Written by @Eubulletin and published on Sunday, July 26th, 2020, In Search of a Strategic Vision: Rethinking EU’s Approach Towards Its Southern Neighbours is a self-explanatory essay on the multi millennia relationships between the 2 shores of the Mediterranean sea. The sea that is believed by many to be the “true mother of western civilization”. The question is these days; will it carry on and for how long? Some premises of answers can be found here.
The EU’s approach towards its neighbours in the MENA region has failed to foster security, stability and prosperity since the 2011 Arab Spring. The Syrian conflict has devastated the country and severely weakened neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan. Libya, persistently unstable since the Western-backed overthrow of long-time ruler Gaddafi in 2011, has been mired in civil war for six years. Meanwhile, in Egypt and Algeria, poverty, corruption and authoritarianism are fuelling social unrest under a thin veneer of stability. Tunisia and, to a lesser extent, Morocco, are the only bright spots in the region. Tunisia has been a democracy since 2011, and has sought to build closer relations with the EU. However, its economic growth has been weak and its democracy remains fragile. Throughout the region, extremists thrive on poverty, high unemployment and political polarisation, which also fuel migration towards Europe.
The EU’s relationships with most of its neighbours are based on ‘Association Agreements’, which include trade agreements. These agreements are focused on tariff reductions for industrial goods. Though most of the countries have large agricultural sectors, the agreements do not liberalise trade in agricultural goods, although the EU has implemented ad-hoc reductions of tariffs and quotas on these. The EU is also in the process of negotiating Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTAs) with Morocco and Tunisia. These are much broader trade agreements that involve regulatory and legal approximation to the EU’s acquis, the elimination of non-tariff barriers and the adoption of EU product standards – meaning that producers in many sectors will be able to export more easily to the EU and to the many countries that accept EU standards. Trade liberalisation is asymmetric, with partner countries maintaining protective measures over a transition period, while the EU removes them up front. Moreover, by adopting EU rules, countries should also be able to attract more foreign investment.
Countries in the MENA region vary widely in terms of the depth of their economic links to the EU. The countries in the Maghreb have deep links to the EU – particularly Morocco and Tunisia – which depend on the European market for around two thirds of their goods exports and are large recipients of EU development assistance. Like Tunisia, Morocco has long aligned itself with the EU in foreign policy. It is one of the EU’s closest partners in the MENA, and a rare example of stability in the region. Europeans view Morocco as an important partner, not only economically but also for controlling migration flows and countering terrorism. A strengthening of EU-Morocco relations is possible, but will require significant political commitment on both sides. In contrast, countries in the Middle East have looser economic ties with Europe. Even Israel and Egypt, which have substantial trading relationships with the EU, are not greatly dependent on trade with Europe, as they also trade extensively with other countries. Finally, Jordan, Palestine and, to a lesser extent, Lebanon receive substantial EU assistance but have a very low volume of trade with the EU.
The EU’s ambition to be more ‘geopolitical’ should start close to home. The EU’s approach towards countries to its south has had limited success in meeting its goals of fostering security, stability and prosperity. The Union’s southern neighbours remain unstable, poor and often authoritarian, with high levels of unemployment and corruption, all of which fuels migration towards Europe. The EU’s focus on co-operating with neighbours to counter terrorism and migration, and its de facto support for authoritarian governments, have failed to promote genuine stability and economic growth. The EU’s political and economic offer to its neighbours is measly, and fails to incentivise either closer co-operation or reforms. North African and Middle Eastern neighbours are not offered the chance of becoming EU members and support is limited to financial assistance and a modest upgrade of trade ties.
Additionally, the EU’s approach has not been strategic: the Union has provided relatively little support to neighbours like Tunisia, where efforts to promote reform stood a good chance of being successful, while providing substantial unconditional economic assistance to authoritarian regimes such as Egypt. Meanwhile, Europe’s weak security footprint has failed to halt widespread instability and conflict, and enabled the rise of terrorist groups. Europeans have been sidelined in the Syrian conflict, and now also in Libya. Member states have often been divided, making a common European response impossible. At the same time, other actors, such as China, the Gulf states, Iran, Russia and Turkey have gained influence at the EU’s expense. Libya now risks being partitioned between Turkish and Russian spheres of influence.
The Covid-19 pandemic will greatly increase economic difficulties for the EU’s neighbours, fuelling social discontent, political polarisation, extremism and potentially conflict. The EU should not think it can insulate itself from instability in its neighbourhood. Instability could directly threaten Europe if it leads to a rise in extremism and the resurgence of a terrorist state like IS. Increasing numbers of people will try to reach Europe, searching for better lives for themselves and fleeing from poverty, climate change and conflict. This will potentially fuel the growth of populist anti-immigration and anti-EU forces in Europe, and further weaken the EU itself. If Europe does not help its neighbours in dealing with the health and economic consequences of the pandemic, and rethink its policy towards the neighbourhood, it will simply be creating greater challenges for the future.
But the EU should not lose sight of the long-term picture. If Europeans want their neighbourhood to be stable, they need to take more responsibility for its security. They should, for example, be much more proactive in Libya, agreeing on a common strategy, trying to obtain a ceasefire and providing troops for a peacekeeping mission once a ceasefire is struck. The EU should make the countries in its southern neighbourhood a more ambitious offer: deeper market access, more opportunities for their citizens to work in Europe and more financial and technical assistance. The EU should also develop an associate membership model for democratic countries in the region that would be eligible for membership were it not for their geographic location. At the same time, the Union should target its financial assistance more strategically, pushing countries to respect human rights and align with its foreign policy goals, and reducing support if they refuse.
‘Rethinking the EU’s Approach Towards Its Southern Neighbours’ – Policy Brief by Luigi Scazzieri – Centre for European Reform / CER.
UAE’s migrant workers fret over future in coronavirus economy; that is according to my reading, perhaps about their own future in the Gulf region, particularly in the UAE during and above all after the passing of the pandemic. It must be reminded that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) successfully launched its Mars mission dubbed “Al Amal”, or “Hope”, on July 20, 2020.
In the meantime, here is the original Reuters article that covers this traumatic period in the life of those numerous migrant workers in the UAE.
DUBAI (Reuters) – When Kapil left his Nepali village for an airport job packing cargo in the United Arab Emirates, he thought he was securing a future for himself and his family.
But less than a year after arriving in the Middle East trade and tourism hub, he questions whether it was the right decision after learning there would be no work this month.
“I’m totally hopeless,” said 29-year-old Kapil, whose wife and five-year-old son are in Nepal.
The coronavirus crisis has taken a heavy toll on the economies of the oil-rich Gulf, heavily reliant on low-paid foreign workers.
They are the backbone of the Gulf economies, taking jobs in construction, services and transport, and are now facing the realities of the pandemic.
Reuters spoke to over 30 workers like Kapil in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, who all said they are now enduring hardship due to coronavirus.
Many have racked up debt and would go hungry without the help of charities as they wait for work and to be paid.
Some said they found little reason to stay without work and wanted to return to their home countries despite being owed months of wages; hundreds of thousands have already left.
The treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf has come under greater scrutiny, with human rights groups saying conditions have deteriorated because of the pandemic.
In the UAE, most attractive because of the economic opportunities it offers, there is no social safety net for foreigners, who make up about 90% of the population.
A laundry service worker from Cameroon told Reuters he had not been paid in months and was now selling fruit and vegetables on the street earning 30 to 40 dirhams a day ($8-$11).
The UAE government communication office did not respond to emailed questions about migrant worker welfare.
In May, the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said the Gulf state was committed to protecting the rights of all workers, state news agency WAM reported.
Those in blue collar jobs are the most vulnerable. They are paid low wages, work long hours and often live in cramped dormitories that have been coronavirus hotbeds.
Many also pay fees to recruiters in their home country, a practice common for low paying jobs in the Gulf.
Kapil, who said he paid a recruiter 175,000 Nepali rupees ($1,450) for his UAE job, is not sure when he will work again.
His employer told staff they would only be paid when they worked and it was unclear whether there would be any work next month, he said.
Kapil said he had been earning around $600 a month – six times more than his teacher salary in Nepal – working up to 12 hours a day, six days a week at the airport.
He said not working had left him stressed and unable to provide for his wife, child and elderly parents in Nepal.
Kapil, who showed his employment contract and other documents to Reuters, asked that his full name not be published and his employer not identified over fears he could face repercussions.
Arriving in the UAE last October, Kapil thought he would work at the airport for a few years before finding a better job, possibly using his teaching skills.Slideshow (4 Images)
Now he just hopes to work until the end of the year to pay back his loans.
“The global economy is getting worse and it’s affecting each and every business … I think during this time it’s hard to find any other job.”
No official statistics of how many people have left the UAE are available. But at least 200,000 workers, mostly from India but also from Pakistan, the Philippines and Nepal, have left, according to their diplomatic missions.
Sectors like construction and retail were struggling even before the crisis, which exacerbated hardship for workers already exposed to payment delays.
Mohammed Mubarak has not been paid for around 11 months for security work at a Dubai theme park.
“The company doesn’t know when they’ll be able to pay us, and we are suffering,” the Ghanaian said.
Government coronavirus restrictions that forced many businesses to shutter for weeks began to ease in May. Shopping centres, water parks, bars and restaurants – all staffed by migrant workers – are once again open, raising hopes.
Zulfiqar, a Pakistani in Dubai for 12 years, sent his family home early in the outbreak but stayed on hoping for work, sharing a room and what cash he has with a dozen other unemployed men.
The survey revealed that 53 percent of people were using smartphones for online deliveries and over 90 percent said they would continue to do so even once the virus has gone.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated moves towards a cashless society in the Middle East, according to the latest Global Consumer Insight Survey from PwC.
The survey revealed that 53 percent of people were using smartphones for online deliveries and over 90 percent said they would continue to do so even once the virus has gone.
Norma Taki, PwC Middle East’s consumer markets leader, told Arabian Business the shift towards cashless transactions had already been gathering pace in the last three years.
She said: “The first time we talked about a cashless economy and we talked about mobile payments, I would say was about three years ago and the Middle East consumer was nowhere close to that. At that point we were still talking about cash-on-delivery and credit cards online.
“But last year it jumped to about 45 percent. That increased now because of Covid because people were shopping online and I see this continuing going forward given that Covid will prove that we need this even more.”
The annual survey concentrates on 29 countries. In terms of the Middle East, it focuses on 1,000 people across the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This year, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, a pulse survey was also conducted in May, involving 500 people in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Riyadh, Jeddah and Cairo.
According to the results, almost 70 percent of people in the Middle East have experienced a loss of income as a result of redundancy or salary reduction. However, at the same time, 49 percent of respondents revealed that they have seen an increase in household bills.
Bigger basket size
In terms of shopping, people were spending more on groceries and entertainment and media, and less on clothes and footwear and restaurants and deliveries.
Taki said: “What we noticed from our survey was that people were shopping less, but had bigger basket size, from a grocery perspective.”
She added that the current health crisis could force the region’s shopping malls into a rethink regarding their future offerings.
“I can’t predict what the future of shopping malls is but I do think the trends that we saw before will be accelerated, which are you now have a wider, more diverse consumer base shopping online, so how do you bridge the offline and online experience is even more critical,” she said.
“I think the store will be where you experience the product and online is maybe where you will transact. The mall could be more of a showroom and that would mean changing the store format.”
The survey also found that 75 percent of respondents were using social media more, 71 percent using WhatsApp and other messaging apps more; and 54 percent using video chat apps more.
Nine out of ten consumers said they were likely to continue to use social media to the same extent after Covid-19 is over.
Not that long ago, people like Abdullah, a young Syrian man who was forced by the ongoing war to drop out of university, would have found it nearly impossible to safely earn a living. But through Edraak, an Arabic platform for open online education launched by the Queen Rania Foundation in Jordan, he gained graphic design and digital marketing skills. Now, he earns a decent living as a freelance remote worker in Jordan.
Amid the dual economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse in oil prices, digital platforms are becoming even more critical to the region’s economy. With schools being closed since March and 4 in 5 workers affected by business closures globally, per International Labor Organization estimates, the shut-down of public life has revved up the need to move to digital, virtual, and remote learning solutions to build skills and ensure opportunities for people to earn a living.
Yet this emergency need is not being met. Moreover, MENA is missing real-time opportunities for digital development. Digital transformation can lead to rapid, sustained growth, but only if countries invest in digital infrastructure and human capital.
The key to success in this changing landscape is a digital skills revolution. While definitions and typologies differ, ‘digital skills’ generally refers to students, workers and people of all ages having and applying competencies, knowledge and attitudes to learn, earn and thrive in digital societies.
Digital skills most commonly comprise a continuum of basic, intermediate or advanced skills; and, as we will discuss in our next blog on competencies, they may alsorefer to a range of different abilities, many of which are not only ‘skills’ per se, but a combination of behaviors, expertise, know-how, work habits, character traits, dispositions and critical understandings.
As laid out by the International Telecommunication Union, Basic Skills are the general ICT skills required “broadly for all workers, consumers and citizens in a digital society” — such as word processing or researching online. Building on that foundation, Intermediate Skills are “effectively job-ready skills needed to perform more complicated work-related functions” such as social media marketing or e-commerce. Advanced or ‘Specialist’ Skills, which “form the basis of specialist occupations and professions,” are necessary to test, analyze, manage, or create digitally based products or services. These advance skills are needed to harness technology to resolve complex problems, guide others such as policymakers, contribute to professional practices, and propose new innovative ideas to advance economic development.
Skills are the supply side of digital labor markets; jobs are the demand side. Digital or ICT work can be conceived in three terms: enhanced, dependent, intensive. Some jobs are enhanced by digital tools, whereas with others — such as Internet freelancing or call centers — technology is fundamental to the work. Digitally intensive work — such as machine learning or app development — requires more specialist and advanced skills.
While data is sparse and likely not as up-to-date as the pace of change, we have learned important baseline details about the digital skills match — or mismatch — in MENA’s digital labor market. There is a shortage of digital human capital in MENA, marked by skills and information gaps. For example, in its 2017Future of Work study, McKinsey found that across the region, only 1.7% of the workforce is ‘digital talent.’ In their last 2017 skills survey of the region, Bayt/YouGov, a leading jobs website in MENA, revealed that IT jobs are among the top open positions, evidence of an acute talent and skills shortage in the region.
The Gulf countries are arguably the most advanced in terms of digital transformation. Yet, GCC countries still have a significant digital skills gap. In a 2020 survey by PwC of CEOs in the Middle East, 70% said the availability of key digital skills is a business threat, and an earlier 2017 study found that only one of the 10 skills most commonly cited by digital professionals in the GCC matches the fastest-growing skills found globally on LinkedIn. Furthermore, none of the top 10 available skills in the GCC is a technical or specific digital skill.
In this blog series, MENA Digital Directions, we will analyze and compare digital skills competence frameworks, discuss how to build digital skills across the educational pipeline, explore the role of the private sector and identify digital opportunities for women, youth and refugees. With a thorough understanding of the digital landscape and the right investments in digital infrastructure and skills, countries can ensure that more young people like Abdullah have a chance for a brighter, more connected future.
In Sandhour of July 10, 2020, A Strategy for North Africa in the current Century has developed taking into account all things that contributed to how North Africa sub-region of the MENA came into being and rendered into what is witnessed in the present times.
One of the rather peculiar features of capitalism is having its nemesis–socialism– as its twin flip. Surely, corporations and equity are forms of socializing the capitalist gain and it has been the case since the inception of capitalism in its modern form in the early 18th century, setting it apart of the previous mode of venturing sole merchants and their financiers. There were cheating and abuse, and still are, yet the learning curve smoothed up the functioning of capitalism.
Another, even more bewildering, aspect of capitalism is its susceptibility to speculation. Stock markets, commodity prices, oil, currency valuation rise and fall– incrementally at times and suddenly at others– based on speculations trickling down from pundits to people. The fluctuations are functions of information-based assessments. Alas, information is asymmetrical between social groupings; nations; and regions leading to local and global stratification. Nevertheless, advances in cultural and intellectual infrastructure improve checks and balances and drive capitalism towards more democratization.
However, despite the mass democratization of the 20th century and designed social ends embedded in market economies, increasing socialization of capital, we presently face problems in terms of increasing numbers that are losing out in the present Socio-economic mode. The cyclical nature of those problems point to congestion in the global economic system, as has been pointed out over and again by generations of economic thinkers. However, the increasing socialization and rising overall capabilities of ordinary citizens vouch for a progressive history. Anyway, the ongoing technological disruption, which is unprecedented in kind and potential, will definitely restore balance to the global economic system. A transition to a new energy regime is a main pillar of the technological disruption.
The oil and gas commodity is the pillar of the contemporary industrial civilization. And the Middle East happens to be the fulcrum point of oil economy. From the early 70s on, there has been much hype about peak oil, partly driving improvements in energy efficiency, and search for alternative energy sources and carriers.
Countering peak oil is the obviously politically motivated infinite fossil resource hypothesis. It goes without saying that it is a hoax which goes against simplest arithmetic.
As far as I’m concerned, the trapezium model for oil reserves is the most plausible one. It states that reserves rise along the the side of a trapezium, flatten then slide along the opposite side. Depleting wells are countered by technological progress which enables economic development of previously useless layers, as well as deep sea, arctic and other unreachable reserves. Still the fact that reserves are finite in addition to cost factors raise the stakes of alternative energy and the sliding of proven reserves starting from 2030s.
The expected predominance of batteries in transport by mid century and the recent breakthrough in fusion energy where super conducting electromagnets made up of barium and copper that are stable enough to capture the heated plasma which ignite the fusion fuel made up of hydrogen sister atoms, creating more output energy than input; point to way lesser role for fossils in the short mid-term future. Yet, fossils will still be high on the global energy portfolio for at least two decades. However, speculations are not based on laws of physics, rather they are psychological processes in the first place and hence the current contours point towards sustained low prices for oil and gas.
Further, chaotic leadership in the Gulf, population pressure and prospects of war are not likely to mark up fossils because of new ports in Oman, Qatari Iranian understanding, neutralization of Iraq, Iranian economic crunch, and geographic isolation of wells in Saudi.
The most precious energy commodity poised to replace fossils are rare earth minerals for batteries like lithium and cobalt though they are in no way likely to have the same strategic controversy because of the availability of sister alternatives for Lithium ion batteries like sodium and fluoride. Also, we don’t refill a battery with lithium for every kilometer run. Barium and copper pop up high as the material for super conductors necessary for fusion. Sahel and sub-saharan Africa lack a detailed map for the prospects of rare earths, yet the proven diversity and richness of the continent in metals such as copper; as well as fossils, renders it likely that the continent will be a futuristic mine.
So.. what has got the middle East to offer the world on the strategic table, now with the declining weight of fossils? All what I can think of is Islam, proximity to sub-saharan Africa, and big legitimate armies in North Africa along with a historical experience that values stability.
With the right strategic reassembly and new alignments, North Africa can act as a bridge for stabilizing sub-saharan Africa, reforming Islam and re-inventing the Near East through new understandings with the global system based on rational comprehension of reality. It is highly unlikely for Ethiopia to play that role due to ethnic and religious rifts and the prevalence of too much of a lethargic culture, as proven by the failure of relocation from Asia of textiles to Ethiopia .
Arab women outnumber men in pursuing university degrees, but since it seems there is still a lot to do, this initiative is more than welcome. It is the New U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative in Lebanon that could help to redress the worldwide exclusion of women from participation in peace negotiations and related political processes in particular in the Levant region of the MENA.
To this end, a sizable grant from The U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative will cover a full semester for up to 900 students per an article of Zawya of July 8, 2020, elaborates on how Students to profit from new U.S.-Middle East partnership initiative tomorrow’s leaders’ program.
The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) has awarded LAU MEPI-Tomorrow’s Leaders (LAU MEPI-TL) a grant of $10 million for a new Tomorrow’s Leaders Gender Scholars (TLS) Program to strengthen undergraduate student awareness, preparedness, and skills in gender education and activism. For the last 12 years, MEPI has been providing scholarships to promising students from across the MENA region to study at either the Lebanese American University or the American University of Beirut.
The grant aims to redress the worldwide exclusion of women from participation in peace negotiations and related political processes because of discriminatory laws, social stereotypes, institutional obstacles, and in particular, to promote inclusiveness at a time when women’s active involvement is pivotal during the current crises across the MENA region.
By supporting pedagogic interventions in higher education and endorsing the delivery of gender studies courses to increase the awareness of university students on gender disparities, MEPI’s objective is to build a culture of inclusiveness and foster an environment for women’s success in the workforce, leadership positions, and policymaking arenas.
This substantial grant covers up to two academic years starting in the Fall 2020 and it targets students who have demonstrated strong academic performance and a need for support towards their tuition fees.
Up to 900 students will benefit from full tuition for at least one semester provided they enroll in and complete a gender course, as well as engage in a relevant conference where they present their subject-related papers, and publish on their scholarly achievements in academic journals such as LAU’s own Arab Institute for Women’s flagship journal Al-Raida. To this end, the School of Arts and Sciences at LAU has designed a bespoke program, a Gender Series of courses, that consists of multidisciplinary sets of problems relating to national, regional and global issues around Gender and its manifestations in the social, economic, political and cultural lives.
The grant is extended to students from the School of Arts & Sciences, Adnan Kassar School of Business, the School of Engineering and the Alice Ramez Chagoury School of Nursing.
“We are proud of our affiliation with world-renowned academic institutions like LAU,” said US Ambassador Dorothy C. Shea. “You are recognized around the globe for the top-tier education you provide. That is a source of pride to the Lebanese people, and to us at the US Embassy. We are your partner, and we welcome this opportunity to strengthen our partnership and, fundamentally, to help Lebanese students.”
Thanking Ambassador Shea and the American people LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra said: “Your continued generosity and support of students in the Arab world gives them hope to attain their aspirations to improve their lives, and the lives of their loved ones and their community. The belief that education is the only answer to the ills that afflict society in Lebanon and the Arab world remains at the heart of our mission.”
The news comes at a crucial time as the university and the country wrestle with the growing needs of families in dire financial distress, as a result of the deepening economic crisis.
“At a time when Lebanon is undergoing such acute social and political change, coupled with economic distress and a pandemic to boot, it is heartening to receive such substantial support from MEPI to promote gender equity in the region,” said Vice President for Student Development and Enrollment Management Elise Salem. “The grant will make a big difference in raising awareness and instituting policy change to achieve gender equality, while encouraging female leadership amongst students.”
In its twelfth year, the LAU MEPI-TL Program in AY 2019-2020 welcomed 36 new scholars from seven different countries. Earlier this year, the program celebrated 13 TL students who presented capstone projects focused on pressing social, economic, and cultural issues in their home countries.
“Indeed, MEPI continues to give hope to the youth of Lebanon and the MENA region,” commented Director of International Services and MEPI-TL Program Director Dina Abdul Rahman. “I dare to say that the Tomorrow’s Leaders Program is ‘lifesaving!’ It transformed the lives of hundreds of underprivileged talented young women and men for over a decade and continues to open up new horizons for our youth into a world of opportunity, prosperity, and success.”
The grant falls within LAU’s drive to alleviate the financial burden placed on students and their parents by Lebanon’s economic crisis. To that end, the university last year implemented a set of measures which included a yearly financial aid budget in excess of $50 million, and the launch of the Emergency Financial Fund last October.
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