TRADE blocs and the flow of commerce are reasserting their role in defining regions and interests, alongside geopolitical alliances and boundaries.
One region that clearly stands to benefit from a long-range strategy to strengthen economic links is the western Mediterranean, with the European Community to the north and the Maghreb states of northwestern Africa to the south. In a six-page special report that begins on Page 9 in today's edition, the Monitor takes an in-depth look at what some have called Europe's Rio Grande.
It quickly becomes apparent that the EC should move toward an economic relationship that approximates the one evolving between the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
The challenges are formidable. Events in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union properly demand EC attention. Sensitivities remain over the legacy of European colonialism in North Africa and the historic tensions between Christianity and Islam. Fudamentalist Islamic movements raise concerns about the Maghreb's political stability. And Libya's record for sponsoring terrorism is troublesome.
Yet mutual interests exist. Political stability is a leading one; it is critical to boosting foreign investment. Economic development in the Maghreb, if advanced in ways that respect the culture in the region, can help ease the discontent on which fundamentalism feeds. Democratic and economic reforms in the area also could gain impetus as more people have control over their economic well-being. It also would ease pressures for uncontrolled migration from south to north.
Closer economic ties would expand the market for the EC building and diversifying the economic base of the Maghreb.
At the moment, trade relations between Maghreb and European nations are largely bilateral. This must change, given the EC's evolving structure. Italy's initial concept for a Conference on Cooperation and Security in the Mediterranean was too ambitious; a smaller unit focusing on the western Mediterranean may be more appropriate. Likewise, the Arab Maghreb Union could be invigorated to provide a southern counterpart for the EC.