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Radhi Meddeb Deauville on Arab nations-G7 cooperation

Radhi Meddeb Deauville on Arab nations-G7 cooperation

In the closing meeting of the Deauville Partnership, Radhi Meddeb CEO of Comete Engineering and founding president of the association President of Action of Développement Solidaire, delivered a speech on the future cooperation between Arab nations and the G7. Here is the full transcript.

The Deauville partnership was launched in May 2011, under the French G8 presidency, as a response to the historical changes that were then taking place in several Middle East and North African countries. Today, seven years later, this partnership is coming to an end and it is interesting to draw the main lessons and outline the possible axes of a new cooperation model between the G7 countries and the Arab Countries in Transition (ACTs). Since the launching of this partnership, the situation has drastically changed in all the Arab countries concerned. Their list has evolved, their security, political, economic, human and social situations have been transformed. The concerns of their people have profoundly changed.

In 2011, ACTs with their fledging civil societies and their populations devastated by decades of dictatorship and marginalization had been driven by great hope, after the Deauville meeting, the hope to be accompanied through massive support from G8 countries towards more democracy, better social conditions and more economic opportunities. In this program, the G8 defined the main lines of assistance to ACTs and mobilized some partner countries (regional powers: Turkey and Gulf countries) and a dozen multilateral institutions to support ACTs

The paths followed by ACTs differed from one country to another: going from peaceful revolutions to reforms or even security and political upheavals, including civil wars. Some countries in the region, witnessing a fragile transition, have been violently affected by the destabilization of their neighbouring countries. This has been the case for Tunisia, for example, which has suffered the effects of the Libyan conflict for which it was in no way responsible and which has heavily impacted not only the security but also the economy of the country (tourism, foreign and direct investment, trade balance, Libya having always been a natural outlet for Tunisian SMEs). Direct losses continue to be in billions of dollars per year.

Support from the Gulf countries was neither up to the ACTs’ expectations nor at the level of the situation requirements. The feeling shared in countries in democratic transition is that it was hardly possible for monarchies to accompany their democratization processes, compared to their performance in the past, multilateral institutions have significantly provided better support. This performance, however, was not up to the new challenges of the situation and the institutions, focused on their mission, were often constrained by country risk-limits imposed on them by the market.

ACTs have been faced with the needs of development, job creation and improvement of the living conditions of their populations together with new needs of security and stabilization. “Countries in the region are facing huge additional pressures, including from the need to provide hospitality to refugees escaping fear and violence” declared Werner Hoyer, European Investment Bank President, Luxembourg, on October 8th 2015. The financial needs generated by the stabilization and security concerns were in a complete break with the means historically allocated by these countries to their military and security expenditures. These needs were often satisfied at the expense of development spending, thereby increasing the dissatisfaction among their population.

Today, ACTs are at very different stages in their political, security, social or economic evolution. More than ever, they need to be accompanied in their different transition processes. Countries, one by one, should learn from the experience of the last seven years, but also from the reasons behind the people’s uprisings in the region in 2010-2011, which have remained, in many cases, largely unsatisfied if not ignored. States should focus their attention and direct their public policies towards the creation of more economic opportunities and the improvement of social conditions. Economic transition together with the reforms it requires, but also better governance with more legitimacy, ownership and accountability, and a strong and committed civil society are the key ingredients in establishing stability and democracy. These are the political prerequisites for any sustainable and inclusive economic recovery.

In these circumstances, new modalities for cooperation between the ACTs and the G7 must be identified. New models must be invented to manage these new forms of cooperation and promote financial, economic, social and political inclusion. These issues are mainly political. They should incorporate other dimensions than strictly technical or financial ones. The cultural dimension is essential. Good governance and adoption of international best practices must be at the heart of the new approach.

The security and stability of the region are global public goods that should have been shared and globally supported. The ACTs are the southern border of Europe and its last bastion against migrations from the south and the east. Their security and stabilization are essential for Europe and beyond. The security of the region needs to be addressed in a comprehensive way. A shared approach must be put in place to deal with internal and external destabilization threats. It is important that the international community, driven by the G7, helps ACTs gain their stability, recover their sovereignty and stop the third country’s interference in their internal affairs. The wars in Yemen, Syria and Libya have lasted too long. The populations are exhausted. Countries are on their knees. Humanitarian crises are threatening. These situations are unworthy of the twenty-first century. What Europe has done with Turkey to manage the Syrian migration crisis, should have been done by the international community to support Tunisia in managing the Libyan migration crisis and other ACTs facing sub-Saharan flows.

Free trade proposed by Europe to its southern partners is strictly insufficient and outdated. Free trade alone has never brought development. Multiple examples could be cited to demonstrate it geographically and historically.  The CFA Zone in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, has not witnessed any real development despite the fact that it has, for decades, enjoyed a situation of the single currency with France and Europe. It will be necessary to move from free trade to co-development. New regional solidarity programs must be promoted to prevent millions of migrants from being forced into an illegal and perilous migration for security reasons but also for economic or climatic reasons. A country like Tunisia needs effective support from the international community to address the macroeconomic challenges it is faced with. Without appropriate treatment, these challenges may endanger all the fragile equilibrium within the country. They may distort the social bond and break the national solidarity. They may also jeopardize the democratic transition. The rescheduling of its external debt (around 10 billion euros, in its private component) now seems indispensable. It could accompany the necessary efforts that should be made by Tunisia on the path of reform, giving a breath of fresh air for public investment which is becoming less and less possible.

Financial support from donors and the international community must be geared towards effective projects, target structuring projects and focus on three major axes: inclusion, competitiveness and sustainability. For example, in Tunisia and in terms of competitiveness, this should include the restructuring of the tourism sector, reform of the banking sector, support to the private sector; implement infrastructure projects especially those which focus on logistics and meant to improve the competitiveness of its foreign trade. In terms of inclusion, this should focus on the promotion of the social and solidarity economy and support of the microfinance, social housing and public transport sectors, as well as education and health. Finally, in terms of sustainability, the focus should be on rationalizing the management of limited resources (water, soil and energy), the decarbonisation of the economy and the new and renewable energies development.

Macroeconomic support or support to public finances must be assessed calmly to judge their effectiveness and avoid relying on it only as a palliative in the short term, which makes it expensive and not very effective. Policy Driven approaches, derived from more or less conditional action-matrices, must be judged on the basis of their real effectiveness and not that of the often formal implementation of previously agreed reforms. Civil society must be supported and involved more effectively in political, economic and social choices. Local authorities must be supported through the promotion of decentralization and local capacity building. The participation of young people in public life must be stimulated. Today, in many countries of the region, the generation gap, the disinterest of young people in public life but also the loss of hope often lead to the inevitable temptation of departure, brain drain, jihad or illegal migration.

Women should benefit from more empowerment and rights. With one exception, that of Tunisia, women remain marginalized, their rights are ignored and their participation in economic and political life disregarded. Even in Tunisia, despite historical advances and more recent developments related to the Electoral Code, women continue to suffer multiple discriminations in the name of religion, culture and the historical legacy. It is important that women have access to more equal opportunities, their rights become less formal and that they are treated equally with their male partners in relation to unemployment, school drop-out, inheritance, payment for equivalent jobs, and children in case of divorce. We are still very far in the whole region and even the issuing of new laws could not alone change the lives of people. The change will have to be cultural. It will be effective only in the long term and it should be promoted and accompanied by education, information, openness to the world and the sharing of its best practices.

The situation of individual freedoms and human rights has not witnessed considerable progress in the region in recent years. Developments varied from one country to another. Tribal, religious or ideological conflicts often led to violation of human rights and individual freedoms. Democracy has also sometimes been manipulated to justify the hegemonic violence of a majority against minorities who do not share all their convictions or values. Each of the countries in the region needs to invent, not its own consensus, but its new social contract that allows its people to live together with respect for differences.

Brain drain is alarming with the organized departures of thousands of skilled people from the Southern countries to the Northern countries. It concerns professions in the fields of medicine, engineering, computer sciences … It is more and more like a plundering of skills formed by the southern countries for the benefit of those in the North. In the short term and at least, financial compensation must be paid by any operator in the North who employs a skilled person of the South. The cost to the community of training a doctor is in the range of $ 100,000. Tunisia, today, has nearly 130,000 professionals scattered around the world including 4000 doctors. At this level alone, the relative transfer from these 4000 doctors is estimated at a minimum of $ 400 million, not counting the shortfall.

The free movement of professionals must be instituted in the region. We cannot advocate free trade and limit the economic operators, within its own borders. A broad Erasmus-type program should be set up for the benefit of all students on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. This would be a huge opportunity to increase all these young people’s openness to modernity and global citizenship. It would also be the best vaccine against any temptation of extremism and radicalization. ACTs should have access to European research and innovation structures and mechanisms. They must be able to access the European Structural Funds as well as the guarantee of multilateral institutions (EIB, ECB …) to raise funds on sustainable terms,

The establishment of a Regional Bank for the reconstruction of countries largely affected by wars and years of bad governance seems unavoidable. Financial needs are huge to the extent that current development finance structures are largely inadequate to cope with then. The world had anticipated the end of the Second World War by creating, in 1945, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) and the International Monetary Fund, through the Bretton-Woods agreements.

Few years later, the Marshall Plan, with the support of the international community and the United States of America, contributed to the creation of the European Economic Community. Today, it would be important for the international community, through its commitment, to promote the emergence of a major economic region in North Africa. It would provide a major impetus for the success of the democratic process and the stabilization of the countries of the region on the path of development and peace. This same international community should show a voluntarism and vision to revisit global governance and establish the necessary tools for the reconstruction of the region and its projection into modernity and its best practices.

The G7 could  significantly contribute. Of course, all this would only make sense if the ACTs take ownership of the process, and undertake the necessary and appropriate reforms. This has not always been the case. The responsibility is shared. Let us all have the ambition of our dreams for a future of solidarity, cooperation and shared peace.

Radhi MEDDEB

 

 

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