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Unlocking the potential for job creation and renewing the social contract are challenges the MENA region is currently facing. Virtually every country suffers from high unemployment, which mostly affects the young, the educated and women. The revolutions across the region were a reminder that employment is more than simply a job, it represents freedom, empowerment and human dignity.
The Rencontre Valmer on Employment and Social Protection convened international experts and high-level decision makers and practitioners from both rims of the Mediterranean to discuss diagnostics*, as well as to propose concrete ways to advance the employment and social protection agenda. This represents the architecture from which a new social contract, one which reconsiders long and short term social redistribution and employment policies, can be constructed.
The rules and incentives that govern labor markets in MENA countries have brought inefficient economic outcomes (such as high unemployment), and inequity amongst individuals - even effort and education do not guarantee success. The social contract had relied on safety nets in the form of untargeted public subsidies for staple food, water, energy and housing, covering basic needs of populations, while recruitment of most, if not all graduates, has been through the public sector. Recent trends have undermined existing redistributive models: Population growth exceeding GDP illustrates that the demographic dividend is not being fully exploited. Furthermore, rises in energy and commodities prices and growing budget constraints suggest that the public sector is no longer a reliable source of employment, and the public subsidies model contains substantial deficiencies.
Hence, the urgent needs were to: (i) Change the formal and informal rules governing the private sector to create a dynamic economy that capitalizes on the full range of the region’s human potential; (2) let skills flow into productive private sector jobs by removing artificial public employment perks; (3) lower the barriers impeding those women who want to work and create safe and appropriate working environments; (4) make young people more employable by closing information gaps, building employability skills, improving the quality of education, and collaborating with the private sector in training; (5) use short-term interventions to respond to immediate needs while building the credibility and consensus for medium-term, game-changing reforms.
The participants stressed the need to first define holistic approaches to envisage real and deep changes in the social and developmental models of Southern Mediterranean countries. Once these have been clarified, countries could turn to sectoral approaches to reform public policies in the areas of employment creation, training and social protection.
The event also discussed the role of regional cooperation in defining shared solutions, and potentially visions, to try to tackle the social challenges in the Euro-Mediterranean region. The CMI, in particular, provides a space to exchange lessons learned from concrete policy experiments but also to open up a dialogue with new partners such as civil society organizations involved in employment and social reforms. Such a neutral, inclusive, dialogue can help partners on both shores of the Mediterranean share and design pragmatic solutions to common public policy challenges and ultimately develop a shared strategic vision going forward.