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The Barcelona Process and the European Approach to Fighting Terrorism

On April 22 in Valencia, Spain, 15 EU foreign ministers met with their counterparts from 12 of their poorer, mostly Arab neighbors in the Mediterranean. At the two-day meeting, they attempted to reinvigorate the “Barcelona Process” of regional cooperation begun in 1995 and launched an action plan to promote regional development and stability. Even careful U.S.-based observers of European affairs can be forgiven for having missed this development. The New York Times gave it brief mention on page 15, the rest of the U.S. daily press passed over it completely. Given the various preoccupations of American politics these days, this lack of American attention is hardly surprising, but it is nonetheless unfortunate. The Barcelona Process serves as a critical piece of the European approach to fighting terrorism. As such, understanding what the Europeans, and particularly the French, were trying to accomplish at Valencia would help U.S. audiences understand the European position on the U.S.-led war on terrorism as well as demonstrate an important and yet distinct approach to the common problem of Islamic terrorism.

From the European perspective, stability and development in the Mediterranean is essential for security at home and abroad. Particularly in France, with its large Muslim and Jewish populations, nearly every salient domestic politic issue, from to crime to immigration to anti-Semitism, has an important Mediterranean dimension. The war in Afghanistan, the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, and the surprise electoral success of Jean-Marie Le Pen have only heightened the awareness in France of the impact of regional events on French politics and society. At the same time, they feel that the roots of terrorism lie in the social, economic and political inequities that are rife on the southern littoral of the Mediterranean and as such can only be addressed through a comprehensive framework that strikes at the deepest causes of terrorism. Thus, the Valencia conference presented France and its European partners with the opportunity to promote their views on how to achieve regional stability and development and to present a contrast with what many European officials see as the “narrow” and excessively militaristic American view on how to combat terrorism.

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