MEDPRO - Arab Springs spark rethink of EU Policy

In 2010-2011, the Arab Springs marked a dramatic turning point in the histories of many Middle Eastern and North African countries, beginning a transition from repressive autocratic rule to democracy. Cooperation in the region could now go in a number of directions, according to the MEDPRO research project, but the EU needs to update its relations with the region and leave behind its ‘business as usual’ approach of the last few decades.

For many decades, the EU settled for cooperation with authoritarian regimes in the Southern Mediterranean (collectively referred to as the MED11 region1), seeing no credible prospects for radical threats to political stability. However, what seemed like stability was in fact stagnation and repression, say the MEDPRO researchers. Respect for human rights, quality of health care, education and natural resources in those regions deteriorated, while unemployment and poverty increased. Economically, the MED11 region accounted for just 2% of global GDP in 2010.

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, MED11 governments will have to manage a number of socio-economic and sustainability challenges, including trade liberalisation, attraction of foreign investment, modernisation of infrastructure and management of natural resources. Against this backdrop of major change in the MED11, it is also critical that the EU adapts its policy approach to the region. However, the commitments required to meet these challenges remain embedded in outdated policy approaches, according to MEDPRO.

Scenarios for change

In their first research phase, the MEDPRO researchers, coordinated by the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, highlighted commonalities and differences between MED11 countries in four main areas of socio-economic development:

  • Geopolitics and governance.
  • Demography, ageing, migration, health and gender issues.
  • Sustainable development, management of resources, adaptation to global warming, energy and climate change mitigation.
  • Economic development, trade and investment, financial services, capital markets and human capital, education and development of skills.

In general, the region shows a distinct lack of integration with divergences in some key areas, notably in annual GDP (PPP) per capita between Israel (high income group - over US$ 27,000), Lebanon, Libya and Turkey (upper middle income group - over US$ 11,000) and the rest of the region, belonging to the lower middle income group.

The MEDPRO researchers then formulated three possible contexts to assess how socio-economic development in these areas and cooperation with the rest of Europe might evolve from the present situation until 2030:

Red transition – ‘Euro-Med region under threat’

  • Most disastrous scenario.
  • The EU is unable to achieve cooperation in key sectors, i.e. agriculture, research and education, migration, security and energy.
  • Mounting socio-economic difficulties, political uncertainties and exacerbated tensions provide opportunities for terrorist organisations and radical movements to take hold.

Green transition – ‘Euro-Mediterranean common union’

  • Best-case scenario.
  • Union for the Mediterranean (UfM)2 is seen as a mechanism to revive trans-Mediterranean relations.
  • Integrated union with a common market is established, following the European Economic Area (EEA) model.
  • Current tensions and conflicts in the Euro-Med region are settled.
  • Emergence of a tri-polar world (United States, China and Euro-Med).

Blue transition – ‘Euro-Mediterranean alliance’

  • Looser integration with the EU and Northern Mediterranean countries on one side and Southern Mediterranean countries on the other.
  • EU enlargement policy becomes obsolete as Southern Mediterranean countries do not join the EEA. However, they sign an Alliance Treaty with Europe under a new UfM framework.
  • Related countries and sub-regions within the North and South work in association towards the same aims of peace, security and sustainability, but as distinct geographical regions in a multi-polar world.
  • It is likely that current Arab-Israeli and Western Sahara conflicts are not resolved.

What does this mean for the EU?

Before the Arab uprisings, a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario prevailed in the EU, characterised by partial Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. However, these policies did not succeed in driving the region towards a sustainable future. Adapting these policies has become even more important in the political uncertainty following the uprisings.

Early signals are that the MED11 region is veering towards more divergence, with significant hope for achieving state sustainability but no clear target or direction. The EU’s stance as reflected in the European Commission’s Communication on ‘Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity’3, issued in March 2011 and later followed by ‘A New Response to a Changing Neighbourhood’4, issued in May 2011, has been generally muted, with no major change predicted in the region’s state of affairs, according to the project.

Initial policy recommendations:

The aim of the ongoing MEDPRO project is to help the MED11 reform process as well as provide deeper insight into the different policy options available for the EU, as represented by each of the above scenarios. The first stage of the research suggests that help provided by the EU to its neighbours could include:

  • Financial assistance.
  • Targeted support for developing and sustaining political parties.
  • ‘Mobility partnerships’ to better manage migration flows.
  • Free trade agreements to open the door to the EU’s single market.

By integrating partner institutions from Europe and the Southern Mediterranean (Belgium, Poland, Cyprus, Italy, France, Egypt, Spain, Greece, Tunisia, Palestine, the Netherlands and Germany), MEDPRO aims to reinforce Euro-Med research links in terms of the long-term outlook for the region.

The dissemination effort undertaken by the consortium will also reinforce the project’s impact by means of a tri-lingual website (See:, media appearances, external events and published materials, such as flyers, policy briefs with final policy recommendations, peer-reviewed papers and regular newsletters.


1 MED11 region is defined as the group of ten countries of the Middle East and North Africa participating in the Barcelona process (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia) plus Turkey.

2 See:

3 See:

4 See:

MEDPRO - Prospective analysis for the Mediterranean region (duration: 1/3/2010 – 28/2/2013. FP7 Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities, Activity 7 “Foresight activities”, Research area 7.1 “Wide socio-economic foresight on key challenges”. Collaborative project (small and medium scale focused research project).


Contact: Rym Ayadi (MEDPRO Coordinator and Senior Research Fellow, CEPS),