Decentralised co-operation and migration in the Mediterranean Basin - CG (5) 12 Part II

Rapporteurs: Salvatore DISTASO (Italy)


Fully supporting the Vienna Declaration adopted by the member States of the Council of Europe on 9 October 1993, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE), a Council of Europe body representing local and regional government in Europe, has given close consideration to the phenomenon of international migration, and particularly to migration in the Mediterranean Basin.

It is useful to reflect on the dual origin of the phenomenon, above all in order to draw attention to the fact that migration at the present time, which is occasioned by a weakening of the state or by ethnic tensions, heralds the much greater movement destined to occur in the period 1998-2000 among certain peoples of the southern shore of the Mediterranean, where a population explosion is expected to peak in the year 2004.

After organising the 4th Conference of Mediterranean Regions (Cyprus, September 1995), the CLRAE played an active part in the Palma de Mallorca Conference on population, migrations and development, organised by the Council of Europe's European Committee on population (October 1996). At the latter it drew attention to the fact that the richness of the qualitative and quantitative studies carried out and the self-evident need to keep interest focused on an issue that will become increasingly pressing for all local and regional authorities have not been matched by any adequate drive for concrete action by central governments.

Given this situation and the foreseeably damaging consequences of migration in terms of intolerance, social costs and widespread instability in local authority areas in the Mediterranean, the Congress accepted the invitation of Apulia Region (Italy) and organised the International Conference on “Local and Regional Authorities in the face of Mediterranean migration: from Intolerance to Development” in Bari in October 1997.

At the conference, Professor Cagiano de Azevedo, the President of the Faculty of Economics and Commerce at the University of Rome, presented the introductory report in which he reviewed various studies and aspects of the problem, provided up-to-date information on the basic demographic situation and brought within a single compass the information presented by the European institutions at Conferences organised in the recent years on this theme. He thus provided a carefully constructed, comprehensive frame of reference that particularly emphasised:

• the steady increase in migration in 12 European Union countries (compared with 1995): at 746,100 the number of migrants exceeded the natural increase of 345,800 in the population and thus constituted the main factor in population growth;

• the causes of these migration flows, which are essentially the product of demographic and economic imbalances between countries on either side of the Mediterranean (the reasons advanced being family reunion or marriage in traditional in-migration countries and “the search for work” in countries where immigration is a recent phenomenon) or of “political factors” (such as war, persecution or ethnic conflict which are probably destined to remain until such time as the hoped-for “new world order” becomes a reality);

• the factors which favour large-scale migration flows (low-cost air transport which makes distance no longer a problem; the growing circulation of information from one continent to another; the growth of clandestine undertakings which organise illegal immigration).

The above-mentioned introductory report reaffirmed the importance of intensifying policies designed to contain migration and hence to support economic growth in the emigration regions.

In practice the development of these regions is still so very often dependent, even today, almost exclusively on the money which emigrants send back to their countries of origin (in Morocco 25% of all inward transfers of foreign currency are accounted for by emigrants' transfers) and on the occupational skills acquired by the emigrants themselves that return migration can be a factor for their development.

The introductory report further emphasised the need to implement the relevant policies through a strengthening of decentralised co-operation in which the principal partners in the development process would be local authorities in both emigration and immigration countries with the task of devising a new and specific regional policy to be put into effect on a negotiated, institutional basis.

Such a regional policy would be required to include all measures destined:

• to contain and reduce the foreign debt of emigration countries which, if it is not controlled, could create political tension and subsequently demographic imbalances;

• to realise specific forms of co-ordination between bilateral and multilateral aid, and between public aid and private investment, in order to optimise the use of resources and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the measures planned;

• to check the compatibility of economic liberalisation policies with the economic systems of emigration regions and the impact of food aid which, if provided without a proper assessment of the social situation, could reduce the amount of work available and so stimulate emigration.

The Bari Conference usefully:

a) examined in depth the fundamental points in the final recommendations made by the Conference on population and development organised in Cairo (Egypt) during 1994 by the United Nations concerning:

• the absolute necessity of promoting the integration of immigrants in their host countries;

• the intensification of international co-operation as the only means of reducing migration flows;

b) identified the genuine opportunities which are opening up with regard to the objectives outlined at the Euro-Mediterranean Conference organised by the European Union in Barcelona (Spain) on 1995 and which relate essentially to measures for:

• determining a common zone of peace and stability;

• creating a common prosperity zone with a free trade area and a substantial increase in the financial support provided by the Union and the other partner countries;

• developing human resources by promoting trade and mutual understanding between cultures;

• supporting the MEDA programme, which has been designed to encourage private European investment in the Mediterranean area;

c) set in motion concrete operations fully in line with the recommendations of the Palma de Mallorca Conference, which I think should be drawn to the Congress’s attention and which showed the need:

• to step up institutional co-operation with a higher level of participation of northern, southern and eastern Mediterranean countries in the activities of the Council of Europe; to broaden cultural dialogue; to create a task force in the Council of Europe involving all partners in the process of decentralised co-operation and to strengthen regional co-operation bodies such as the Council of the Maghreb Union, the Council for Arab Economic Unity and the Arab free trade area;

• to set up an observatory or a foundation to function as a network of correspondents similar to OECD's SOPEMI network for gathering statistical information on demographic trends, migration and economic and social development in the Mediterranean region and make it possible to compare national statistics on migration;

• to implement development aid policies aimed principally at alleviating the public debt of the poorest countries, transferring technology (including technologies deemed obsolete in the North but which may create employment in the South and in the East of the Mediterranean Basin) and fostering the emergence of small and medium-sized enterprises and activities in the agricultural sector;

• to implement initiatives in the social, economic and political spheres giving absolute priority to human capital acquisition, education, health, improving the situation of women and promoting institutional reforms to strengthen the legitimacy of the governments.

Through the way it was organised and the high level of representation of the various institutions, the Bari Conference paved the way for:

• strengthening the process of social, economic and cultural integration on the basis of co-operation agreements, twinning agreements and other forms of co-operation;

• expanding the network of "Local Democracy Embassies" so as to facilitate the emergence in emigration countries of peace and democracy, which are prerequisites for their sustainable economic development;

• setting more resolutely in motion specific initiatives in the local government field, having regard to the so-called co-financing principle governing European funds and fully respecting the principle of subsidiarity.

Many speakers explained why this principle is essential for implementing these policies and how it is justified by:

• the fact that the areas concerned are border areas and that local authorities are the ones primarily concerned;

• the enhanced opportunities at local level for involving economic and social operators in specific business and humanitarian programmes;

• the better conditions for using the funds and promoting well-being on a wider scale.

The purpose of the Bari Conference was to promote awareness among central governments, local authorities and intergovernmental organisations of the issues underlying its theme and to provide them with guidance as to the kind of policies which need to be framed to check migration flows. It was an opportunity not only to focus once again on a situation which years ago had forced itself on the attention of other regional authorities in Europe but also to record the full scale of the migration phenomenon and the measures taken to receive and integrate migrants and give support to emigration countries, and to review the results of those measures.

I am referring in particular to the integration policy pursued by the Brussels Capital Region, to the integration of foreigners in Wallonia, to co-operation between Andalusia and the Kingdom of Morocco, to the experiments - still in the field of co-operation - between Languedoc-Roussillon Region and the Tunisian authorities, to the initiatives taken by Apulia Region with regard to Albania, and to the development of social, economic and cultural relations between these various authorities.

This body of experiences and results and the information at our disposal on the demographic situation in the Mediterranean area, the geopolitical situation there and the policies of the European institutions as presented at the various conferences must not be wasted but should be available for study in an appropriate forum, in a European interregional Observatory to assist anyone who has to translate intuitions into concrete action and protect mankind, families and peoples.

Apulia Region, where migration flows are particularly strong and which is a frontier region like many others in the Mediterranean, considers it can act as a catalyst in the service of mankind and its institutions and sets great store by this first step of setting up an Observatory.

An instrument of this kind, designed not only to study migration but also to work with other regional and local authorities on policies for the reception and integration of migrants and the development of emigration regions, is essential for the definition of a project which, because it embraces all aspects of the problem, takes account of the human values of the populations concerned and fully involves both national authorities and international institutions, can very efficiently and effectively influence the socio-economic context of the Mediterranean.

The attention of the Bureau of the CLRAE, meeting in Lecce (Italy) on 2 and 3 February 1998, was again drawn to the need for an instrument to put into effect strategies which are in fact already clearly defined. It was pointed out that the natural place for ensuring the requisite linking and co-ordination between all interested institutions must be a European Interregional Observatory of Mediterranean Migration, an instrument for assessing the phenomenon and promoting policies for development, reception and integration.

We believe that only by facilitating such linkage and co-ordination of policies on migration will it in practice be possible to ensure the fullest synergy among the many instruments which currently function all too often without any overall view of the problem and without the methodicalness which is needed to turn so many invaluable but disparate parts into a single whole.

We are thinking of all the various synergies which can be developed by the Council of Europe Social Development Fund in support of projects to improve immigrants’ living and working conditions in Fund member countries; of the European Union's INTERREG and MEDA programmes; of the other instruments to be developed and/or brought into play to tackle what will be the first real challenge of the third millennium.

But the Observatory will be able to play a much more substantial role inasmuch as, if it is properly supported, it will be able to influence the shaping of national and European Union policies in its capacity as the authoritative voice of local and regional authorities.

On migration questions the Observatory could in fact perform a natural technical and institutional support function for local and regional authorities, which are now destined to play a significant role in the European Union through the Committee of the Regions, a body established under the Maastricht Treaty and whose powers were extended by the Amsterdam Treaty.

We referred earlier to the strategies outlined by the international conferences mentioned. But these strategies also require us all to strive to create the conditions for them to become operational.

The first need is for a major awareness campaign directed at other territorial authorities and institutions in the Mediterranean, since, in the implementation of policies for the Mediterranean, the principle of subsidiarity can be fully applied.

Only in this way will it be possible to ensure that the implementation of development policies is matched by proper social controls and the fullest guarantees of democratic participation in order genuinely to spread prosperity.

Without such guarantees we could be the cause in emigration countries of great wealth and great poverty, leaving the problem of migration flows unsolved or even aggravated.

But it is also necessary, as I pointed out earlier, to check the compatibility of all other policies and the actual impact on emigration countries as a whole of the so-called “prosperous society” so as to avoid taking away with one hand what we have given with the other.

So much for development policies for southern and eastern Mediterranean countries. And now I must turn to reception and integration, which are questions of more direct concern to the continent of Europe.

As President of Apulia Region, I was moved to point out at the meeting of the Congress Bureau in Lecce that, in the absence of any programme, migrants would fall easy prey to organised crime, which would use migration - indeed which already uses it - to pursue illegal activities.

Here local and regional authorities cannot be left unaided to tackle this emergency nor can they just denounce the insufficient attention which central governments give to the problem. We need to act together today so as not to be overwhelmed tomorrow.

We see the Observatory as a means of providing concrete answers to all these problems, as an instrument essentially in the service of the individual.

The theme of the Bari Conference was intended to draw attention to the need to find a way of overcoming the problems associated with migration flows, a way moving from intolerance (which has even been found to a limited extent in Apulia and must not be underestimated) forward to development (which we all can and must promote).

You will find in the proceedings of the Bari Conference the analyses and bitter experiences of those who daily live with racist ignorance.

Our job is to respond effectively to the problem in order to forestall distress for so many peoples and for Europe.

We know for certain that the problem we are concerned with here, the bitter fruit of failed ideologies and other systems rendered short-sighted by selfishness, can, if not nipped in the bud, develop into intolerance that is destabilising for Europe as we know it and for the Mediterranean; but if it is handled properly, diligently and responsibly, it can become an opportunity for ensuring better conditions for the development of the regions concerned and hence advancing more purposefully towards the social, economic and cultural integration of the Mediterranean Basin.

It is the duty of us all to build a multi-ethnic society which can be founded not only on the human values which have shaped and infused our civilisation but also on the imaginative pre-emption today of the tensions of tomorrow.

To achieve this, we must have the right instruments, suitable policies and the strongest possible awareness of the fact that the future history of our civilisation may well be encapsulated in the high birth rates of southern and eastern Mediterranean countries and in Europe’s demographic deficit.



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