Europe and MENA relations

Marc Otte
President of the Brussels International Centre and Former Director of the Egmont Institute

What do you see in the following years regarding EU and MENA trade relations? What will be the main challenges and opportunities?

The main challenge will be the one that all powers in the world are facing at the moment: a global disorder where economics and trade have become instruments for competition. For me, there are two game-changers: climate change and the pandemic, which have forced the various trade-economic powers and power relations into a more self-centred development and a competition between countries different to the one that came out from the following years after WW2 with liberal trade.

Through partnerships, experiences should be shared, particularly concerning European integration. A partnership is about that. We share experience, but we don’t dictate what partners ought to be doing.

How feasible do you think Europe advances in this path towards exemplary leadership to avoid this region becoming, as you mentioned, a “black hole” in the globalising world?

It’s a matter of political will. It’s a matter of leadership. It’s a matter of self-interest. In the past few years, we have noticed that the US is leaning towards Asia and China, and disengaging to some extent from the Middle East. My view – speaking about the Middle East region- is that we must know what we’re talking about. While the Americans can afford to turn away from the East, the Europeans cannot. Therefore, we Europeans have to take up our responsibility to help the people of the MENA region and restructure it in a manner that is not a threat to Europe, and where security and economic interests are safeguarded.

Our job as Europeans is to make sure that peoples’ interests are protected by ensuring a Middle East that is stable, developing economically, in a manner that will increase trade and investment both ways. I am not saying that the region is a trap in itself. But at the moment, there are many threats and many destabilising issues like migration, radicalism that is originating from the region, climate change, and the pandemic that is closing borders rather than opening them. We need open borders and a real migration policy, which the EU doesn’t have at the moment. Europeans should sit down with their MENA partners and acknowledge they have as much to bring to Europe, as Europe has to bring to them.

Tell us more about how you see the Egmont Institute evolving in your ideal world? How do you see it in the upcoming years?

This institute helps develop ideas, look forward, and rather than analysing the past, it looks at the future world. So, we have to see what research and events we could organise to bring people together so they can have a say in shaping the future. In particular, the younger generation, and women must be more deeply involved. So I’ll continue to work with the Institute to develop these ideas and make sure there is a genuine impact in terms of policy planning and perspective for the future.