Exclusive: UfM Chief Says Organization Faces Pressing, Complex Challenges

Exclusive: UfM Chief Says Organization Faces Pressing, Complex Challenges

Sunday, 7 October, 2018 - 08:30
UfM Secretary-General Nasser Kamel | Asharq Al-Awsat
Barcelona- Michel Abu Najm
Almost a decade has passed since establishing the 43-member Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). Despite this long period, there are still those who question its value, while others believe it is indispensable for the Mediterranean region.

The 43 member states from Europe and the Mediterranean Basin include 28 EU member states and 15 Mediterranean partner countries from North Africa, Western Asia and Southern Europe.

France’s President Emmanuel Macaron wants to call for an UfM summit next summer with plans to give the intergovernmental organization a new impetus.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the sidelines of a forum bringing together UfM Foreign Ministers of member states in Barcelona, UfM Secretary-General Nasser Kamel discussed the union’s concerns and its achievements so far.

A decade into its works, Kamel said the UfM has tackled complex and pressing challenges.

The organization has demonstrated its firmness, efficiency and added-value in many areas, and is the only intergovernmental organization in the region that allows for joint action between North and South Mediterranean countries on an equal footing in a wide range of strategic sectors, Kamel told Asharq Al-Awsat.

In recent years, member states have been able to outline common priorities on issues directly affecting the daily lives of their citizens, such as scarcity of water resources and environmental change.

The UfM is also a medium for discussing regional strategic issues and building on the principles of co-ownership, co-decision making and shared responsibility between the two shores of the Mediterranean.

Lacking employment opportunities for young people and the promotion of women's empowerment were also among the shared challenges.

Kamel explained that the UfM supported the launching of regional initiatives in areas that address the needs of the region’s peoples and the root causes of problems faced today.

“In numbers, more than 25 ministerial meetings, 300 high-level meetings, and expert forums have been held,” Kamel said on UfM works.

Panel discussions attended by more than 25,000 stakeholders from across the region, including experts and government representatives, regional and international organizations, authorities Local organizations, civil society organizations, the private sector and financial institutions were also organized by the UfM.

“The organization is offering € 5.6 billion in funds for 54 regional projects,” he added.

“A desalination plant in the Gaza Strip is one of the most important projects that the UfM adopts.”

“The project will provide safe drinking water for 2 million Palestinian citizens, thus guaranteeing a sustainable solution to the chronic shortage of water in the Gaza Strip.”

Over 95% of the water in Gaza is not suitable for drinking as a result of contaminated groundwater.

“In March 2018, international donors pledged € 456 million in funding, more than 80 percent of the plant’s total cost, enabling the launch of the largest infrastructure project in the Gaza Strip.”

Addressing difficulties faced by the organization when it works for achieving its ambitions, Kamel said that the very same challenges are the reason why the UfM exists in the first place.

“We believe that regional cooperation is imposed by reality and we do not have the luxury of choice. This realization has always been the compass of the UfM secretariat, which is moving in accordance with its mandate,” Kamel said.

“We are all aware of the daunting challenges,” he said in full recognition of the intricate regional dynamics, but added that the organization “embodies the aspirations” of peoples to raise their standard of living.

“Youth and women's issues are at the forefront of our activities which involve a large number of entities such as governments, private sector bodies, university institutions, non-governmental organizations and other actors,” added Kamel.

On the Macron-summoned Euro-Mediterranean summit next summer in Marseille, Kamel said that it is a positive step taken that is likely to aid and facilitate UfM works.

“I think that the French initiative is a positive signal that the organization can benefit from.”

“We are in close contact with Paris to include our vision of the EU's role within the framework of the summit scheduled for June 2019.”

“We hope that all other member states will make Euro-Mediterranean work a pillar of their foreign policy and transform the UfM into a more efficient regional structure for addressing common challenges,” Kamel said.

The UfM is also expected to expand its work in tackling pressing matters in the Mediterranean region, such as the migrant crisis.

Kamel stressed that the organization will focus on private partnerships and innovative financing, in a manner that does not conflict with the mandate given to the UfM by member states. Funds will be employed to advance more progress on both launched and new initiatives.

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