Rabat — Economic integration is needed in the Maghreb so that development targets can be achieved, the European Union recently asserted.
"The Maghreb Union has an important strategic dimension, as it means that countries on both sides of the Mediterranean can benefit from more integrated markets and greater stability and security," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on December 19th.
"The cost of non-integration of the Maghreb is estimated at 1-2% of GDP," the joint statement with the European Commission added. "However, it is believed that the real cost of non-integration extends beyond economic factors and also includes security challenges and regional instability."
The EU plans to lend its full support to "closer co-operation between the countries of the Maghreb," EU Ambassador to Morocco Eneko Landaburu stated.
Members of the public, experts, and investors also want the five countries of the Maghreb to work together.
"The economic integration of the Maghreb will have a beneficial impact on the entire region and will create new job opportunities for the unemployed," noted economist Mehdi Chraibi.
Countries all over the world, he pointed out, are forming regional alliances in order to boost their economies, but the Maghreb remains divided, to the great regret of domestic and foreign investors.
"Officials in the Maghreb must boost trade within the region and promote investment in joint projects in expanding sectors such as renewable energies, and also in the financial and banking sectors" Chraibi added.
Hamza Cherif, who runs a ready-to-wear clothing business, also lamented the cost of non-integration.
"I would like to operate across a wider area and form regional partnerships," he said.
"The creation of a Maghreb-wide market will bring many economic opportunities," the businessman added. "The Maghreb has all the assets it needs to become a strong economic hub capable of raising the region to the highest level on the international stage."
According to political analyst Jamal Sendoussi, integration is something that the peoples of the Maghreb have desired for years.
"Politicians must knuckle down and hammer out a strategy and a shared vision in order to make the desired integration a reality," he said.
Sendoussi recommended the launch of an all-encompassing development action plan based on the improvement of human resources, good governance of institutions and integration across the financial, tourism and energy sectors.
"To boost the regional economy," Sendoussi added, "it is essential to create a Maghreb-wide bank to finance businesses and projects which will create wealth and jobs."
To members of the public, the Maghreb Union seems a far-off dream.
Student Samira Tafennaouti said, "The citizens of the Maghreb are under the impression that this wish cannot be fulfilled, even though political will is all that is needed."
"Senior officials in the Maghreb must overcome any political differences to achieve the integration that people want to see, not only so that economic and social problems can be overcome, but also in order to mitigate threats to security," she added.