EU-Morocco Summit: How Special a Friendship?

Tuesday, 9. March 2010     0 comment(s)
Timo Behr
Researcher - The European Union research programme

Expectations were high on all sides in the run-up to this weekend’s EU-Morocco Summit in Grenada. A first of its kind, the summit was not only the first ever bilateral EU summit with an Arab country, but also the first EU summit following the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty. If that was not enough, the Spanish EU Presidency – eager to start its turn in the EU driving seat on a high note – had stoked expectations that the meeting would serve as a “turning point” in bilateral relations and as an “example for the region.” And while the summit conclusions indeed indicate a strong European commitment to turn Morocco into a showcase for the EU’s transformative power in its neighborhood, they contain few truly novel ideas of how to get there.

Originally, the main purpose for convening a bilateral summit between the EU and Morocco was to put some flesh on the bones of Morocco’s “advanced status” with the EU. Awarded to Morocco in October 2008, the statut avancé was meant to reward the Sherifian Kingdom for its relative progress with economic and institutional reforms, when compared with other countries in the region. This made the advanced status the latest addition amongst a number of successive EU initiatives geared at transforming its southern neighborhood, including the 1995 Barcelona Process, the 2004 European Neighborhood Policy and the 2008 Union for the Mediterranean.

In principal, all of these different policies followed the same logic: given the ineligibility of Mediterranean partner countries for EU accession, they attempted to devise a number of incentives and rewards that could reproduce the transformative power of EU Enlargement. Rather than using strong-arm tactics or pointing fingers, all of these different policies relied on patient dialogue, promoting interdependence and providing positive incentives for reform. The problem has been that despite all their bureaucratic ingenuity, these policies have failed to produce the social and economic transformations necessary to ensure peace, security and democracy in the EU’s neighborhood.

The advanced status was to remedy this situation by turning Morocco into a new “neighborhood laboratory”; a shining example for the other countries in the region. Building on the EU’s 2005 Action Plan, it promised an intensification of relations on all levels, leading to a situation where Morocco would share “everything but institutions” with the EU. Until recently, however, these promises have been given little substance. Morocco is the greatest beneficiary of EU aid in the region (€580.5 million over 2011-13) and it has started a slow and gradual process of regulatory convergence with EU laws, but there have been few other concrete benefits from the advanced status.

This is likely to change little in the immediate future. Although some new measures have been agreed at the summit – the adoption of a new neighborhood instrument and the establishment of a mixed parliamentary group – they hardly represent a sea-change in relations. But on those issues that matter, e.g. Moroccan participation in EU structural programmes and trans-European networks, the summit conclusions remain ambivalent. This bodes ill for the potential of the advanced status to turn into a tool of EU transformative power. Ironically, this has not diminished the appeal of the advanced status as a new badge of honor to other countries in the region, including Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Tunisia, which have been clamoring to follow in the footsteps of Morocco.

In many ways this seems to indicate that the EU’s power of attraction in the region remains unbroken. Much less certain, however, is that the EU has learned to use this power wisely. To ensure that the advanced status does not turn into just another empty bureaucratic shell, the EU will have to muster the political will to offer Morocco concrete economic and political advantages and demand deep structural reforms in return, including in the areas of democracy and human rights. Only then will Morocco turn into a showcase of EU soft power, able to serve as an example to the region. In this regard, the recent EU-Morocco Summit can at best be considered a first step in the right direction.

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