Graphic pictures from the “Arab Spring” greet NATO MPs at their meeting in Marseille

Members of Parliament and experts from NATO countries and partner states in the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe started a three-day meeting in the French Mediterranean City of Marseille today, during which they will consider ways to engage with changes that have been happening in the Arab region since January of last year.

Graphic pictures from events in North Africa and the Middle East lined the walls of the building in the centre of  Marseille of the Regional Government of Provence-Alpes-Cotes’Azur, which is hosting the meeting. The pictures, part of an ehibition organised by the Regional Government  to commemorate recent events in North Africa and the Middle East, capture some of the more emotional moments of the popular protests and cover countries from Morocco to Bahrain. (Some of the pictures in the exhibition can be seen here.)

Addressing the opening session of the meetings, leaders of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, NATO’s  parliamentary  framework, urged participants to be humble in their approach to the issues under discussion since many things about the region still needed to be learnt. They also asked participants to listen carefully to the voices from the region.  Both the current President of the Assembly German Parliamentarian Karl Lamers, and former Assembly President, French Parliamentarian Loic Bouvard, declared however that the NATO PA was ready to respond to any request from parliaments in the region for assistance as they develop their capacities in the aftermath of recent changes.

The meeting opened this morning with a spirited speech by the President of the Provence-Alpes-Cotes d”Azur Region Michel Vauzelle who urged participants to look at the Mediterranean not as the frontier region of Europe but as a region of co-operation. Vauzele  surprised his audience by raising the issue of France’s participation in the military structures of NATO, In a thinly veiled criticism of French President Nikolaz Sarkozy, Vauzele said that Sarkozy had taken a decision to abandon the policy of De Gaulle to withdraw from the military structure of the NATO alliance without much consultation, despite the fact that this policy had for a long time bi-partisan support in France. Vauzelle reiterated France’s committment to the alliance but said that it may be better for France to be outside the military structure where it could play a more independent role, not least in events unfolding in the Middle East. Vauzelle also highlighted the impact of the events in North Africa last year on Marseille and the region around it where many had families in the countries concerned.

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly often serves as a forum where issues under consideration by NATO governments are debated. The Assembly offers a good sounding board for political opinion in the parliaments of the NATO member states. The issue of interaction with the Middle East North Africa Region is one that the Alliance is currently considering and the Marseille meeting is seen as offering an opportunity for a an open exchange of views on the issues. Amongst the participants in Marseille are parliamentary delegations from Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, the Mediterranean Parliamentary Union, as well as from the parliaments of Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

source: LINKS Analysis

photo: A protestor in Tunisia in 2011 (picture from an exhibition on the Arab Spring organised by the Regional Government of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur at the offices of the regional government in Marseilles).