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"Sustainability is more than preservation" – Arab-European Dialogue Forum discusses questions regarding "Energy and Sustainable Development"

Once again the Tunisian capital became the center of liberal discussion and attention as liberal politicians and scholars from Austria, Egypt, Germany, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Netherlands, Palestine, Sweden, Slovenia and Tunisia were invited to the 3rd "Bridging the Gap" conference, in order to bridge the geographical gap of the Mediterranean by means of an informed dialogue. This annual conference was organized by the Regional office of the Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation for Liberty (FNF) in Cairo, the Dutch People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVP) and the Tunisian Hannibal Strategic Institute.

While the first two dialogue forums in the past two years in Cairo focused on the fundamental questions of Liberalism and his organizational forms, the participants in Tunis concentrated this time on a rather specific policy area, which affects both sides of the Mediterranean: "The dilemma of the need for more energy on one side and the ensuring of a sustainable development on the other side", as FNF's Regional Director Dr. René Klaff put it in his opening speech.

The topic was chosen with hindsight, as the global community worldwide is evidently faced with many challenges - regardless of current political and economic state.

However, there are only a few policy fields with such importance as to require a dialogue between historically justified positions of industrial nations and developing countries, in search of developing viable and efficient policies.

The participants and guests thus presented and discussed different dimensions of the issue in a comparative way and approached in this process the central question, how Liberalism and sustainability fit together. Which overall approaches have proven to be effective and which common grounds are available for further cooperation?

Quickly the broad consensus was reached that although the state should not be considered as the only protector for a safe and sound environment, the disposal of massive environmental pollution can only be tackled by an institutional framework which defines property rights on natural resources in just terms. That there is no shortage of international obligations, agreements, regulations and initiatives in this context, was highlighted by the former Tunisian Minister of Industry and Technology, Abdelaziz Rassaa, and the consultant of the Moroccan Minister of Environment, Omar Zemrag, amongst others.

However, the implementation of those theoretical guidelines leaves much to be desired – especially in the Arab world. Dr. Ronald Pohoryles from the ICCR Foundation in Vienna referred in this context to the triad of liberal environmental policy, which aims to address the needs from today without damaging the future: "It needs the state to set the frame, die market to implement the instructions and the society to accept the approach." Liberal attempts like this are very important, since not only totalitarian regimes pose a risk for liberty, but totalitarian fictions as well. The arguments of lobbyists of highly subsidized, "renewable" energies are long since about to turn into an ideology far from the reality. "Liberalism is inconsistent with ecocentric positions", as Dr. Alice Vadrot from the Austrian NEOS Lab summarized it.

Bridging Cairo Economic Panel Kunze

On the contrary, the positive connection of economic development, growing prosperity, improved healthiness of the citizens and decreasing environmental pollution on both sides of the Mediterranean was discussed dedicatedly. It was thereby refreshing to notice how diverse Liberalism presents itself both within Europe as well as in the Arab world. Indeed, Liberals don't trust in 'quick-fix' and universal solutions, but refer to value- and evidence-based policy approaches instead.

However, the specific question of state control through taxes and subsidies showed clearly, that liberal concepts are not only to be seen in black and white, but offer the full range of many grey tones as well. An intensive discussion arose, based on the demands of the Vice-General Secretary of the Swedish Centre Party Martin Ådahl, who in light of the historic low prices for oil proposed abolishing the huge number of subsidies for fossil and renewable energies sources in order to invest the funds gained therefrom in science and education.

In detail all those arguments appear in the publication of the conference, which will be released soon.

What remains is the huge opportunity for Liberals from both sides of the Mediterranean, if they focus on urgent energy issues and position themselves clearly on the subject of sustainable development. The greater part of entrepreneurs in the sustainable energy sector are young and small or medium size enterprises. With an incentive-based, economically well-grounded and technology friendly approach, the Liberals can become there mouthpiece.

The conference was completed by a visit of the Tunisian parliament and a short conversation with the delegates of the liberal "Afek Tounes"-fraction.

Report of the participant of D66 on this conference (Dutch)

Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty in Egypt :