“History may be divided into three movements: What moves rapidly, what moves slowly and what appears not to move at all.” – Fernand Braudel
The Mediterranean Week of Economic Leaders is one of the major economic events in the Mediterranean region. This year it was arranged in the beautiful Casa Llotja de Mar in Barcelona during five thematic days:
- North Africa Business Development Forum
- Arab Spring Economic Day (focus on Egypt)
- Economic Forum of the Mediterranean City
- Green Entrepreneurship Forum
- Mediterranean Aerospace Forum
The annual event is aimed at consolidating and defending the euro-Mediterranean integration and collaboration as the driving forces behind social and economic development of the region.
This year, the sixth edition played a vital role in line with the latest regional transformations, offering a platform for reflection and exchange of experiences, addressing critical issues like good governance, the Arab Spring opportunities, SME development, city management values, green strategies and the possibilities offered by space based services.
The event was very well attended with mayors, regional development directors, business people, ambassadors and politicians from countries all around the Mediterranean.
My colleague Maria Sporre and I attended the Arab Spring Economic Day and I was invited to talk on the Wednesday, during the Economic Forum of the Mediterranean City.
The Wednesday was opened with some statistics on the development of cities. Fifty percent of the world population live in cities. This figure will rise to 75% in 2025 which indicates that the urban population is in a rapid growth phase. The world’s urban population has surpassed the symbolic 50% threshold, and within the next decade, there will be nearly 500 cities of more than a million people, including several “mega cities” with populations exceeding 20 million.
Cities are the engines of the economic growth. As a nation’s primary source of job creation and wealth generation, cities produce goods and provide services which strengthen the economic opportunities for the entire country. Cities will only be able to face its major challenges if they have the support of business management tools. For enterprises, the urban world is a developing market with an enormous potential.
Cities are in constant global competition for talent, investment and visitors. Consequently, how cities position themselves, safeguard their image and build a reputation have become crucial issues. Conventional branding and advertising campaigns are now being replaced by longer term narrative and comprehensive strategies. During the session we examined the key success factors in defining a city’s DNA and how different stakeholders can be united behind one city narrative.
The unique character and identity of many cities are increasingly threatened by the pressure of standardization. City specialization and identity is a major driver for the attractiveness and economic competitiveness of the place and should be included in any strategy for economic restoration and development. A city is only as attractive as it is distinctive.
Cities have strengthened their role as drivers of innovation and entrepreneurship and accounts for a disproportionately strong share of a country’s GDP per capita. The cities of the future need innovation to a new digital networked world, embracing new employment, economic and environmental solutions. Local Businesses and local communities need the appropriate tools to change their cities through innovation.
A notable speaker during the Wednesday was Mohammad Asfour, President of Jordan Green Building and Chair for the World Green Building Council MENA Network, who reflected on the green challenges of the region and commented wisely on how green growth implies increasing public and private investments and consumption, using sustainable resources, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing vulnerability to climate change.
There was also a fascinating speech by Farhat Makni, Associate Architect at Sfax’s City Hall in Tunisia about urban green development and a notable speech by Rachid El Harchi, who is responsible for the International cooperation and private investments at the North of Morocco Promotion and Development Agency, who spoke about core values for a balanced urban and territorial development.
The Mediterranean Week is organised by the Association of the Mediterranean Chambers of Commerce and Industry, in abridged form ASCAME, an organisation uniting the Chambers of Commerce and Industry and other similar institutions of the countries around the Mediterranean, with a potential membership of 500 Chambers of Commerce, and other associated entities, from the 23 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
ASCAME was created in 1982 with the primary goal of furthering economic cooperation throughout the Mediterranean region, showing a strategic vision of North-South cooperation and integration. This vision was confirmed by the establishment of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in 1995 and is validated today by the Union for the Mediterranean.
ASCAME is since 2007 on a day-to-day basis coordinated by Anwar Zibaoui. Bringing together Business people and representatives of multilateral agencies and international institutions, it offers a platform for thinking and exchanging experiences.
This blog post was introduced by a quote from Fernand Braudel (1902-1985). He was a was a French historian and his scholarship focused on three main projects, each representing several decades of intense study: The Mediterranean (1923–66), Civilization and Capitalism (1955–79), and the unfinished Identity of France (1970–85). Braudel has been considered one of the greatest of the modern historians who have emphasized the role of large-scale socioeconomic factors in the making and writing of history.
The first book, The Mediterranean, is a cherished treasure in my bookshelf. I read it when I studied history in the 1980s and being an economist by education, the structure of the book and the tour around the Mediterranean of the 1500s fascinated me. It contains explanations of the rise of the Ottoman Empire, how Egyptians made iced drinks, why Algiers became the capital of piracy, how the banking system created the first transcontinental roads, and much more in and extraordinary mixture with many surprising connections.
For Braudel there was no single Mediterranean Sea. There are many seas, indeed a "vast, complex expanse" within which men operate. Life is conducted on the Mediterranean: people travel, fish, fight wars, and drown in its various contexts. And the sea articulates with the plains and islands. Life on the plains is diverse and complex; the poorer south is affected by religious diversity (Catholicism and Islam), as well as by intrusions, both cultural and economic, from the wealthier north.
Braudel’s Mediterranean is centered on the sea, but just as important, it is also the cities, desert and the mountains. In other words, the Mediterranean cannot be understood independently from what is exterior to it. Any rigid adherence to boundaries falsifies the situation.
Mediterranean cities were created as development around ports. The ports allowed the cities to grow, the Greek cities, spreading the Greek culture, the Roman cities, import of grain from Egypt, the Phoenician cities, bringing prosperity through trade.
People and cities around the Mediterranean have always communicated and reached out to each other for knowledge exchange, trade and development. With this in mind, attending the Mediterranean Week felt like a continuation of an ancient and important tradition.