Europe and the Mediterranean after the elections: The Maydan Appeal and next steps

While Britons proceed on their rocky road toward Brexit – a desire reflected in the European election results, the majority of those who voted in France and Italy preferred the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Marie Le Pen’s National Rally Party and Matteo Salvini’s League Party, respectively. Similar messages were rewarded in Hungary and Poland. These results, coupled with the still high level of abstentionism, do not bode well at a time when solidarity work and human mobility are being criminalised at, and within, European borders and on the Mediterranean Sea. On the other hand, citizen mobilisation in Algeria or Soudan is overwhelmingly calling for democratisation and open societies, while in countries like Syria and Egypt citizens are prevented from pursuing their aspirations to freedom and justice due to real war crimes and repressive measures systematically carried out by their regimes.

In light of the European election results and of the continuous turmoil affecting many Southern and Eastern Mediterranean nations, the Appeal launched at the beginning of May in support of a new vision toward integration between the European continent and the Mediterranean space, becomes even more pertinent. Involving people beyond the borders of the European Union, the Appeal aims to promote a counter-narrative that empathetically embodies the positive values we have inherited from the Mediterranean crossroad underscoring the message: Europe can only be saved if we embrace the Mediterranean.

Spear-headed by Maydan, the Appeal has been endorsed by over 80 key figures from the world of culture, politics, science and activism; that number has been growing over the course of the campaign. And the petition supporting the Appeal has received over 700 signatures of support from at least 30 countries, representing important human capital we want to build upon.

Together with WeMoveEU, we are considering to keep the petition open for additional time and are planning a symbolic signature-delivery action for the inaugural plenary session of the new European parliament, expected July 2, 2019.

Simultaneous with the launch of the Appeal, under the Maydan umbrella national debates and dialogues were held in Italy, Egypt, Morocco and the Netherlands on 21 May, coinciding with the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, while the Efsyn newspaper in Greece is about to publish the Appeal.

The Turin encounter involved a discussion on Mediterranean culture and the need of redefining the notion of “Mediterranean ports” – given the colonial outposts in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and the North-African and Sub-Saharan migration patterns stretching to places such as Tijuana, Mexico and the Canada-US border – where also those migrants have managed to make their way. Later on, a conversation took place with three European electoral candidates, each focusing on different aspects: from the lager-like conditions in the refugee camps in Turkey and Greece, to the search for common features, to defining which Europe we want for our future.

A southern-shore perspective brought by education’s governmental advisor Mehrez Drissi (Tunisia) underscored the importance of breaking the north-south duality, and the need to transform cleavages into strengths and common strategies. Input from activists and the public highlighted the historically nomadic nature of the region and the continued existence of colonial inequalities. What emerged was the pressing nature of the migration issue which dominated the dialogue on the Euro-Mediterranean relationship.

(Cairo event; by Fatima Saeed)

At the Cairo Iftar (the evening meal ending the daily Ramadan fast), organised by the Tadamon Multicultural Refugee Council, where Egyptian nationals and refugees were present, including community workers, journalists, activists and artists, the Appeal was presented and discussed openly. Participants highlighted the importance of using such a document as a basis for exchange through awareness-raising actions in community circles, schools and activist groups located in the Southern shore of the Mediterranean. 

Abdel Hafiz Tail, a well known education-sector trade unionist and writer, questioned the issue of Eurocentrism and the distance from the European decision-makers as perceived by citizens of neighbouring countries more directly affected by European governments’ policies.

A structured consultation in the region on the issues put forward by the Maydan Manifesto was requested by many, who gathered in working groups, and asked during their debates for clear interlocutors from Europe.

The main political and social concerns raised were: the green light given by EU governments to dictatorial regimes of the Mediterranean region; and the economic impact of market liberalisation policies in Southern shore’s societies. “The vision of a common destiny in the Mediterranean is a dream, it is a necessary dream we need and have to work on” – commented some of the participants.

The event in The Hague, organized by the Greater Middle East Platform, gathered a large audience, and the debate involved seven candidates for the European Parliament. Before the debate started, the Dutch-Moroccan author and journalist Abdelkader Benali set the tone for the debate by delivering a wonderful speech on the common history and future of the Mediterranean region. By sharing stories from Dutch, Moroccan and Spanish friends, and by showing his view on Europe from his balcony in Tangiers, Benali offered a human perspective on the Mediterranean: “An exciting mix of very old and surprisingly new”. As he said: “The Mediterranean Sea which sets us apart, is in many ways an optical illusion and creates a wrong idea of detachment.”

In the political debate, migration was one of the main topics to be discussed. Although migration has been a common phenomenon in the Mediterranean for ages, Dutch politicians nowadays consider migration as a contemporary problem which needs to be mitigated or solved. Some of them advocate for more migration deals with governments and regimes on the other side of the Mediterranean, and Dutch support for these societies and development cooperation should be directly linked to those deals. On the other hand, there was consensus on the need for supporting civil society organisations, especially in countries with authoritarian regimes. It was stressed that the EU should use its power in its neighbourhood policy to support democracy, rule of law and human rights.

In general, this debate showed that many Dutch politicians do not consider the Mediterranean as one region: the countries and peoples on the other side of the Mediterranean are, at most, seen as close neighbours. Building good relationships with these neighbours is important, but at the same time there is a tendency to keep a certain distance, for example on the topic of migration. There is still a lot of work to do to change this dominant narrative. 

(The Hague event; by Mark Snijder)

With respect to another component of the Appeal Campaign – with submissions beginning to arrive for the Floating Voices creative arts contest, the deadline initially set for 31 May, will be extended to 22 June, when the Progetto Mediterranea sailing vessel will cross from Cadiz to Tangiers during the summer solstice, reaching thus the Southern shore.

How to capitalise on the support garnered by the Appeal, in a manner that will continue the conversation on the Mediterranean as a common destiny, will be Maydan’s next important step. In light of the European election results, the need to expand networks and continue the dialogue toward an open trans-Mediterranean exchange on the future of the region is critical. The exchange must move beyond the migration challenge and begin considering new definitions of citizenship and new common goals.

Turin, Tunis, June 4, 2019.

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