PLACE DU PETIT-SACONNEX
1211 GENEVA 19, SWITZERLAND
Second Preparatory Meeting for the IIIrd Inter-Parliamentary Conference
Organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union
AND CULTURAL EXCHANGES IN THE MEDITERRANEAN
Our meeting has constituted the second phase of the substantive preparation of the IIIrd CSCM which we are planning to hold in Tunis in late 1999. A third preparatory meeting, to focus on a theme relating to security and stability in the Mediterranean, will be held before then in Ljubljana in March 1999 at the invitation of the Parliament of Slovenia.
At a short Inaugural Ceremony we heard the Rector of the University of Evora, Dr. Jorge Araújo, the President of the Portuguese Inter-Parliamentary Group, Mr. Madeira, and the President of the Inter-Parliamentary Council, Mr. Miguel Angel Martínez. The latter enjoined us, more especially, to see to it that all the members of our Parliaments and their Speakers are more resolutely committed to the action of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, recalling in timely fashion that our Assemblies are henceforth called on to play a more active and determining role in the sphere of multilateral relations which has for long been the privileged domain of the Executive, and pointing out that it is all the institutions of the State and not only the Executive which must make their voices heard in the United Nations.
Our discussions then got under way. Mr. Pierre Cornillon, who will retire as Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in a few days after nearly 35 years in the service of the Organisation, made some introductory remarks based on the earlier work of the Union on the theme of our meeting. While thanking him, I would like - on behalf of all of us - to say how deeply we appreciate the essential part he has played in launching and developing the inter-parliamentary CSCM process. I would also like to take this opportunity to repeat our congratulations and support to the new Secretary General, Mr. Anders Johnsson, who was brilliantly elected in Windhoek and will take up office on 1 July.
We then heard the two Resource Persons whose written contributions had been circulated: our former parliamentary colleague, Mr. José Carlos Zorhino, Co-ordinator of the Regional Development Programme for Alentejo, and Mr. Alain Modoux, Director of the Freedom of Expression and Development Division of UNESCO. We are very grateful to them both for the wealth of the ideas which they developed and for the way they helped our discussions.
The representatives of 19 main participants, three associate participants and one observer - making a total of 24 MPs from 19 countries - took part in the debates1.
The theme on which we have focused our attention during these two days is crucial to each of our countries and for the relations among them, that of "Facilitating access to information and cultural exchanges in the Mediterranean".
This subject falls within the framework of the IIIrd Basket of the CSCM - Dialogue among civilisations and human rights - but has wide-ranging political implications, as our debates showed.
I will now try to sum up our debates and at the outset, I crave your indulgence in view of the variety of ideas and suggestions put forward.
First of all, I would like to say that the broad scope of the subject, its ramifications and its strong political connotations were such that, in our debate we restricted ourselves to a general approach so that we could better define the issues at stake.
Our discussions have revealed a certain number of general basic points.
The first is that the free flow of ideas by word and by image is a key element of democracy and an indicator of the degree which it has reached in society. Some speakers made a point of stressing that the free movement of individuals was also important.
Nobody denies the existence of wide disparities in the Mediterranean, particularly as regards access to information and to the means of communication. However, it seemed to us that there is a gap between the current perception of these disparities and the real situation. Indeed, there are obvious disparities between one shore and the other but they also exist between the countries of the same sub-region and within countries.
Moreover, while it is true that the North is more technologically advanced than the South and has superior means at its disposal, it is handicapped in the field of communication by linguistic and cultural plurality whereas the Arab world enjoys linguistic unity and cultural homogeneity.
We are all inevitably entering the information age and we must all make the greatest possible efforts to be actors rather than passive subjects. We must make this effort in order to reduce as best we can the disparities between the info-rich and the info-poor, both between countries and within our countries themselves.
In addition to the efforts which each of our countries must make, it is essential for there to be a technology transfer from the info-rich, wherever they may be, towards the info-poor so that the latter have access to new technologies and benefit from the necessary equipment as much as from training programmes.
We also tackled the question of the content of information, particularly as regards television production and the internet. This issue is crucial in a world where information transcends national borders and where our peoples are showing an increased need to slake their thirst for information. It is also crucial at a time when the phenomena of integration and globalisation are bringing forward, more forcefully than ever before, peoples' aspiration for recognition and respect of their own identity.
On account of the multiplicity of its programmes, the North is in a better position than the South although, in matters of heavy infrastructures such as satellites, the South is in the process of catching up and a certain number of countries from the South are today capable of broadcasting to their region and towards the North.
It is clear that certain countries in the South and in the North - on account of the size of their market or the lack of their financial resources - are not in a position to produce programmes covering all their needs. They are thus constrained to obtaining programmes produced in other countries. It must nevertheless be pointed out that a country like Egypt is an important producer at the international level which produces programmes for all the Arab world.
We have pointed out that the free flow of information is at the very heart of cultural co-operation and that it is important for national production not to be sterilised or stifled by control. The freedom of creation in fact ensures that our citizens give credence to the information provided to them and do not feel that they have to turn to foreign programmes for the information they are seeking. This freedom of creation is moreover indispensable if we wish to ensure that our production is to be known beyond our national borders.
We noted that it is essential for internet sites to be developed in the national language in each country. This is however clearly conditioned by the availability of servers; here again, the info-rich are duty bound to help the info-poor to acquire these means, and national policies and legislation must foster the development of networks of independent access providers.
Many speakers from the South protested against the situation of consumers in which they felt that their countries were placed, stating that they are looking for a relationship of real exchange. On this point, they referred to the existing disparities as regards reciprocal knowledge of languages. Thus, many participants from the South expressed regret that people in the North do not bother to learn Arabic while many people in the South are fluent in French or English. This situation has important consequences for cultural exchanges. As regards written material, the South is knowledgeable of writings produced in the North but this is not the case in the North as regards written material produced in the South.
Several speakers proposed the development of an interactive Mediterranean encyclopaedia or an interactive site devoted to co-operation in the region. It was also proposed that a data bank on the Mediterranean cultural heritage be created, as well as a Mediterranean television channel.
Generally speaking, our debates have once again highlighted that mutual knowledge, tolerance, mutual respect and mutual assistance are the key to a stable and peaceful Mediterranean.
Before concluding this report, I would like to mention that our meeting was preceded yesterday by a session of the Co-ordinating Committee of the CSCM, which I had the honour of chairing and which was attended by five of the nine members constituting this body2.
We regret that circumstances prevented some of our colleagues from being with us for the substantive debate which the Committee held, at the instigation of the President of the Inter-Parliamentary Council, concerning the future of the CSCM process.
We have asked the Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to write to each of our Parliaments to sound them out so that, when we hold the XIIIth Meeting of the Parties of the CSCM Process in Moscow in two months time, we can take a clear decision on whether it is politically opportune and financially possible to carry on our work. It is essential that we be very clear in our minds about this.
of the following Parliaments and organisations took part in the