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Middle East

A man in a destroyed street.

The countries located between Morocco on the western edge of North Africa and Iran on the eastern shore of the Persian Gulf are of key importance to the European Union. Comprising a highly diverse region that has considerable impact on the EU’s international relations and the societal developments that affect it at home, they pose numerous risks to Europe while also offering it considerable opportunities.

The risks to be found there can be divided into seven different groups:

1) Territorial strife, including conflicts as diverse as clashes in the Western Sahara to the Israeli-Arab situation to the issue of statehood for the Kurds.
2) The struggle for control of key resources such as oil, gas, water and arable land.
3) Social tensions resulting from the differences between resource-rich and resource-poor nations in the Middle East, on the one hand, and from economic disparities within those nations on the other.  These tensions are fueling immigration flows to Europe, which are also resulting the demographic shifts taking place within these countries.
4) Conflicts stemming from political transformation which focus attention on the identities and ideologies of the individual peoples and countries in the region. Key issues include leadership legitimacy, good and bad governance, secularity and religious beliefs, religious differences (between Sunnis and Shiites, for example, or among Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups), as well as societal responses to the violence that results from religious beliefs.
5) Iran’s nuclear activities.
6) Iraq’s uncertain future.
7) Instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This same geographical area, however, also offers many opportunities, thanks to the rapid economic development taking place in numerous countries located there, in particular those in the Gulf region. The considerable income generated by oil and gas exports is offering many nations in the Middle East the chance to modernize their economies and their social structures. Many are using their wealth to gradually transform themselves -- economically, socially and even politically. The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), for example, are now some of the most forward-looking in the entire Islamic Arab world, working with the EU to create a free-trade zone and political and cultural partnerships, to name just a few examples.   

In terms of agreements and treaties, Europe’s relations with individual countries and subgroups in the region are now multifaceted. The EU has created a customs union with Turkey and begun negotiations for the country’s accession to the EU. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, also known as the Barcelona Process, has been upgraded to the Union for the Mediterranean. In addition, Europe maintains a special, bilateral relationship with Israel and is addressing the Israeli-Arab conflict as one of the Middle East Quartet mediators. In the Gulf region, the EU also maintains bilateral relations with Iran and Iraq as well as with the GCC, even if relations with the first two countries have proven difficult.

At the same time, a comprehensive strategy for the Mediterranean, North Africa, Middle East and Gulf region does not yet exist. This, in turn, offers plenty of opportunity for the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Europe and the Middle East project, part of its Europe’s Future program, to carry out its activities as a think tank and policy consultant. The Bertelsmann Stiftung has been involved since 1995 in efforts to promote in practical terms a European foreign policy that is aimed at North African, Middle Eastern and Gulf countries. Its position papers, conferences and workshops have made it possible for policymakers, business leaders and academics to come together to discuss issues affecting the region. The project also supplies input for working groups that bring together Bertelsmann Stiftung specialists and officials from Europe’s foreign ministries to address issues relating to the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy, as well as for articles that appear in the foundation’s magazine “spotlight europe.” In addition, it organizes expert workshops to develop policy papers and to prepare the strategy paper presented at the foundation’s annual Kronberg Talks, an event that allows findings from other Bertelsmann Stiftung programs -- addressing intercultural cooperation, migration, integration, transformation and globalization, among other issues -- to be examined within the framework of European-Mediterranean relations.


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