The EU Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East (SPMME): A Forgotten Initiative towards a Comprehensive and Consistent EU Multilateral Approach vis-à-vis the Arab States

by Mohamed Riyad M. Almosly, Phd Student, Gent University


A consistent approach in the European Union (EU) external relations preserves its credibility in the world and makes it a more effective international actor (Lannon, 2015: 82). To avoid any fragmentation in this respect, Article 21(3) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) provides that “The Union shall ensure consistency between the different areas of its external action and between these and its other policies. The Council and the Commission, assisted by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy [HRVP], shall ensure that consistency and shall cooperate to that effect”.[1]

Although the EU has created several policies towards its Southern Mediterranean neighbours such as the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) (1995-2006), the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) (2007 onwards) and the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) (2008 onwards), it has not yet established a comprehensive and consistent multilateral framework that includes all its 22 partners from the League of Arab States (LAS). Since the failure of the Euro-Arab Dialogue in the 1973 (Brauch et al., 2000: 20) , the 2003 SPMME was the first initiative proposed to bring almost all the EU North African and Middle Eastern Arab partners around one table but this Partnership was not eventually implemented. Recently, the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy (EUGS) advocated a similar approach to that of the SPMME and stressed the need to create a “practical” “cooperative regional orders” that link between the EU, North Africa, Middle East, Sahel and Horn of Africa (HRVP, 2016: 34). This article will analyze the SPMME and examine whether the EU is required to reconsider its current multilateral structures in the light of the EUGS.

Section I: the need for a strategic and comprehensive framework to preserve consistency between the EU external policies

The current EU regional frameworks (ENP and UfM) were designed to cover, in addition to other States,[2] only the EU immediate Arab Mediterranean neighbours: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria (suspended) and Tunisia.[3] Unfortunately, these policies have failed to bring peace, security and prosperity even in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood for several reasons related to, inter alia, the ineffectiveness of their instruments and cooperative methods; the lack of coordination between them; and the absence of a strategic vision to link cooperation between the EU immediate Southern neighbours and their neighbours in the Sahel, Horn of Africa and the Arab Gulf (Lannon, 2012: 17-21 & 2014: 11-12; Bicchi & Gillespie, 2012: i). During the 2015 review process of the ENP, the European Commission and HRVP realized the “clear need to review the assumptions on which [this] policy is based, as well as its scope, and how [its] instruments should be used” and recognized the necessity to create a new approach that can reinvigorate cooperation with countries located behind the ENP borders, i.e. the neighbours of the EU neighbours (EC & HRVP, 4/3/2015: 3; EC & HRVP, 18/11/2015: 2 & 18).

In this direction, since the so called ‘Arab Spring’, the EU and its 22 Arab partners are moving slowly but managed to create a cooperative channel between them. They held Four Foreign Affairs Ministerial Meetings[4] the main outcomes of which were: 1) the launching of the ‘EU-LAS Strategic Dialogue’ in November 2015 to cooperate on various issues of common interests such as conflict prevention and counter-terrorism; 2) the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding in January 2015 by the HRVP and the Secretary General of LAS; 3) the adoption of the 2016-2018 ‘EU-LAS Joint Work Program’ to facilitate cooperation on key areas related to “early warning, humanitarian assistance, human rights, civil society and women empowerment”.[5]

However, despite such improvements, the EU-LAS Strategic Dialogue has not yet created the necessary measures that are required to transform the nature of this relationship. The EU is still counting on the ‘reviewed’ ENP and the UfM to solve the challenges of the Arab region.[6] In other words, although the European Commission recognised in 2015 the failure of these policies, the EU has once again relied on them in 2016 under the newly launched Strategic Dialogue. This would have been justifiable if the 2015 ENP review or the EUGS has introduced new instruments to the ENP and the UfM but neither of them has done so nor have they suggested a concrete work plan to connect the EU immediate Southern neighbours with their own neighbours. On the contrary, the EU multilateral policies are still fragmented and characterized by the lack of consistent implementation in their instruments. A clear manifestation to such fragmentation can be found in the application of different multilateral frameworks to the Arab States as follows:

  1. ENP and UfM: cover the EU immediate Mediterranean neighbours (see above).
  2. African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States framework: Comoros, Djibouti, Mauritania, Somalia and Sudan.
  3. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Member States: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates under the 1988 EU-GCC Cooperation Agreement.
  4. Arab States not included in any EU multilateral policy: Iraq, Libya and Yemen.

It might be argued that a single multilateral framework gathering all these four categories is not visible due to the differences in their economic level and political situations. In addition, the EU priorities in each sub-region are not similar. For instance, in the ACP Arab States the concentration is on development cooperation through the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) while on the other hand the EU is seeking to enlarge its Internal Market to the Mediterranean countries via the conclusion of Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements (EMAAs) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTAs). Though it relies on correct grounds, this argument cannot be upheld in that despite such differences at the internal and sub-regional levels, the establishment of a cooperative mechanism among these sub-regions is visible to tackle the current transnational challenges, such as terrorism, human trafficking and environment pollution, which are common problems not only to the Arab sub-regions but also to the international community as a whole. Furthermore, considering that the Arab States are already gathered under LAS, this organisation notwithstanding its limited cooperative role could increase the visibility of the cooperation in question. Secondly, in the medium term, the EU is not required to replace its current regional frameworks with a single one but at least to launch a well institutionally structured cooperative regional order that links between the institutions, instruments and financial resources of the existing frameworks as well as reformulates and harmonizes the priorities of these frameworks to make them more consistent and effective. For instance, when it comes to the essential elements (conditionality) clauses, there is no reason to differentiate between the ACP Arab States by obliging them to respect a detailed article regarding human rights under the 2000 Cotonou Agreement on the one hand and the Mediterranean States to which a circumscribed version of conditionality provisions were inserted in the EMAAs on the other hand (Lannon, 2015: 82).[7] Thirdly, the creation of such coordination between the Arab sub-regions is an introductory step to link between the EU, its immediate Southern Mediterranean neighbours and the neighbours of its Southern neighbours. This is due to the fact that LAS comprises both the EU immediate Southern neighbours and some of the neighbours of the EU neighbours. In this regard, the SPMME was the only framework formulated to, initially, cover all the Arab States as will be examined below.

Section II: The EU Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East (SPMME)

Genesis and geographical coverage

On the basis of the European Council invitation in 2003 (European Council, 19-20/6/2003, paras. 66-67), the European Commission and the High Representative of the EU submitted four reports[8] in which several proposals have been introduced to revitalize the EU relationship with the Arab World through the creation of the SPMME. The reports were entitled:

  1. Strengthening the EU’s Partnership with the Arab World on 9/12/2003;
  2. Interim Report on an EU Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East on 22/3/2004;
  3. Final Report on an EU Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East in June 2004;
  4. Interim Report on an EU Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East in December 2006.

Initially, the SPMME was designed to all the Arab States but then four ACP Arab States (Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan) were excluded on the grounds that they face different challenges than the rest of the Arab States.[9] Mauritania was the only ACP country included in the SPMME due to its membership in the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU)[10] and on the basis of the Cotonou Agreement instruments.[11] Hence, with the exclusion of the four ACP States, the SPMME geographical coverage was shifted to cover the EU North African and Middle Eastern neighbours. The countries of these regions were divided into two categories:[12]

  1. The EMP (currently ENP and UfM) Arab Mediterranean participants (Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia) plus Israel and Turkey. Libya was also planned to be included in the SPMME after its acceptance to the EMP acquis.
  2. The ‘Wider Middle East’: comprises the Arab States that are located East of Jordan (i.e. the six GCC Member States, Iraq and Yemen) in addition to Iran.

Objectives and principles

The SPMME sets very broad objectives. The Second Report underlined 11 objectives, which were extended to 18 “Principles for Actions” in the Third Report.[13] Nonetheless, the SPMME’s main objectives can be summarized as the following:

  1. The promotion of peace, prosperity and stability in the SPMME partners;
  2. Encouraging political, economic and social reforms;
  3. Conflict Prevention: solving the Arab-Israeli conflict was considered as a “strategic priority” for the SPMME. However, no reference was made to other conflicts in the region such as the one concerning Western Sahara despite the severe impact of this issue on the Maghreb regional cooperation;
  4. Achieving coherency and consistency among the EU policies;
  5. Controlling Migration and concluding readmission agreements with the partners.

It can be inferred from the abovementioned four Reports on the SPMME that this Partnership relies on three main principles to achieve its objectives: first, co-ownership of the partnership which means that the EU shall consult the partners in question regarding the formulation and implementation of the SPMME. In other words, the partners shall be involved in the process to avoid the SPMME from being perceived as an EU unilateral instrument (Lannon, 2008: 366). Second, complementary partnership that relies on the existing cooperative frameworks. Third, differentiation, the SPMME aims at coordinating the different instruments of the EU policies but at the same time it is not a “one-size-fits-all” States model.[14] The last two principles entail two dimensions: at the regional level, the existing policies (EMP and ENP) will be maintained with the Mediterranean States and other frameworks will be launched vis-à-vis the Wider Middle East. At the bilateral level, the EMAAs will remain the bilateral cooperative model with the Mediterranean Sates while other agreements that respect the needs and ambitions of each partner will be concluded with the Middle Eastern States.


The SPMME was intended to perform as a coherency-preserver mechanism among the existing different EU policies instead of being an independent framework on its own. It did not aim at replacing the bilateral and multilateral frameworks that were already created by the EU towards some of its Arab partners (i.e. EMAAs, Cotonou Agreement, EMP and ENP), but rather its main purpose was to coordinate the instruments and objectives of these frameworks and put forward certain recommendations towards the Wider Middle East States.[15] With regard to the Mediterranean States, the SPMME was presumed to build on the EMP instruments as well as the ENP and its bilateral Action Plans, which were adopted or will be adopted with each ENP partner. On the other hand, the EU recognised that “The Cooperation Agreement [with the GCC] has allowed for a limited political dialogue” and that the “economic and social characteristics” of the Wider Middle East necessitate the existence of different cooperative mechanisms than those created under the EMP and ENP.[16] Therefore, a ‘Wider Middle East Strategy’ and “Regional Stability Strategy” were proposed to be established with the GCC, Iraq, Iran and Yemen.

The complementary nature of the SPMME has been one of the main reasons behind its failure because it made the implementation of this Partnership, with regard to the Mediterranean partners, depends on the EMP and the ENP. The principles of the SPMME are simply incompatible with those of the ENP. For instance, how is it possible to respect the co-ownership principle of the SPMME through the EMP and the ENP while there is a “perceived lack of co-ownership by the Mediterranean partners” regarding these two policies as noticed by the European Commission (EC, 20/5/2008: para. 13; EC & HRVP, 4/3/2015: 4 & 9). With its (positive and negative) conditionality principle and benchmark system, the ENP was considered by the EU partners as being mainly a unilateral and euro-centred instrument rather than a commonly agreed partnership between equal sovereign States (Van Elsuwege & Petrov, 2011: 694).[17] Therefore, the SPMME should have revised the instruments and principles of the EMP and ENP before relying on them.


The EU was originally created to maintain peace among its Member States but its internal security has now become more than ever dependant on the stability of its neighbourhood (De Búrca, 2014: 37). For this reason, the EU should act as a stability preserver and “security provider” even beyond the borders of its Member States (Council of the EU, 6/3/2017, para. 2). The SPMME was the first framework directed towards the EU’s immediate neighbours and some of the neighbours of its neighbours. Its initial geographical coverage and intention to solve the ongoing conflicts was innovative and strategic. However, the SPMME was not implemented because of the following reasons: first, it deviated from its original geographical coverage and included two regional actors the political vision and interests of which are not identical, namely the GCC and Iran. The EU should have mediated a rapprochement between those two sides before including them in the SPMME. Secondly, it was a security-obsessed partnership in that it required the Arab States “to play the role of a buffer zone” (Lannon, 2008: 361) without offering them a substantial assistance in return. Third, it did not create new instruments, co-owned reviewing mechanisms and institutional structures that harmonize and revise those of the EMP and ENP within a more strategic set of priorities. Fourth, no follow-up was done by the EU institutions after 2006 to develop the content of the SPMME.

As of now, due to the ENP and UfM failure, the EU should draw lessons from the SPMME in formulating a comprehensive and consistent framework that revises the ENP and UfM and links between North Africa, the Sahel, Horn of Africa and the Middle East. For this to materialize, a sub-regional framework that takes into consideration the interests of Iran and Turkey must be created with the GCC, Iraq and Yemen.


* PhD candidate at Ghent University\ Faculty of Law under the supervision of Professor Dr. Erwan Lannon. The candidate’s main field of research includes the multilateral and bilateral legal instruments and strategic frameworks linking the EU and its North African and Middle Eastern partners. The author would like to thank Professor Lannon for his valuable comments on this article. Email: MohamedRiyadM.Almosly@ugent.be

[1] See also Articles (13) TEU, 18(4) TEU and (7) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

[2] Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine under the ENP and Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mauritania Monaco, Montenegro and Turkey under the UfM.

[3] Libya does not have a bilateral agreement with the EU nor is it included in any of the EU multilateral policies.

[4] In Malta (February 2008), Egypt (13/11/2012), Greece (10-11/6/2014) and Egypt (20/12/2016).

[5] Declaration adopted at the Fourth League of Arab States – European Union Ministerial Meeting, Egypt-Cairo, 20/12/2016, paras. 1, 4, 11 & 19. Available at: <https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/17651/declaration-adopted-fourth-league-arab-states-european-union-ministerial-meeting_en> The EU-LAS Liaison Office ECLASLO will “facilitate the implementation of the Joint Work Program”.

[6] Ibid, paras. 20-21.

[7] See Article (9) of the 2000 Cotonou Agreement (OJ L 317/3 on 15/12/2000) as amended in 2010 (OJ L287/3 on 4/11/2010) in comparison with Articles (2) of the EMAAs with Algeria (OJ L265/2 on 10/10/2005), Egypt (OJ L304/39 on 30/9/2004), Morocco (OJ L70/2 on 18/3/2000) and Tunisia (OJ L97/2 on 30/3/1998).

[8] The Presidency of the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC), which was one of the Configurations of the Council of the EU, participated in the preparation of the second, third and fourth reports. During that time, the Secretary General of the Council of the EU, Mr. Javier Solana, was performing the tasks of the High Representative of the EU. GAERC does not currently exist as it was divided into two bodies; the first works on the General Affairs while the second on External Relations.

[9] First Report, see the references list, p. 7.

[10] The AMU is a regional organisation that was established between five North African Arab States (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia) on the basis of the Treaty Establishing a Maghreb Union on 17/2/1989.

[11] Second Report, p. 9; Third Report, p. 17. Mauritania was admitted to the EMP in 2007 (9th Euro-Med Conference, 5-6/11/2007: 4) but the EMP was eventually absorbed by the ENP and the UfM and Mauritania currently participates only in the UfM.

[12] First Report, p. 3 & 7.

[13] Second Report, pp. 10-12. Third Report, pp. 3-5.

[14] Third Report, p. 3.

[15] First Report, p. 8 & 12.

[16] Ibid, p. 7, 9 & 12; Second Report, p. 9; Third Report, p. 7.

[17] On the basis of the conditionality principle, the EU evaluates its partners’ commitment to several priorities (e.g. respect for human rights). According to the results of such evaluation, the EU either sanctions the partner in question, through for instance the suspension of the bilateral relationship (negative conditionality), or on the contrary offers such a partner better access to its Internal Market, specific programmes/agencies and more financial and technical support (positive conditionality) (EC, 11/3/2003: 15-17; EC & HRVP, 8/3/2011: 5).


Books and Articles

  • Bicchi, F. & R. Gillespie (2012). The Union for the Mediterranean, London: Routledge, 2012.
  • Brauch H. Günter, A. Marquina & A. Biad (2000). Introduction: Euro-Mediterranean Partnership for the 21st Century. In: H. Günter Brauch, A. Marquina & A. Biad (eds.), Euro-Mediterranean Partnership for the 21st Century, pp. 3-25. Houndmills: Macmillan.
  • De Búrca, G. (2014). Europe Raison d’être. In: D. Kochenov, and F. Amtenbrink (eds.), The European Union’s Shaping of the International Legal Order, pp. 21-37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lannon, E. (2008). The European Union’s Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East: A New Geopolitical Dimension of the EU’s Proximity Strategies. In: A. Dashwood and M. Maresceau (eds.), Law and Practice of EU External Relations: Salient Features of a Changing Landscape, pp. 360-375. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lannon, E. (2012). Introduction. In: E. Lannon (ed.), The European Neighbourhood Policy’s Challenges, College of Europe Studies, Vol. 14, pp. 17-21. Brussels, New York, Peter Lang, 2012.
  • Lannon, E. (2014). Introduction: The “Neighbours of the EU’s Neighbours”, the “EU’s Broader Neighbourhood and the “Arc of Crisis and Strategic Challenges” from the Sahel to Central Asia. In: S. Gstöhl and E. Lannon (eds.), The Neighbours of the European Union’s Neighbours: Diplomatic and Geopolitical Dimensions beyond the European Neighbourhood Policy, pp. 1-25. Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate.
  • Lannon, E. (2015). The 2015 Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Future of Euro-Mediterranean Relationships. In: O. Aksoy (ed.),Dis Politika – Foreign Policy – A biannual Journal of the European Foreign Policy Institute. Volume 42, pp. 69–83. Presented at the Euromesco annual Conference “Reviewing Euro-Mediterranean Relations” Ankara, Turkey: Seyfi Tashan.
  • Van Elsuwege, P. & R. Petrov (2011). Article 8 TEU: Towards a New Generation of Agreements with the Neighbouring Countries of the European Union? European Law Review, 36: pp. 688-703.

Official Documents:

  • Council of the EU, Agreed Conclusions of the 9th Euro-Mediterranean Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs 5-6.11.2007, Lisbon, 14743/07 (Presse 255), 6/11/2007.
  • Council of the EU, Council Conclusions on Progress in Implementing the EU Global Strategy in the Area of Security and Defence, Press Release 110/17, 6/3/2017. Available at: < http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/03/06-conclusions-security-defence/>
  • Declaration adopted at the Fourth League of Arab States – European Union Ministerial Meeting, Egypt-Cairo, 20/12/2016. Available at: <https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/17651/declaration-adopted-fourth-league-arab-states-european-union-ministerial-meeting_en>
  • European Commission Communication, Wider Europe – Neighbourhood: A New Framework for Relations with our Eastern and Southern Neighbours, COM(2003) 104 Final, Brussels, 11.3.2003.
  • European Commission Communication, Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean, COM(2008) 319 (Final), Brussels, 20/5/2008.
  • European Commission & High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joint Communication, A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean, Brussels, 8/3/2011.
  • European Commission & High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joint Consultation Paper, Towards a new European Neighbourhood Policy, JOIN(2015) 6 final, Brussels, 4/3/2015.
  • European Commission & High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joint Communication, Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, JOIN(2015) 50 final, Brussels, 18/11/2015.
  • European Council Presidency Conclusion, Thessaloniki European Council 19-20/6/2003, Council of the EU 11638/03 Brussels, 1/10/2003.
  • High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy “Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe”, June 2016.
  • The four main reports of the SPMME:
  • First Report: European Commission and High Representative Joint Report, Strengthening the EU’s Partnership with the Arab World, annexed to the Note from the Secretariat General of the Council of the European Union, 15945/03, PESC 791, Brussels, 9/12/2003.
  • Second Report: Presidency of the Council of the EU, High Representative and European Commission Joint Report, Interim Report on an EU Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East, annexed to the Outcome of Proceedings from the Secretariat of the Council of the European Union, Brussels, 7697/04 COMEM 4, COMAG 4, 22/3/2004
  • Third Report: Presidency of the Council of the EU, High Representative and European Commission Joint Report, Final Report on an EU Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East, June 2004, p. 7, annexed to Council of the EU, Brussels European Council 17-18/6/2004 Presidency Conclusions, 10679/2/04 REV 2, CONCL 2, Brussels, 19/7/2004.
  • Fourth Report: Presidency of the Council of the EU, High Representative and European Commission Joint Report, EU Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East Interim Report December 2006, annexed to the Note from the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, 15968/1/06, REV 1, LIMITE, COMEM 147, COMAG 26, Brussels, 1/12/2006.