- By Abdelkarim Skouri
The wave of protests that swept the Arab world starting in the 2010s has come with hopes of regime change and democratization, but has also opened new fronts of instability and complex security challenges in the whole Mediterranean region. For the European Union (EU), these developments were manifestly consequential, and questions on the response to adopt and the adequacy of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) approach to the Southern Mediterranean immediately popped up. The EU was indeed compelled to adapt its foreign policy to the current context and its aftermath. As part of this, an on-the-spot review of the ENP was introduced in 2011, then completed again with a long-awaited review in 2015. The latter put greater emphasis on the stabilization of the Southern neighbourhood, introduced differentiated treatment vis-à-vis different categories of partners, and adopted a pragmatic approach based on shared interests, all vital to the current context.
Transnational Security Cooperation in the Mediterranean is written with the aim of highlighting some of the most important of these developments and making sense of their implications on security cooperation in the Mediterranean. The outcome of a series of discussion on Euro-Mediterranean security cooperation, this policy-oriented volume is edited by Robert Mason, Associate Professor and Director of the MESC at the American University in Cairo from 2016-2019, and authored by a group of area experts and think-tank researchers, most of whom live or have lived in the region. It therefore provides an exhaustive overview of the evolution of the security situation in the region–with an emphasis on how the EU deals with it and can improve its policy, articulating thematic considerations (on both traditional and non-traditional security threats: counterterrorism, migration, energy, etc.) and actor-specific analyses (EU, Russia, Turkey, Gulf States, North African States, etc.).
The book’s opening chapter features a panoply of conceptual considerations that are indispensable to grasp security affairs in the Mediterranean. Chapter 2 and 3 thereupon examine the differences in threat perception and values contrast between Europe and its Southern neighbours, as an important starting point for this indispensable transnational cooperation. The authors argue that the Arab spring added new layers to the Mediterranean’s security complex, and led to the deepening of the values gap between the authoritarian and the democratic regime models in the region.
The subsequent three chapters, 4, 5 and 6, have a thematic focus on three key security issue areas: counterterrorism, migration, and energy in the Eastern Mediterranean. The first of these chapters discusses the EU’s attempt to externalize its counterterrorism model to its Southern neighbourhood and the challenges it faced. The following tackles the EU’s response to the migration crisis of 2015-16, and the persistent dysfunctionalities and shortcomings of the European harmonization of asylum legislation. The last, on energy matters, focuses on the opportunities for Europe in the Eastern Mediterranean basin, notably for its geographical proximity, and the challenges it might face due to the complex legal, commercial, and political context of gas discoveries in the area.
The increasing multipolarity, alliances and power differentials in the region are key to understanding its threat landscape, and the book doesn’t fail to tackle this aspect. From Chapter 7 on, the discussion shifts from the thematic focus to the quest for power by both regional (most notably from the Gulf) and global actors. In this context of shifting sands as to where and how interactions occur, the authors attempt to pinpoint situations in which the EU has a role to play. Accordingly, Chapter 7 discusses the case of Russia’s military campaign in Syria and its proposal for Gulf security as important considerations for the EU’s policy in the region. Chapter 8 examines Turkey’s policy towards the Middle East and sheds light once again on the geopolitical importance of the Eastern Mediterranean as an area of policy divergence – and a top priority for Turkish foreign policy. Focus then shifts to North Africa in Chapter 9, in which the authors run an overview of the EU-Maghreb relations and emphasize the security-development nexus as a framework of cooperation. Chapter 10 finally extends the analysis to the role of other major actors such as the United States of America, China, the Gulf states, as well as some non-state actors whose activity impacts the security situation in the Mediterranean region.
Ultimately, drawing on the expertise of its authors and the overview provided in the previous chapter, the book concludes with an array of new and intriguing avenues for reflection on the future of the EU’s relations with the Southern neighbourhood. It also puts forward recommendations for the foundation of stronger partnerships and building more bridges of dialogue between the Mediterranean countries, and is appended with a note on the role Europe shall play in the post-COVID-19 era.
Transnational Security Cooperation in the Mediterranean has the merit of combining both theoretical considerations and expert knowledge in one volume, tackling some of the most crucial security matters in the EU’s foreign policy towards the Southern neighbourhood. The vastness and diversity of the region make it difficult to cover all its particularities, but the book has succeeded in the task of selecting some of the most challenging themes and depictions of power dynamics. A must-read for policymakers, academics, and students interested in this geographical area.
 This workshop was organized by the Middle East Studies Center (MESC), American University in Cairo in May 2018.
- Abdelkarim Skouri is intern at Istituto Affari Internazionali and Graduate student of International Relations & Security at Luiss University, Rome.