The Bussola Institute through its Senior Advisor Dr. Christian Koch participated in the final MENARA and MEDRESET Project conference entitled "The Middle East and the EU: New Realities, New Policies" held in Brussels at the Egmont Palace. MENARA (Middle East and North Africa Regional Architecture) is a collaborative research project of 14 research centers in Europe and the Middle East to study the geopolitical shifts in the MENA region at the domestic, regional and global level. MEDRESET is a consortium of research and academic institutions from the Mediterranean region to develop alternative visions for a new Mediterranean partnership and corresponding EU policies. Both projects are funded under the EU's Horizon 2020 Programme for Research and Innovation.
The morning session featured small discussion groups on topics such as the "Geopolitical dynamics of competition and conflict", "Energy and natural resources", and "Old and new conflicts and responses to them." On a regional scale, while there is no re-drawing of borders, there does exist a vicious cycle of state fragmentation from a domestic perspective followed by external involvement and meddling which in turn leads to further fragmentation. A key aspect is the fact that the disconnect between rulers and ruled in many parts of the Middle East continues to exist therefore suggesting a lasting period of volatility. Overall, the MENA region has entered a period in which the existing order is being increasingly challenged while an alternative is still being framed.
In the afternoon session, EU High Representative Frederica Mogherini spoke to the conference outlining the EU priorities when it comes to the developments in the Middle East. A core message from her side was the need for continued engagement by the EU in order to "plant the seeds" for future cooperative measures that can be put in place. She also placed the emphasis on the need to provide incentives for greater regional cooperation among the states of the region including working towards a regional security architecture of the Middle East.
Her speech was followed by two panel sessions on "Where is the Middle East heading to?" and "How are we going to act together". The discussion pained a mostly pessimistic view over the coming years with little specific prescription of how to stem a further deterioration in regional Middle East developments. It was also mentioned that given the larger structural changes are occuring that there might be little external actors such as the EU could do to fundamentally impact on the direction of change. Nevertheless, given its geographical proximity, it was underlined that the EU cannot disengage itself from its neighbourhood.
In total, the conference was attended by about 200 participants.