PLACE DU PETIT-SACONNEX
1211 GENEVA 19, SWITZERLAND
First Thematic Preparatory Meeting of the
Organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union
presented by Mr. Mohamed Hédi Khelil (Tunisia), General Rapporteur
Our Meeting was the first stage of the in-depth preparation of the IIIrd CSCM which my Parliament, and myself as General Rapporteur of the CSCM, will be very pleased to host in Tunis in early 1999.
The present Meeting was preceded by a session of the CSCM Co-ordinating Committee1, chaired by myself with seven out of its nine members in attendance (the representatives of Slovenia and the Syrian Arab Republic were unable to attend).
We began our work after a brief opening session during which the President of the National Council of Monaco, Mr. Jean-Louis Campora, and the Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Mr. Pierre Cornillon, took the floor. Representatives of 17 Main Participants, seven Associate Participants and observers from three Parliaments2 - all in all, 46 parliamentarians from 22 countries - took part in the debate.
The theme which took up our attention during these two days is a crucial theme for each of our countries : " Adjustment of national employment policies and strengthening of international co-operation on such policies in the Mediterranean, with a view to development which generates jobs as a way of strengthening regional stability ".
This topic comes under the 2nd basket of the CSCM but, as our debate showed, in many of its aspects it spills over onto the 3rd basket.
The debates were ably launched by three eminent figures, to whom I would like to express our gratitude on your behalf: Mr. Werner Sengenberger, Director of the Department of Employment and Training of the International Labour Office, Mr. Jorge Hernandez, Euro-MP, Member of the Committee on Social Affairs and Employment and Vice-President of the Maghreb Delegation of the European Parliament, and lastly Professor Bichara Khader, Director of the Centre for Study and Research on the Contemporary Arab World of the Catholic University of Leuven and the author of many books on the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Their written contributions not only enriched our debates but will also continue to provide food for thought in the future as our Parliaments continue to reflect on these matters.
It is now for me to sum up the main proposals made in the course of two days of intense debate in which each of us participated. In so doing, I would like to begin by begging your indulgence in the light of the richness and variety of the ideas and suggestions expressed.
In his opening speech, the President of the National Council said that " Employment haunts those who have lost it, those who are afraid of losing it and those who are afraid of never finding it ". This striking turn of phrase mirrors the climate of our work. Our debates highlighted just how essential employment is for stability in our region. Indeed, unemployment, which has become an obsession on both shores of the Mediterranean, is at the heart of our concerns along with all of its related problems.
The problem of employment concerns both shores of the Mediterranean even though its characteristics differ depending on the shore and sometimes even from one country to another or within a given country. This very diversity shows that as far as the unemployment problem is concerned, there is no solution applicable to the entire Mediterranean basin.
During the session, the point was also made that collective sanctions have a negative impact on employment and penalise peoples.
Although employment is a major challenge in the industrialised countries of Europe which are facing high unemployment rates, it has become the number one priority in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries. Everything would appear to indicate that labour supply in all of the Arab countries and in Turkey is lagging far behind the expected increase in the labour force seeking work. Just to absorb the young people entering the labour market, the 12 Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries involved in Euro-Mediterranean partnership would have to create more than 2.5 million jobs annually, i.e. three times the present rate of job creation. Today, out of 250 million Arabs, 130 million are under 20. They will be entering the labour market over the next 20 years. If this market cannot absorb them, it is easy to imagine the frustrations and no doubt the social protest and migratory pressures this will generate. In some countries, unemployment rates among the young, particularly those with degrees, have already reached alarming levels.
In this gloomy picture, there is one major consolation. Demographic transition is continuing everywhere, albeit in varying degrees. However, the impact of this decline in fertility will only be felt over the long term by potential new arrivals on the labour market in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries.
The experts' reports and our debates highlighted the fact that improved education and women entering the labour market are some of the major reasons for the decline in the fertility rate.
We shall have to size up this challenge and, in an initial phase, aim at growth rates in excess of 8 per cent over a long period. Yet this will be an impossible challenge unless we modernise the production apparatus, develop competitive supply, attract considerable foreign and local investment, both private and public, promote regional integration while setting up the free trade zone proposed in connection with Euro-Mediterranean partnership, develop the production of labour-intensive goods, promote the productive service sector and seek symbiosis between economic sectors.
This requires the mobilisation of energies and means as well as a new philosophy of work organisation combined with efforts to preserve social gains and protect the destitute.
The importance of improving the skills of the labour force and retraining management was underscored. Also emphasised was the need for pilot projects for the creation of micro-enterprises and the promotion of micro-credits aimed at encouraging above all women and young people to go into business on their own. It was recalled that although technological change represents a challenge, it also constitutes an opportunity, on condition that workers master it and have received the right training.
In this context, it was recalled that assistance was available from multidisciplinary teams of the International Labour Office capable of helping States define coherent employment and social policies that are consistent with the recommendations of the Social Development Summit of Copenhagen.
Lastly, it was stressed that the question of employment cannot be resolved by States alone. It requires intra-regional synergies and international co-operation involving the entire Mediterranean area. One example given was that of experience-sharing - not implying the exporting of set models - by some countries in which communities of small- and medium-sized enterprises have been successfully established. Thus, emphasis was placed on the need to strengthen South-South co-operation and encourage recent initiatives with a view to establishing a free trade zone in the Arab world.
It was noted that, in order to generate jobs, the Euro-Mediterrean project must:
The employment issue represents a challenge to our States and our societies on both shores of the Mediterranean, but one which we are determined to take up. It is now up to us to continue to give thought to this matter in our Parliaments so that we may come to the Tunis Conference with consolidated proposals. Lasting stability in the Mediterranean will depend on the answers we find to the challenge facing us. In order to be applicable and effective, these solutions must be co-ordinated and compatible.
1 The following took part in the session of the Co-ordinating
Committee: Mr. M.H. Khelil (Tunisia), Chairman and Rapporteur,
Mr. M.A. Abdellah (Egypt), Mr. J. Baumel (France), Mr. A. Martino
(Italy), Mrs. M. Spiteri Debono (Malta), Mr. A. Radi (Morocco),
Mr. M.A. Martinez (Spain), and ex officio as host of the
session, Mr. Alain Michel (Monaco).
2 Representatives of the following took part in the
Associate participants: (i) United Kingdom; (ii)
Palestine; (iii) Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, European Parliament,
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Parliamentary
Assembly of the OSCE.
Observers: Georgia, Romania, Switzerland.
2 Representatives of the following took part in the session:
Associate participants: (i) United Kingdom; (ii) Palestine; (iii) Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, European Parliament, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE.
Observers: Georgia, Romania, Switzerland.