The EU must do more to promote democracy and stability in its southern Mediterranean neighbourhood by boosting mutually-beneficial trade relations in the wake of the Arab Spring, says Parliament. Efforts should be focused on small businesses as the main drivers of job creation and wealth.
In a report on the EU's trade for change policy in the southern Mediterranean, adopted on Thursday by 479 votes to 64, with 40 abstentions, MEPs demand greater efforts by the EU and Member States to support the transition to democracy in the Arab Spring countries. "So far, the political response to the Arab Spring has been weak", said rapporteur Niccolò Rinaldi (ALDE, IT). My report sets out what Europeans can do to help these people, who are getting closer to democracy and realize that there are prospects for a better life."
Empowering small business
Parliament wants the EU's trade strategy to focus on supporting small and medium-sized businesses, which provide as much as 30 per cent of employment in some countries and are, says Mr Rinaldi, "crucial in dismantling the oligarchies as key players."
It calls on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to target investment at small and medium-sized firms and asks the European Investment Bank to provide micro-credits and counter-guarantee schemes for SMEs. It also wants incentives to register the high number of black-market businesses, visa facilitation measures for businesspeople and support for trade diversification.
MEPs suggest that Member States should set up Euromed Erasmus and Da Vinci programmes for visiting students and EU Chambers of Commerce in partner countries.
Free trade issues
Parliament hopes the momentum created by the Arab Spring can spur progress towards a Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area and supports talks on deep and comprehensive free-trade areas. During the debate, Mr Rinaldi sought to reassure MEPs concerned about the potential impact on EU farmers of free trade, pointing to the EU's significant trade surplus in agriculture with these countries and the benefits to EU consumers of opening up our markets.
Southern Mediterranean economies after the Arab Spring
The report highlights poverty as "a persistent evil in the countryside" and stresses that "chronic unemployment" affects young people in particular, with 45% of Tunisia's university graduates, for example, being jobless.
Parliament points to the new opportunities created by the overthrow of most of the region's dictators to develop a true market economy.. The EU must, it says, use its exclusive competence over trade and investment policy "to provide an effective response to the upheavals and to contribute to economic and social progress in the Southern Mediterranean countries".
Procedure: Non-legislative resolution