BARCELONA, Spain (AFP) – The European Union hopes to finalize an anti-terrorism code of conduct with its mostly Muslim southern neighbours, at the end of a summit clouded by the absence of most Arab leaders.
However there was deep discord over the definition of terrorism, and the tensions simmering under the surface at the two-day gathering were reflected when an Algerian minister lashed out at European demands for reform in exchange for more money at the meeting in Barcelona.
"We find it humiliating that the Europeans demand reforms from us in exchange for a few euros," said Abdelaziz Belkhadem shortly after the Euromed summit opened.
The summit is to mark the 10th anniverary of the so-called Euro-Mediterranean partnership, otherwise known as the Barcelona Process, launched in the Spanish city in 1995.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, co-hosting the gathering as current EU president, had hoped to re-invigorate the Euromed alliance, focusing notably on fighting terrorism and cutting illegal immigration.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he was hopeful of agreement on the anti-terror code of conduct, despite disagreement on the definition of terrorism.
"I think we will solve it," Solana told a small group of reporters.
Blair also hopes to secure renewed commitments to establishing a free trade zone between Europe and the Mediterranean region by 2010, despite widespread skepticism that this can be achieved.
But the absence of eight Arab leaders fueled questions about their enthusiasm for the pact.
European Parliament head Josep Borrell said it was a "shame" that so many of the partner countries” leaders had decided not to come to the summit, instead sending lower-level delegations to Barcelona.
"Their presence would have been very useful and would have presented a stronger political commitment," he said, adding that "some absences were justified, others less so."
The Euromed partnership joins the 25-nation EU with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.
Of the Mediterranean-rim partner states, only Palestinian chief Mahmud Abbas and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan led highest-level delegations.
In one of the more positive elements at the gathering, new German Chancellor Angela Merkel accepted an invitation to visit Turkey, and pledged she would respect commitments made to Ankara despite her own doubts about its EU bid.
Speaking after talks with Erdogan, she said they had had good discussions including on the integration of Germany”s large Turkish immigrant community.
"The atmosphere was good, I must say it is always good between us," she said.
Turkey started EU entry talks last month backed by EU leaders including Merkel”s predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, but she is known to doubt whether the vast mostly Muslim country should ever actually join the rich European bloc.
But she said Sunday: "We talked about the fact that ”pacta sunt servanda” and that things will develop well," using the Latin phrase for "pacts will be respected."