It was at least a decade since Ditchley had last tackled directly the issues and challenges of the Western Mediterranean. A conference of wide national spread and much expertise made good this deficiency, and re-addressed the historic question whether in this region the sea was primarily boundary or link.
We noted a massive secular shift in the region's demography: it was now at the pivot-point of a tilt from having two-thirds of littoral population on the northern shore to having, by the early twenty-first century, two- thirds on the southern. This reflected in particular a near-explosion of the Maghreb's population, producing a huge weighting towards the younger end of the age spectrum - in principle a great resource, but if under-employed (as it mostly was at present) a powerful generator of difficult political and social pressures, including inter-generational tension and alienation risk. Economic advance, aimed ultimately at job creation, must lie at the heart of any stable and successful future for the Maghreb countries.
There seemed to be agreement throughout the region and on both shores, at least at governmental level, that development must be based upon the principle of free markets, and increasingly too of private-sector primacy; but here as elsewhere protectionist fears - especially about the labour market - still often overrode declared principle. The habits of bureaucratic statism, though increasingly inveighed against, still burdened on southern-shore business in varying degrees (and still carried with it the corruption dangers inherent in statist structures). The patterns and habits of civil society, and of enterprise, were however building up, though not everywhere evenly.
The three "core" countries of the Maghreb - Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia - were not individually large economic entities, but at a total population of sixty million the grouping as a whole was a substantial one. How far, we wondered, could it realistically cohere economically? Co-operation attempts so far had little to show; intra-Maghreb trade was below ten per cent of total export volumes, cross-border transport infrastructure was mostly poor, and the political problems of Algeria made advance at present difficult. But the trade could be expanded, especially if protectionist barriers and their damage to competitiveness were tackled; and a cohesive Maghreb would be a more effective trading (and negotiating) partner to the developed European Union countries of the northern shore. Cohesion would moreover reflect the shared inheritance of Islam, and there were no major ethnic or attitudinal barriers - there was indeed in some ways more commonality of outlook East-West across the countries than North-South within them.
The smallest of the core countries, Tunisia, had for the most part a tale of growing success to tell, with good education and health-care, an open élite, an improving private-sector culture, and a thriving tourist industry in a sense compensating for lack of natural resources. We heard some unease that a wooden bureaucratic tradition, though fading, might still weigh unduly upon investment, and perhaps account also for the relatively slow pace of privatisation; more broadly, economic advance in a small country was inevitably hampered while a larger neighbour was in turmoil. But the overall appraisal was encouraging.
That was true also, albeit in a different pattern, for Morocco. We heard criticisms of extreme wealth disparities, of an appearance that the rich contributed too little in tax, and of a disturbingly poor spread of basic education among the less prosperous. Offsetting all this, we were told of a monarchic system adapting progressively to modern tasks, able - as with privatisation - to drive necessary change briskly, and still commanding wide popular acceptance: a country mostly at ease with itself.
No similar claim could be made for Algeria. Much of our discussion focused there, as upon the central, largest, most resource-rich component of the Maghreb. In the wake of the intervention against a prospective Islamist success in elections there was a continuing political crisis of grave intensity and great human cost. The characterisation "civil war" was contested, but a pattern of terrorism and reactive repression causing (it was said) 28,000 violent deaths in three years was by any measure a massive failure in public order and acceptance. The consequences included a drain of élite talent, a huge loss of foreign-investor confidence, and an economy severely weakened just at the stage when exceptionally rapid growth was needed to hold in check, let alone dissolve, the explosive social problems of unemployment.
We reached no single analysis or characterisation of Algerian Islamism. Islamist movements had nowhere yet demonstrated the ability to build and guide a modem market economy, but there was no necessary incompatibility between that task and the doctrines of Islam; at least in Algeria, Islamism had simply not yet had occasion to develop a practical economic approach. Its key driving force there seemed not religious devotion in itself but the urge to demand change, in protest against an amalgam of perceived social, economic and political injustices in existing structures (as it had once been, for many, the badge of resistance to French imperial rule). Given this, the north-shore countries and others in the developed West should beware of facile labelling; the FIS (increasingly lacking homogeneity) had undoubtedly instigated much that required clear condemnation, but the behaviour of an Algerian Islamism coming properly to government was not calculable with certainty - save that clearly no leaders of Algeria could afford to play political games with exports of oil and gas. There were legitimate grounds for unease about aspects of what some Islamist voices said, for example about the nature of democracy; but attempts towards understanding and dialogue should not be ruled out.
Economic development must, we agreed, provide the surest long-term remedies for Algeria's difficulties; but in the near term political reconciliation was its pre-condition. There existed already governmental economic plans and approaches that seemed admirable on paper, and progress had indeed been made in some aspects of structural reform. Without an abatement of the ferocious civil conflict, however, little durable success could be looked for in re-building foreign-business confidence (for participation as well as investment), in attracting back to Algeria the talent and capital that had departed, and in accelerating the breaking down of the structures and ingrained habits of state control that still impeded private enterprise. The political resolution, we knew, must come from within Algeria itself. Some doubt was expressed about whether the formal procedures of Westminster-style elections were really the best approach to political reconciliation in a society such as Algeria; but we saw no ready alternative, at national level, that could now hope to command confidence. We were told of continuing efforts to rebuild consensus and trust, and to lay the foundations for elections that would be recognised as a valid and fair basis for a regime commanding popular acceptance. But there was no forecast of time-scale for this, or of such a regime's likely character.
Libya lay on the edge of our main debate, but we touched on its problems and regional relevance. Its features - substantial natural resources, small population, large area - gave it in many ways a useful complementarity in a Maghreb-wide economy, but the political problems flowing from the Gaddafi leadership continued to distort opportunities. His appeal seemed to be fading, and some of his conflictual relationships were resolved or eased; we heard argument that the best policy now was simply to side-line and ignore him. But there remained differences of approach. No-one advocated military action; but the destruction of Flight PA 103 - not just a humanitarian calamity but a direct attack by one state upon another (though one or two participants queried how fully Libyan involvement as main culprit was proven) - remained a key obstacle to any normal relationship, at least with the US and UK. From this standpoint, it would be hard to deal with Libya an ordinary state until its leadership changed.
Meanwhile, Libyan inclinations towards the support of terrorism - an inclination currently reduced, but by no means dependably ended - were one of the region-related threats to international security. Discussion was mostly sceptical about whether there was much other substance in security threats, at least of classical types. We heard of imminent Algerian ratification of the Non- Proliferation Treaty, and despite the 1986 missile attack on Lampedusa we could see little plausible reality in hypotheses of future military assaults by domestically-preoccupied southern-shore states upon much more powerful ones to the north. There were no doubt infective or spill-over dangers to Maghreb neighbours if Algerian unrest intensified, but these were not of a kind apt for military treatment. On all these grounds, we saw regional security as a subject for something on the lines of a Conference on Security and Co-operation in the Mediterranean - a concept we were disposed to like - rather than for NATO. The improving success of the Arab/Israel peace process had moreover valuably eased antagonisms both within the region and outwards.
We naturally talked about migration. This remained a sensitive subject for the northern shore; the past scale, particularly into France, had been massive, and its effects there (both first - and second-generation) continued to give Franco-Algerian relations a special character; more generally, illegal migration, often clandestinely fostered by employers, continued to evade the theoretical block European Union members now maintained on non-family entry. The interests of Maghreb governments remained ambivalent, brain-drain loss being offset both by remittance income (albeit declining) and by safety- valve effects. No general abatement of pressure could be looked for so long as deep economic inequalities remained between northern and southern shores.
What were Western policies, and what should they be? Most of us saw no evidence of, and no reason for, marked divergence as between Europe and America, the Libyan complication perhaps apart. The European Union had undertaken useful steps (agricultural trade having long ceased to be a serious problem) and we heard of another imminent one in the prospective establishment in Granada of a special business school which would both teach Maghreb students and co-operate with similar schools in the Arab world. But there seemed still occasional oscillation in Western attitudes - between seeing the southern shore as an object of policy and as a partner in policy, between defensive involvement-avoidance and co-operative reaching-out.
For all the past history of Western engagement (and at least one participant argued that this had created special responsibilities) it seemed clear that the West had to recognise that intra-Maghreb problems must find solutions primarily from Maghreb initiative. Given proper listening, dialogue and understanding, the West could help (especially in private-sector linkages) and it had occasionally the right or even the duty to criticise; but it could not lead or direct.
The Mediterranean as boundary, or as link? Our answer to that initial question seemed mostly to be that the latter must be the aim, and could increasingly become the reality. But it was not so yet. The Algerian agony remained the central impediment; and while others could wish Algeria well and perhaps help at the margin, solutions lay only with the Algerian people.
This Note reflects the Director's personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.
Chairman: Dr Miguel Herrero de Miñón
Lawyer; General Secretary, Ministry of Justice (1976)
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Dr Abdelhamid Brahimi
Executive Director, The Maghreb Centre for Islamic Studies, London
Ambassador Nureddin Djoudi
Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mr Paul Barrett OBE
Director and Vice President Africa, SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals
Mr Christopher Crabbie
HM Ambassador, Algiers
Mr Stephen Day CMG
HM Diplomatic Service (retd.)
Sir Stephen Egerton KCMG
HM Diplomatic Service (retd.)
Mr Robert Fox MBE
Chief Foreign Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph
Mr Francis Ghilès
Freelance Journalist, lecturer and consultant to international companies and financial institutions
Mr John R Grundon
Director General, The Middle East Association, London
Sir Alan Munro KCMG
President, Algerian Studies Society
Mr Christopher Rhodes
Manager, European Gas, British Petroleum
Dr Claire Spencer
Associate Director and member of Wilton Park Academic Staff
Mr James Thornton
Desk Officer for Algeria, Morocco and Western Sahara, Near East and North Africa Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Ambassador Michel E Perrault
Canadian Ambassador to Algeria
Hen Eberhard Rhein
Director for the Mediterranean Near & Middle East, DG1, European Commission
Mme Mounia Bennani-Chraibi
Researcher in political science, has conducted research in Jordan, France and Morocco
M Pierre Conesa
Deputy Director, Delegation for Strategic Affairs, in charge of "Regional Questions" (world except NATO countries), Ministry of Defence, Paris
Lt-Col Jean-Luc Delon
Head, Strategic and Military Affairs, Centre d’Analyse et de Provision, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris
Mlle Séverine Labat
Graduated from Political Sciences Institute
M Philippe Léglise-Costa
European Co-operation Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris
Mme Cathérine Wihtol de Wenden
Research Director, Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales, Paris
Herr Peter Dingens
Director for Near and Middle East Affairs, Foreign Office, Bonn
Dr Sigrid Faath
Senior Research Fellow, Deutsches Orientinstitut, Hamburg
Dr Michael A Köhler
Directorate-General I, Directorate H (Mediterranean Affairs), European Commission, Brussels, responsible for Middle Eastern Political and Economic Affairs and the Euro-Arab Dialogue
Counsellor Carlo Trezza
Head of Department 5, Directorate-General for Political Affairs (Disarmament, Arms Control and Nuclear and Space Cooperation), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rome
Mr Mustapha Terrab
Member, Co-ordination Staff, Royal Palace, Rabat
Ambassador José Cutileiro
Head of Planning, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lisbon
Professor Abdessatar Grissa
Professor of Economics and Business Administration, University of Tunis
Professor Dale F Eickelman
Ralph and Richard Lazarus Professor of Anthropology and Human Relations, Dartmouth College
Professor Alan R Richards
Professor of Economics, University of California, Santa Cruz
Mr G Henry M Schuler
Director, Energy Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC
Dr Mark A Tessler
Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and director, UW- Milwaukee/Marquette University Center for International Studies
Professor I William Zartman
Jacob Blaustein Professor of International Organisation and Conflict Resolution and Director of African Studies, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC
M Arnaud Jacomet
Head, Policy and Planning Section, Political Affairs Division, Western European Union