This policy contribution provides up-to-date evidence of the strong heterogeneity in the relationships between the five biggest EU economies with the Southern Mediterranean Countries (SMCs).
Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are still strongly tied to France, Italy and Spain, in terms of investments, financial flows and migration. This pattern is in line with the pattern of sizable French and Spanish official bilateral development assistance for Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. However, the economic connection of Germany, the UK and the US to the western SMCs is negligible. German and US bilateral development assistance is focused in Egypt, while the four other SMCs appear not to be priorities for non-Mediterranean EU countries.
These differences cannot be explained by geographical distance alone. The unbalanced economic relationship of the SMCs with a small number of European countries risks exposing the SMCs to shocks in partner countries. Stronger economic ties also results in a higher degree of mutual political attention, as exemplified by bilateral development assistance that flows more strongly between countries with strong economic links. EU external policy is still largely driven by member states’ interests. Hence building economic ties between the SMCs and non-traditional EU partners could both improve the SMCs’ external economic relationships, and make the SMCs’ political relationship with the EU more resilient.
Bruegel gratefully acknowledges the support of the German Marshall Fund