26th Jun 2019

EU-Mediterranean leaders reach compromise on terrorism

At the eleventh hour, leaders of the EU member states and their ten Mediterranean partners in the Euromed group on Monday (28 November) agreed on a code of conduct to counter terrorism, leaving out controversial key definitions for all parties.

Against the clock and with a prospect of walking away empty-handed from the two-day Barcelona summit, the diplomats indulged in feverish negotiations which lead to a compromise deal that the Arab states, the EU and Israel could back.

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The EU had wanted to condemn terrorism without quibbles, stating that the right to self-determination did not justify acts of violence, while the Arab states in the Euromed (Euro-Mediterranean) group wanted to exclude "legitimate resistance against any occupying foreign military force" from the terror definition.

None of the definitions were finally adopted however, and the agreed code of conduct avoids the sensitive issue of defining terrorism.

Instead, it commits the EU, Israel and its neighbours to "prevent terrorists accessing money and weapons, to disrupt their plans and disrupt their networks and to bring them to justice by strengthening international cooperation."

It adds that the response to terrorism must be "proportionate and solidly anchored within international and domestic legal frameworks that ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana welcomed the agreement.

"We all know what we mean by fighting terrorism. In reality, there is total cooperation between the countries north and south of the Mediterranean against terrorism", Solana announced.

The Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, said that the summit conclusion represented an achievement "without precedent", while his co-hosting UK counterpart Tony Blair called the deal "a firm condemnation of terrorism, as strong a statement as you can possibly have on the unified determination to fight terrorism in all its forms."

Prestige was at stake

It was important to get some kind of decision at the meeting, as the prestige of the summit had already been undermined by Arab leaders staying away and sending foreign ministers instead.

Only two of the ten Mediterranean countries - Turkey and the Palestinian authority - sent their leaders, both pushing their own respective agendas for EU membership and the Middle East peace process.

According to Spanish media, Arab diplomats at the summit said some leaders, such as Tunisian president Zine al- Abidine Ben Ali, preferred to stay home rather than be lectured by the Europeans on democracy, human rights and freedom of expression.

The delegations could not agree on a common statement regarding the Middle-East peace process, due to the very different positions of the Israelis and the Palestinians on the matter.

Mr Blair played down this failure, saying it was not up to the Euro-Mediterranean assembly to solve the Middle-East crisis.

Determined Zapatero caught by mistake

Microphones placed in a ministers' meeting room caused some stir as they caught Mr Zapatero in a conversation with his advisor Charles Casajuana, underlining that EU leaders were determined to sign any agreement, in order not to lose face.

"The texts are not going very well, and we have to close something", the advisor told Zapatero, who reportedly answered "We have to close it. We have to close it, whatever it is."

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