Speaking at the opening session of the EMPA plenary, Hans-Gert Pöttering spoke about the Middle East conflict, which is planned as the subject of a special session of the EMPA in Cairo in the autumn of 2007. "that the involvement of both Arab and Israeli partners in the EMPA is paramount to the Euromed process and will be of decisive importance for future action," said the EP President, adding that reconstruction and stabilisation in Lebanon was another important challenge for the Assembly.
The session was opened by Fouad Mebazaa, President-in-Office of the EMPA and Speaker of the Tunisian Chamber of Deputies: "No one can fail to notice that the Mediterranean region has become one of the areas of highest tension in the world, and it is also our responsibility, as parliamentarians, to redouble our efforts to start a dialogue based on equality rather than rivalry, and cooperation rather than aid," he said.
Setting up a real dialogue between the EU and Mediterranean countries
"I am convinced that peaceful coexistence between cultures and religions within the European Union and across the Mediterranean in the Middle East is of vital importance for our future," said Mr Pöttering. The EP President recalled that, in his inaugural speech in Strasbourg on 13 February, he had expressed the wish that "we should build an intellectual and cultural bridge over the Mediterranean."
"There can be no taboos in discussing the differences between us, if we are to be clear about what can we can build together, " said EP Vice-president Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (EPP-ED, EL), adding that the intercultural dialogue needed to be expanded to incude the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar). Above all it was essential "to make contact with civil society in the Mediterranean countries," a point also made by Hélène Flautre (Greens/EFA, FR).
Carlos Carnero (PES, ES) and Béatrice Patrie (PES, FR) for their part said that cultural dialogue could not be reduced to a dialogue between religions in an assembly which brings together Christians, Jews and Muslims and which, according to Salvatore Tatarella (UEN. IT) was "an ideal place to strengthen links between cultures."
Euromed University, Youth Parliament and Bank
Among the steps proposed to "draw up a joint route to specific objectives," in the words of Vito Bonsignore (EPP-ED, IT), the EMPA Culture Committee recommended the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean University, to bring together students, teacher and researchers from both sides of the Mediterranean.
Mr Pöttering announced that the Euro-Mediterranean Youth Parliament, proposed by the representative of the German EU Presidency, Federal Secretary for European Affairs Günter Gloser, will be held in 2008 in Brussels. The transformation of the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership into a real Euromed Development Bank, independent of the European Investment Bank, was another of the ideas raised.
The Algerian representative, Mihoud Chorfi, put forward the idea of a Euro-Mediterranean Capital of Culture. Participants agreed that the most needs to be made of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue in 2008.
Fight against terrorism
The EMPA's Political Committee, chaired by Tokia Saïfi (EPP-ED, FR), adopted a recommendation on the setting up of a code of conduct on the fight against terrorism. It says that the "political response to terrorism" must be based on deepening intercultural dialogue, development which is more equitable and sustainable, alongside the democratisation of the countries concerned and a resolution of conflicts and an end to all occupations, "which motivate and sustain" terrorism.
Anna Benaki takes over as EMPA President
The term of office of Fouad Mebazaa as EMPA President, which began in March 2006, came to an end with the Tunis plenary session. Anna Benaki-Psarouda, Speaker of the Greek Parliament, now takes over until March next year.
Other speakers at the inaugural session were the Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdelwahab Abdallah, the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, the Speaker of the Egyptian Chamber of Deputies, Ahmed Fathi Sorour and the Secretary General of the Arab Maghreb Union, Habib Ben Yahia.
Created on the 3 December 2003 in Naples, the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly is the parliamentary dimension of the "Barcelona process", launched at the Euro-Mediterranean Conference of foreign ministers in November 1995. The EMPA, which comes together for a plenary session once a year, is made up of 120 members representing the EU (45 MEPs and 75 members of EU national parliaments) and 120 members representing the national parliaments of the EU's Mediterranean partners.
Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly, Tunis 16-17 March 2007
Thomas Dudrap, Press Service
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