Interview with Ambassador Christian Berger, Head of the European Union Delegation to Egypt on the new Agenda for the Mediterranean

Twenty-five years ago, the European Union and the Southern Mediterranean partners committed to turning the Mediterranean basin into an area of dialogue, exchange and cooperation, guaranteeing peace, stability and prosperity. The 25th anniversary of the Barcelona Declaration reminds us that a strengthened Mediterranean partnership remains a strategic imperative for the European Union, as the challenges the region continues to face require a common response. Recognising growing interdependences, the new Agenda for the Mediterranean aspires to turn common challenges into opportunities, in a mutual interest approach. Servicing these, regional cooperation efforts will continue, with the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) as a focal point, supporting sub-regional and inter-regional cooperation, including with African partners, and joint initiatives between partner countries across the board.

Ambassador Christian Berger, Head of the EU Delegation to Egypt, has kindly accepted to walk us through the new Agenda, with a special focus on the country he serves in:

  • What is the aim of the new Agenda for the Mediterranean?

The new Agenda is based on the conviction that by working together and in a spirit of partnership, common challenges can be turned into opportunities, in the mutual interest of the EU and our Southern Neighbourhood, including Egypt. It includes a dedicated Economic and Investment Plan to spur the long-term socio-economic recovery in the Southern Neighbourhood. Under the new EU's Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), up to €7 billion for the period 2021-2027 would be allocated to its implementation, which could mobilise up to €30 billion in private and public investment in the region in the next decade. The new Agenda draws on the full EU toolbox and proposes to join forces in fighting climate change and speeding up the twin green and digital transition and harness their potential, to renew our commitment to shared values in the Mediterranean region. 

  •  How could the twin ‘green’ and ‘digital’ transitions within the new Agenda address common Water and Climate Change challenges in the Southern Mediterranean?

Looking ahead to the forthcoming Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), EU support to water, sanitation and sustainable water resources management will be critical to deliver all European Commission priorities. This starts from the European Green Deal integrating climate change adaptation and mitigation, circular economy, zero pollution and sustainable Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystems Nexus. Also considering the Digitalisation angle inthe sector, the need to upgrade for sanitation e-services, and drought/floods e-surveillance systems shows the importance of digitalising smart water solutions. Furthermore, water is key for sustainable growth and jobs aswater supply and sanitation infrastructures investments have direct and indirect job creation implications; they improve business environment, investment climate and regional integration.                 

Overall, integrated water resources management brings more certainty and efficiency across all economic sectors and contributes to healthier and sustainable ecosystems and to enhanced resilience including to climate change. Investments toward an enhanced access to water services and improving water productivity and efficiency are also an enabling condition for economic growth, jobs creation and for reducing inequalities. It is estimated that more than 1.4 billion jobs, or 42% of the world’s total active workforce are heavily water dependent; this is why sustainable water management is also an essential driver of green growth and sustainable development.

  • How would Egypt’s priorities, including on Water and Climate Resilience, benefit from the Economic and Investment Plan (EIP)?

Water is a sector in which the European Union has been consciously active for over a decade, thinking extensively about improving the quality of life through expanding water and wastewater coverage, as well as, enhancing quality water resources and promoting the joint cooperation of European and Egyptian institutions throughout the water cycle. The EU has been responding to these challenges since 2007 with more than EUR 500 million in grants, leveraging concessional funds of nearly EUR 3 billion in the sector, with other European Financial Institutions. Our existing co-funded programmes extends over 14 Egyptian Governorates providing nearly 20,000 permanent job opportunities, and nearly 600,000 short term job opportunities mainly in rural areas. This shall help in improving the quality of life for nearly 18.5 million inhabitants in Egypt by year 2024.  Yet this is not enough.

The European External Investment Plan (EIP) aims to contribute to sustainable development, growth and jobs, and tackle the root causes of migration. The EIP aims to encourage private sector investment in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood, including Egypt. Investments are targeted to improve social and economic infrastructure, for example municipal infrastructure and proximity services, and on providing support to SMEs, microfinance and job creation projects. Against all that and given the fact that Egypt is among the biggest recipients of EU support in the region, then definitely the country could benefit from all identified investment windows within the plan, and especially those related to water and climate resilience given the huge water scarcity the country is facing.

  • How may EIP assist mobilising partners and additional resources in Egypt for such objectives?

As recently seen, the EU successfully launched a Team Europe package to support partner countries in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences, including through specific focus on strengthening water and sanitation services, and energy efficient management of water. In the water sector, the Team Europe Initiative aims to combat climate change and ensure an integrated approach, by promoting the management of natural resources in core areas following the four (4) Pillars of the National Water Resources Plan of Egypt 2037.

EIP could play an important role through providing Sustainable Finance through implementing (Blending finance, and Guarantee schemes). Projects could combine various EU financing tools (Investment grants, guarantees) to encourage private sector participation in the water sector by mitigating risk and fostering greater development impact through blended finance, in particular investments in difficult environments or suboptimal but viable infrastructure. In this field, the ongoing EU4Water Programme will foster a strategic and direct discussion with the private sector, investors, and International Financing Institutions identifying the required means to cover the financial gap. It supports Public-Private sector Partnership in the water sector, and promotes required actions to create an enabling environment to foster local and international partnerships utilising the full EU potentials via EIP and the European Plan (for Sustainable Development (EFSD).