rare “south Mediterranean” figures who have been elected in Strasbourg, Arif is a symbol of integration, not only on the social level, but also in the circles of European decision-making and legislation. He was our first guest on the site Eurojar for the month of June. In his 12 answers he gives a clear definition of a fair partnership between the north and the south of the Mediterranean, and underlines the characteristics of an unusual career.

Biography of Mr. Kader Arif

• Born on July 3, 1959 in Algiers, Kader Arif studied in Castres and then in Toulouse (France).

• He joined the French Socialist Party in 1983. He then became assistant and advisor to Lionel Jospin in 1989.

• In 1999, he became first federal secretary at Haute-Garonne, then, in 2002, a member of the National Secretariat in charge of international affairs.

• He headed the list of south-west candidates in 2004 for the European elections.

• He sits on the European Parliament’s Commission on international trade and defends the theory of trade at the service of development.

• He is also a permanent member of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA).

• In 2007, he was nominated Rapporteur of the Euro-Mediterranean Free-Trade Area. He came up with a resolution that obtained the unanimous support of the European Parliament.

Answers of Mr. Kader Arif

1.The region requires real peace to launch development. What is the role of Europe in supporting and reinforcing the peace process especially that we have seen Europe in its history, culture and civilization capable of rejecting violence and wars to the profit of fraternity and respect of human rights?

The main objective of the Barcelona process, launched in 1995 between Europe and the Mediterranean countries, was to contribute in the establishment of a shared zone of stability and prosperity. The Mediterranean basin witnessed a series of violent events, thus, peace and conflict resolution was a priority. We have to admit today that despite the progress that has been made, the main objective has not been achieved yet. I can go on to say that Europe suffered a major setback when unable to play a catalyst political role in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Human tragedies, persistent violations of international law, and the ongoing political crisis have repercussions on the entire region and beyond. This situation is more and more unacceptable knowing the past of the Mediterranean Basin, as described by the user asking the question. In fact, the Mediterranean has always been a zone of stability, and of international scientific and cultural success. For all these reasons, the EU, which was mainly interested in its East-European neighbors, should today give a priority to its Mediterranean partners on the political, economic and cultural levels. Europe possesses a number of financial instruments to help implement this cooperation. EU should also seize the opportunity during the presidency of Barack Obama to support the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This resolution should put an end to colonization. It should also be based on the respect of international law, and on the two–independent-and-sovereign-state formula. Moreover, I would like to stress on the important role of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA), in which I have been a member for 5 years now. This Assembly constitutes the real parliamentary and democratic dimension in our partnership. This Assembly reminds us that the Mediterranean is our common sea. It also encourages us to double our efforts to build a future of peace, based on solidarity and mutual respect.

2. Does Mr. Kader Arif think that it is possible to build an efficient partnership between Europe and the Arab world, while Arab countries are unable of building trust relations among themselves?

A partnership between the Arab world and Europe is not only possible but essential. In 2007, the European parliament adopted a resolution titled “Reforms in the Arab world: what strategy should the European Union adopt?” [2006/2172(INI)], Michel Rocard being the rapporteur. In the resolution text, the European parliament recognizes the political, religious and sociological realities that differ from one country to the other. It also outlines that country-oriented nationalism constituted a major obstacle in the way of Arab unity. However, EU partnership and its member states should be given a fresh impetus in regard to its relations with the Arab world as a whole. The text of the resolution outlines the necessity of establishing a global framework that encourages free dialogue between the different components of the Arab society, in an effort to launch a genuine reform process from within the Arab society. While bilateral relations between the EU and each Arab country or a group of countries is privileged today, it is important as well to reinforce our relations with the existing regional Arab organisms (the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Union of the Arab Maghreb (UAM) which should be revitalized). Deeper cooperation should also be established with the actors of the civil society. Finally, the EU should strive to facilitate the political and economic integration of Arab countries, to promote democracy and to intensify cultural dialogue in the framework of a restored partnership, based on mutual confidence and understanding.

3. What could one do to live and work in France?

The conditions imposed on individuals to live and work in France differ according to the country of origin of this individual. Actually, in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy, the EU negotiates with every Mediterranean country bilateral accords tailored according to the level of cooperation reached between this country and the EU. A list of detailed information with the required procedures is available on the website of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the framework of the future Euro-Mediterranean free-trade zone, I consider that we cannot authorize the free circulation of goods and funds, without equally introducing the gradual and conditioned circulation of workers. It is urgent as well to outline the judicial and administrative modalities that facilitate the process of acquiring visas, namely when it comes to actors of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, school and university students, as well as socio-economic actors. Today, we defend a co-responsible and intelligent management of the migration issue, in order to avoid brain drain, or loss of skilled-labor power and to promote, at the same time, mutual exchange.

4. What are the most adequate means of liberating trade with the European Union?

Free trade is good, but it should be conditioned by some rules. As a member of the international trade commission at the European Parliament, I have always stressed that free trade is not an aim by itself as much as the aim is to implement fair trade to serve the benefits of each country. In fact, there are many examples of open market between unequal partners that destabilized production and employment in the weakest country. When it comes to EU and the countries of the south of the Mediterranean, the gap is very big. Many industrial and agricultural sectors in these countries cannot resist direct competition with European firms, originally more competitive and better subsidized. Even if the countries of the south Mediterranean are competitive in some sectors, namely the services sector, it is very essential to protect the agricultural sector (still very weak and based on small family initiatives), as well as the industrial sector. It is mandatory to avoid the mistakes of the past, precisely, the mistake of encouraging the production of textile in the Mediterranean Basin without anticipating the massive productions of China. It is also very important to distinguish between “services” in general and “public services”. The latter should be kept away from the liberalization process in order to safeguard the theory of “universal service”. In 2007, in a report addressed to the European Parliament and meant to be put into effect in 2010 by the European Commission, I outlined that the project of the Euro-Mediterranean free trade zone is neither realistic nor welcomed. The reason is that the economies of south Mediterranean countries were not prepared to enter in a brutal competition with the European economies. Today, even if this project is still an anticipatory objective, it is clear that the path to realize such an objective is still long. First, obstacles hampering trade between the countries of the south Mediterranean should be settled. Second, it is important to reinforce regional integration, support the diversification and modernization of the economy and finally obtain guaranties in terms of protection of the labor market in the countries of the south. A new political impetus should be given to the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, on the basis of a reinforced dialogue between equal partners.

5. Do you think that Europe is ready for a real industrial and technological partnership with the Arab world, the purpose being to consolidate efforts to avoid financial crisis and to realize an economic and social security for both parties?

The Arab world is huge and extends from the Maghreb to the Persian Gulf, through the Mashrek and the Near-east. All this constitutes a large number of partners with different realities and objectives. Today, the EU is negotiating individually with several economic groups: the European Neighborhood Policy for Mediterranean countries, the Gulf Cooperation Council for the Gulf region. It is also negotiating separately with countries such as Turkey, Iran and Iraq. All these negotiations are held separately with integrated regional groups. In the Mediterranean Basin, I defended exactly the same vision of industrial and technological partnership as mentioned in this question. In fact, free trade cannot be efficient if it is not accompanied by constructive measures that have positive effects on both sides involved in the liberalization process. This is for instance what is happening in the south-south cooperation, where some productions are intended for exportation to the European market. In this context, some rules have been established to organize this cooperation: simplification of custom procedures, modernization of financial and banking systems, compensation for custom revenue losses, credit facilitation, participation of Mediterranean countries to European research projects, and increase of student exchange between both sides of the Mediterranean. All this should also be accompanied with an improvement of work conditions - namely through the ratification of international work standards - as well as a social boost for Mediterranean workers. The EU is also responsible for supporting these reforms on the technical, human and financial levels. It should also work on facilitating the funding procedures through the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI).

6. The Barcelona process has progressed laboriously. The Union for the Mediterranean is starting off with much effort. Don’t you think that two initiatives can hinder the original message? Are you optimistic regarding the future of both initiatives?

When Nicolas Sarkozy stood out and announced the creation of the “Union for the Mediterranean”, without consulting our Mediterranean or European partners, severe opposition erupted. Very fast, I made it clear that this initiative could have one sole goal, the re-launching of French hegemony in the Mediterranean, without taking into consideration the existing mechanisms, particularly the Barcelona process. It is undisputable that 15 years after its launching, this cooperation initiative did not realize the ambitions previously set for it. However, this process, with the institutions that originated from, particularly, the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly, determines the general guidelines of our partnership based on three pillars of cooperation: political, economic, cultural and human. The European Neighborhood Policy came with bilateral association agreements that completed the entire picture, even if it made Euro-Mediterranean cooperation a more complex process. In addition to all this, the Union for the Mediterranean came to propose a closer approach (project by project). The idea could be tempting had it not have several adverse reactions. First, such an initiative leads to an additional institutional burden: how to justify the cost and complexity of creating a new secretariat for the UpM and its different bodies? Besides, it is only an illusion to think that real projects can cover up political problems: it is worth noting that the whole functioning of the UpM is totally blocked since the Israeli intervention in Gaza. Finally, a more concrete question: what about the financing of such initiative? Originally, Nicolas Sarkozy had announced that private funds would be mobilized in priority. However, in the context of financial crisis, how can one convince investors to embark in large projects such as the clean-up of the Mediterranean or the creation of a sea highway when there is no clear agenda or visibility about the possible outcomes of such adventures or about return on investments? The result is: out of the six projects initially announced, only one has been achieved: the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean university. The others are still dead-letters… If it is evident that Euro-Mediterranean relations needed a boost, I doubt that this boost can come from the UpM. Anyway, at the European parliament, I will continue to defend the following principles: reshaping the partnership on the basis of co-management and co-responsibility; mobilizing financial means to answer to the set ambitions; creation of an Euro-Mediterranean Investment Bank; reaffirming the importance of democracy and human rights (deliberately not available in the Sarkozy project); promotion of a common vision for development; and a better consultation of citizens. At several occasions, Euro-Mediterranean relations have been the victim of wrong hopes or unrealized promises. We cannot afford to deceive our partners one more time.

7. Is it possible to organize training sessions in the European countries conducted by experts in the field of advanced industries to the profit of Arab countries? What about opening new markets and launching products that are still monopolized by the European Union?

Until now, we have a European programme called INVEST in MED which aims at promoting investments and facilitating commercial exchanges. It reinforces the collaboration between SMEs as well as best practices exchanges. Another instrument, Medibtikar, encourages the innovation and use of new technologies. These programmes are positive initiatives that need to be reinforced. Two elements are, according to me, essential for the Euro-Mediterranean partnership: the sharing of competences and the transfer of technologies. Without improving and developing these two elements, the free trade zone would not be as efficient as it should be. I would like to underline the work that has been done by the cities of the North and the South of the Mediterranean that facilitated the transfer of competences in the framework of decentralized cooperation.

8. What are the achievements of the guest that could be seen as an asset for Arab Mediterranean countries?

To answer this question, I would like to refer one more time to the report that I prepared on the Euro-Mediterranean free trade zone. In this report, I was able to get the approbation of all political groups on the necessity of developing our partner countries. Knowing that the European parliament has limited power on the commercial level, the European Commission was alerted that trade should not be the only dimension of the partnership. On the other hand, our action triggered another proposition, namely the proposition of creating a Euro-Mediterranean Investment Bank. This bank could finance a large number of projects in the Mediterranean Basin, mainly in the fields of education, research or economic development.

9. What is your opinion about the integration of Arabs in Europe? Is it a successful experience? And what are the challenges that one should take up for a better integration?

Arab integration in Europe is facing a number of challenges, where internal considerations and external politics interfere with each others. From an interior point of view, we should confess that dialogue did not reach an advanced level to permit the achievement of mutual understanding and respect. An economic and social problem emerges as well from the economic difficulties that Arab populations endure in Europe and that contributes to their social exclusion. On the other hand, Arab integration in Europe is closely related to politics, and precisely to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Europe is thus called to review its internal and external strategies in order to find a solution to a common problem in most western countries: integration.

10. In your opinion, how is it possible to turn over a new leaf and change the negative image of Europeans among Arabs, which resulted from colonization policies that aimed mainly at exploiting the wealth of these populations?

The point that I always defend and that I developed in my report is that the relations between Europe and Mediterranean countries should be based on mutual respect and on the principle of equality. Most of the time, we have deceived our partners. The aftermath of colonialism will not be rubbed out when protectionism and self-defense are applied vis-à-vis the countries of the south Mediterranean. The image that Arabs have of Europeans will not change unless we give a new impetus to the Barcelona process, based on three cooperation pillars: political, with the aim of contributing to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; economic, when making the free trade zone a real tool for development; and cultural, when multiplying exchanges and intercultural dialogue in the Mediterranean Basin.

11. Is the opening up of Arab markets to EU products a sufficient guarantee for development? Can free trade be a step to ensure free circulation of people and workers between the two shores of the Mediterranean, based on competitiveness?

As I mentioned in my answer to a previous question, I do not think that the liberalization of trade will necessarily generate development. This philosophy, long time ago defended by liberals in Europe and elsewhere, is a real danger to our partners. In fact, despite their high growth rate compared to European average, these countries have fragile economies and vulnerable populations that cannot hold out against the choc of a brutal liberalization. The whole issue consists in a slow and efficient preparation of our partners to the idea of custom-free trade. Some protection measures should also be taken in case this liberalization produced some negative effects on these countries. As for the free circulation of human beings, I consider that it should be an integral part of the free circulation of goods and funds. However, it should be implemented gradually and with some conditions, in order to avoid brain drainage, or brutal competition that will lead to social dumping.

12. How do you feel about being a member of the European parliament from Arab origin? Is it an enrichment factor or an obstacle? And what do you consider yourself: Arab, Algerian, French, or a citizen from this world?

Even though I have modest origins, I have been raised on some values that I can express more loudly today. However, I never forget where I come from, and I think I honor my parents with the career that I was able to achieve. I also urge young generations, no matter what origin they have, to know that even if doors might seem sometimes difficult to open, however, it has never been impossible to open them. About the definition of my identity, I feel I am both European and Arab. One should persevere no matter what obstacles hinder the accomplishment of his career. This dual identity could be a source of enrichment. It is the fruit of a mixture of languages and places. I feel I am nurtured by all the cultures that make up my life.