Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished witnesses and guests, I want to welcome you to this important Commission hearing regarding the OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Alcee Hastings is tireless in his efforts as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs and I thank him for his vision to host this event.
Engagement with our colleagues representing the OSCE Mediterranean Partner countries has been a particular focus of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly for many years as evidenced by the work of its successive Special Representatives on Mediterranean Affairs and the Assembly’s annual Mediterranean seminars which are a critical part of the agenda of the Assembly’s Fall Meetings. We and our Mediterranean Partners have paid particular attention to the issues of security and economic cooperation. In 2002, the Parliamentary Assembly convened its first conference dedicated to ensuring peace, democracy, and prosperity in the Mediterranean region.
Since 1993 security, trade and economic cooperation have been subjects of debate during the Assembly’s annual sessions and have been addressed in the final declarations of those meetings. The Vilnius Declaration, ratified at the conclusion of the Parliamentary Assembly’s annual meeting this month in Lithuania, includes a Resolution on Mediterranean Free Trade, authored by my good friend, Senator Jerry Grafstein of Canada. This resolution calls for the creation of a Mediterranean Economic Commission with the mandate to reduce trade barriers and facilitate the transition to a knowledge-based economy in the countries of the region. It also recommends the creation of a Mediterranean Agricultural Marketing Board with the aim of creating jobs in the agriculture sector for young people.
During my service as Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment, the Committee also focused on trade and economic cooperation in the Mediterranean region. As many of you may recall, during the 2005 Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly in Washington, D.C., our Committee hosted a panel discussion on developing trade and economic cooperation with our Mediterranean Partners which featured an address by the Ambassador of Morocco to the United States, His Excellency Aziz Mekouar. The Washington Declaration adopted at the conclusion of the 2005 Annual Session contained a resolution addressing both “soft” and “hard” threats to security, enhancing economic cooperation, dealing with the challenges of migration, and promoting tolerance in the Mediterranean region.
Another matter that I hope our distinguished panel of witnesses will address, and one that members of this Commission have consistently supported, is the applicability of the Helsinki process to the quest for peace in the Middle East.
The Commission held a hearing in 1993 to explore the prospects for a collective security organization in the Middle East modeled on the OSCE. We received testimony supportive of this concept from both the late Abba Eban, former Foreign Affairs Minister of Israel, and from then Ambassador to the United States from Egypt, Ahmed Maher El Sayed. The Helsinki Commission convened another hearing on this topic in 2004 which featured testimony by Ambassador Max Kampelman, Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Natan Sharansky, and other noted experts, several of whom proposed expanding the OSCE to include the Mediterranean Partner countries.
During my many visits to the region over the past several decades I have posed the question of the viability of a Helsinki process for the Middle East to all of the leaders of the countries in the region with whom I met, as well as the Palestinian Authority and, again, have received favorable responses.
Clearly, the Middle East today is not the Europe of the 1970’s, and the Helsinki process is not some sort of “cookie cutter” proposal that can be imposed on any group of counties in any region. My view, and that of many others both within and outside the OSCE, is that the Helsinki principles and the confidence building, conflict prevention and other mechanisms used to implement those principles could be of assistance in this process.
Again, I welcome our distinguished witnesses and look forward to their testimony.