By Bakari Gueye, Source: Magharebia

Foreign ministers from the Maghreb and Europe gathered Wednesday (October 23rd) in Barcelona for their first-ever economic summit.

Ministers from “5+5 Dialogue” member states Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia, along with their colleagues from Spain, France, Italy, Malta and Portugal, discussed ways to improve co-operation between the Maghreb, Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.

The meeting, which included business and labour leaders, also addressed sustainable growth, SMEs, and the Mediterranean region’s role in the global economy.

“Our goal is to make the Mediterranean a region of prosperity and opportunities between the two shores,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in his welcoming address.

The co-presidents of the “5+5 Dialogue”, Mauritania and Portugal, organised the event at the Union for the Mediterranean (UPM) headquarters.

“This forum is a tool to create wealth and employment and an important initiative on the path towards achieving the goals of progress and prosperity,” the Spanish premier added.

“Political, economic and business leaders have a responsibility and a duty to promote and uphold the values of integration and solidarity between our countries,” he said.

Rajoy also advocated “joint analysis” of the needs of the populations across the region in order to “propose joint responses”. He emphasised the need to promote integration and understanding between the countries of both shores of the Mediterranean.

For his part, UPM Secretary-General Fathallah Sijilmassi highlighted the importance of holding this first forum and noted that “greater regional integration requires more useful and more effective regional co-operation in order to come up with concrete plans”.

“We can’t wait any longer. It’s time to start work,” Sijilmassi said.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Rui Chancerelle de Machete said that the meeting reflected the synergy between 5+5 countries and that it was “a good opportunity to discuss ways of increasing trade between the countries of the Western Mediterranean”.

“We are committed to boosting our regional co-operation in several spheres, but we want to extend it to other areas of co-operation such as youth employment, scientific research, food security and renewable energies,” he added.

Mauritanian Foreign minister Ahmed Ould Teguedi said, “This forum is a partnership model that can further consolidate Mediterranean dialogue in the economic domain.”

Ould Teguedi said that he hoped the meeting would give “fresh impetus to this co-operation, in order to boost regional integration”.

According to Jidou Ould Sidi, a journalist who specialises in security matters, the interior ministers of the “5+5” countries had already begun “a fruitful dialogue about concrete measures to combat terrorism, tackle organised crime and illegal immigration, and to foster co-operation in the field of civil protection”.

“Nearly a dozen meetings of defence ministers have been held within the 5+5 Dialogue framework,” Ould Sidi added.

“The objective was to boost military co-operation in peacekeeping initiatives, crisis management, and rescue and maritime security operations. The most recent ministerial meeting was held in Rabat last year during Morocco’s presidency of the 5+5 Defence initiative,” he told Magharebia.

Analyst Abdou Ould Mohamed said that “in light of the recent tragedies at sea, the issue of immigration would be central to the discussions”.

“It is the natural proximity between Europe and the Maghreb in particular which has favoured the use of this area as a route for migrants from the south to enter the EU,” he said.

“The EU has created a framework for co-operation with these states in order to tackle issues including illegal immigration, and also adopted agreements on the readmission of people who have been turned back,” Ould Mohamed added.