Wanted: Progress Toward a Peaceful Neighborhood

Kronberg Talks held 15 years ago for first time

The meeting that took place in 1995 was an ambitious one: At the invitation of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, parties to the Middle East's various conflicts sat down together to map out a peaceful future for the region and to develop a strategy for creating a trans-Mediterranean partnership. Held in an idyllic town in the foothills of the Taunus Mountains near Frankfurt, the meeting 15 years ago was the initial event in what has since become known as the Kronberg Talks.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung launched the initiative "Europe and the Middle East – Prospects for future cooperation" 15 years ago to help increase the chances of resolving the conflicts in Northern Africa and the Middle East and to improve ties to the regions. As a kick-off for the project – which is carried out together with the Europe research group at the Center for Applied Policy Research at the University of Munich – policymakers, business leaders and academic specialists from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe came together for a two-day conference in Kronberg.

Participants included Helmut Schäfer, then minister of state at the Foreign Ministry, Hikmet Cetin, former Turkish foreign minister, Morocco's agriculture minister, and Caio Koch-Weser, vice-president of the World Bank.

The Kronberg Talks, which have taken place in the same location every year since the initial meeting, have offered a venue for critically appraising the European Union's efforts to create a common economic and cultural zone stretching from Finland to Morocco and from Ireland to Jordan by 2010. In addition, they allow participants to consider new strategies for furthering the peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Almost 1,000 experts from Europe, North America, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Iran and the Arab world have now participated in the conferences and related workshops. The talks have since established themselves as a place for generating ideas, making connections and building trust, and have been held regardless of the intensity of conflict taking place in the Middle East.

Last year participants met for the first time in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. "When we think of the potential of Europe and of the Gulf region, then it becomes clear what these two partners could contribute to helping solve the global financial and economic crisis and to jointly promoting efforts for creating sustainable growth and development," said Gunter Thielen, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, in his remarks opening the two-day event in May 2009.

According to Thielen, the Middle East's various conflicts are all closely intertwined. "In contrast to past efforts, maybe it's now time to stop trying to manage individual crises and begin dealing openly with all of the region's problems at once," he said.

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