ERPIC was founded in 1999 on the idea that the peoples and states of the areas immediately adjoining, or adjacent to the European Union would be subject to European influence, transformation and development. Especially after the end of the Cold War, it was felt that Europe, and the European experiment with its democratic principles, and respect for human rights would have an increasing effect on the region that could be described as Europe’s Rim. Extending from Belarus, through Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Eastern Mediterranean, and as far as Morocco on the North African coast, the European Rim is a vast area.
Being located in Cyprus, ERPIC focuses on that part of the European Rim that lies immediately at its own doorstep - the Eastern Mediterranean. A conceptual difficulty encountered at the outset was that the Eastern Mediterranean was not viewed geopolitically as a separate region. Rather it was viewed alternately as part of the Middle East, the South-Eastern Balkans, and the Aegean, and also in relation to the strategic needs of Asia Minor, and even the geopolitics of Central Asia.
And yet, this fragmental approach to the Eastern Mediterranean is a historical oddity. For millennia this was a region characterized by deep cultural, economic and political integration. The clash of empires transmuted into a clash of religious and later economic ideologies, took its toll upon the once cohesive region so much so that it became defined by its conflicts. The Arab-Israeli dispute over Palestine, the Greek-Turkish struggle over Cyprus and the Aegean, and even the internecine Sunni-Shia confrontation, each found their niche in an over-arching global battlefield between East and West.
By 2010, however, several developments began to suggest that the Eastern Mediterranean could be at the beginning of a post-conflict era. The end of the Cold War, a battle fatigue among the local conflict parties, new technologies including new forms of communication, and above all the promise of substantial energy resources, created a potential for regional co-operation.
At the same time, new demographic and environmental challenges, rising religious fundamentalism and fanatical intolerance added themselves to the more traditional geopolitical sources of regional conflict.
If there is a constant however, it is that most people in the region, and beyond, focus on the region’s potential for conflict rather than co-operation. Demography, water and energy resources are, therefore, pressed into service for competing national interests in a relation of zero sum.
For this to change, for the common economic and political potential to be appreciated and have any chance of being realized, there is a need for new thinking in the region, and for the region. There is a need for the creation of a network of individuals, and organizations that will begin to think about, and eventually work for, a better common future for the people of the Eastern Mediterranean.
ERPIC, in a very modest way, is trying to add to this network. Each of its current programs focuses on a field that currently, or in the future, will have a significant bearing upon the economic, political and social well-being of the peoples of The Eastern Mediterranean.
Regional security provides the overall framework, and basis for (the resolution of) local conflict in so far as such conflicts reaches out to, and relate to broader regional, and even global security preoccupations.
On the same token, the presence of substantial energy deposits in the economic zones of several literal states has been viewed mostly through conflictual lenses.
On the other hand, the importance of the rule of law is never denied by any state, irrespective of its ideological or structural characteristics. The source of the law, and the process through which it is determined, and applied, however, are the elements that separate benevolent governments from tyranny. Any move, therefore, toward a system that will be more attentive to, and inclusive of its citizens, and where the rule of law is more fairly applied, will not only benefit each state involved, but also the region as a whole.
Finally, comprehension, and acceptance of how deep elements of common heritage run in the societies of our region, provides the necessary common foundation for the type of accommodation, and mutual respect required to build a peaceful and prosperous regional future.