Towards a Mediterranean Macro-Region

Eleni Marianou

CPMR Secretary General

Regions acting for integration, cooperation, and cohesion in the Mediterranean basin

Regions in the Mediterranean – and beyond – are always at the forefront of events happening globally as well as locally. One could think of climate change, migration fluxes or plastic pollution to cite a few, that are oftentimes happening independently from their own will. Beyond their capacity to manage several thematic and/or financial portfolios according to their respective agendas and competences, Regions also build on their experiences and exchange practices with other territories and actors, with the aim to always improve their coordination and resolution of common issues.

At the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe (CPMR), an organization of about 150 regions across Europe and its neighboring countries, these aspects are well known. Representing about 200 million people, the CPMR campaigns in favor of a more balanced development of the European territory. Since its creation in 1973, it has been operating both as a think tank and as a lobby for regions, targeting its action towards ensuring that the needs and interests of its Member Regions are considered in policies with a high territorial impact. Understanding the importance of territories, the CPMR is organized into 6 geographical commissions covering all European sea basins and insular territories, among which the Intermediterranean Commission.  

In the Mediterranean, cohesion matters are even more important, as the basin counts with a high demographic density, gathered for the most on urbanized coastal areas. And this fact by itself shows the importance of the sea for this part of the world: commerce, employment, food, recreational activities, natural heritage, weather, among others, are what makes the area attractive, not without its share of consequences in terms of economic activities and related pressure on the surrounding environment. Nonetheless, across Mediterranean territories there also exists a wide discrepancy of income levels for territories and people. While the Mediterranean could be a bond of peace and prosperity for its riparian inhabitants, these gaps can easily become the source of conflicts. At the CPMR Intermediterranean Commission, the works are therefore oriented to provide a framework for collaboration and mutual understanding for Regions across the basin, looking for more socio-economic integration, cohesion and sustainability through more cooperation.

Going back to our introductory themes, Mediterranean Regions have been working together for more than 10 years on mitigating the effects of climate change on costal areas. The Bologna Charter (2012) is a good practice that has gained more signatories over the years. Benefitting from the commitment of Regions ready to undertake common actions for the adaptation to climate change in coastal areas, for instance when it comes to complex phenomena such as erosion, the Charter promotes an integrated approach for the resolution of common issues, as per the principles of integrated coastal zones management. Following its recommendations, Regions can therefore take concerted and coherent action together to solve common issues, hence impacting beyond the mere administrative limitations of their territories and working with a variety of actors to that end. This initiative has leveraged over the years several hundred millions of euros in concrete transnational projects and local interventions for the direct benefit of citizens living on Mediterranean coastal areas. 

Regarding migration, and as a result of the geopolitical situation in the Mediterranean over the past decade, Regions have been cooperating together to share their practices in terms of welcoming of displaced persons, refugees and migrants, and their integration in their territories. Having had no choice but to cope with the situation, cooperation and exchange of practices have been key, as demonstrated by the REGIN project (AMIF), to allow Regions some perspective on how to include their newcomers to the best possible extent via a better coordination with all territorial key players and the improvement of their own policies performance.

Lastly, regarding pollution – notably from plastic – Mediterranean Regions have also been developing policies and actions to mitigate pollution at sea, collecting plastics on land, at sea, recycling, or studying alternatives to its production and use. As the lemma says, “plastic knows no border” which has made it unavoidable for Regions to unite indeed, alongside countries, intergovernmental organizations such as the Union for the Mediterranean, public/private sectors or actors of the civil society to fight against this issue.

These three examples clearly show that unilateral action is not relevant anymore to tackle such challenges. This leads us to reflect on the governance of the Mediterranean and on how it could be improved to better take stock of Regions’ experiences, while providing orientations for more integration, cooperation and cohesion across territories and sectors.

As we saw, lots of challenges Regions deal with are actually shared with other regions, if not the whole of the Mediterranean area. There is however no specific established and recognized framework facilitating coordination across all territories, allowing dialogue across the scale of multi-level governance, i.e. territories at national, regional and local levels, or transversally across sectors.

Cooperation programs such as Interreg Euro-MED or NEXTMED do provide optimum spaces for Regions to cooperate on identified common issues with other stakeholders. While benefitting from defined financial portfolios and strategies, these programmes are nonetheless limited to their respective geographical area of implementation. Other frameworks such as the European strategy for the Adriatic Ionian region (EUSAIR) and the Western Mediterranean initiative (WestMED) have proved to be fruitful to cooperate and observe more integration, coordination and cohesion over their respective geographical areas of influence. Having said that, further coordination and matching both among programs and strategies themselves, and between programs and strategies would be necessary to fully optimize the use and impact of public and private funds on territories.

In this sense, several networks of local and regional authorities have united to highlight the need for more coordination, integration and cooperation in the Mediterranean basin to achieve sound cohesion. The Mediterranean Cooperation Alliance or “MedCoopAlliance” (2019) is formed by the CPMR Intermediterranean Commission, MedCities, the Adriatic-Ionian Euroregion, the Pyrenees-Mediterranean Euroregion, Arco Latino, and more recently COPPEM, all representing Mediterranean Regions, municipalities, or cities over several thematic areas of interest.

The Alliance’s conclusion is simple: to respond to the need of an increased integrated cohesion for the Mediterranean, a more comprehensive framework of dialogue and coordination ought to be created. Inspired by the existing European macro-regions, it therefore advocates for an integrated Mediterranean macro-region to support a smoother and concerted governance of the basin and better operationalize cooperation across Mediterranean territories and stakeholders, from all its rims. It would do so by enhancing the matchmaking between identified “challenges and responses” coming from cooperation programs, strategies, initiatives and key stakeholders already in place in the basin, targeting key topics of common interest and better alignment of priorities and deployment of efforts.

Counting with multi-level governance dynamics, a variable geometry and upon willingness of its joining territories and countries, this Mediterranean macro-region would act as an overarching framework allowing more appropriate, collective and efficient answers to the challenges affecting the Mediterranean. In this ecosystem, Regions would occupy a strategic space where their expertise would be clearly valued and built upon in decision-making processes. After all, going back to our three previous examples, Regions are the key intermediaries between global challenges and territories, and therefore between global actors and local ones.

To conclude, this short overview allows us to understand the importance of Regions in the implementation of coherent actions for integration, cooperation and cohesion in the Mediterranean basin. And it reminds us above all that to ensure this process smooth and soundly, the creation of an integrated macro-regional framework improving Mediterranean governance the has become unavoidable and that Regions are ready to play their part to that end.

 


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