14/03/2008

The Union for the Mediterranean’s project accepted, but in which shape?

In view of the forthcoming French presidency of the European Union, Nicolas Sarkozy came to defend his project of Union for the Mediterranean at the EU summit initiated last night in Brussels and continuing today. While winning every day in credibility, this new initiative remains controversial within the European Union. From today to the founding meeting of 13-14 July in Paris, intensive lobbying will be necessary to convince the Europeans.

Initially divided on the project, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel have agreed at a dinner last March 3 on a project rather than Union of the Mediterranean, or Mediterranean Union, but for the Mediterranean. This change underscores the change imposed by the German chancellor at the project. The latter has in fact demanded such a union to be constructed within the EU and not only Southern and coastal European states.

From the institutional point of view, the Union for the Mediterranean would be supported by a co-chairmanship shared between countries bordering the North and South of the Mediterranean. From a practical point of view, a secretariat will head a set of concrete projects (pollution of the Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria-Tangiers maritime highway, space science… Mediterranean). The Commission will be part of this entity, but won’t control it. The underlying idea remains for the moment to give more weight to coastal countries in the future structure, what many Europeans look with suspicion.

What has to be highlighted in the final of the different opinions on the draft EU is that:

– Nobody is completely opposed to it, but nobody supports it completely neither;

– All recognize the importance of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, and the existing structures who implement it, the Barcelona Process and European Neighbourhood Policy;

– Nobody wants the Barcelona Process to be eroded by a new structure, nor to complicate existing structures;

– Few European states say they are ready to finance a new structure.

All these assertions limit considerably the niche where it would be possible to put the new Union, and then only in relation to European requirements. What will she become following the wishes of the southern Mediterranean partners?

None of them did indeed shown real enthusiast towards the project. The king of Morocco has said he would support a project that would strengthen existing partnerships. The Algerian President Bouteflika for his part stressed that it would be difficult to build a Union before to solve latent conflicts in the region, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Western Sahara conflict. Again, few states seem to be enthusiastic, but all stress the importance of existing structures Euromed.

So will this project be implemented or not? Given current developments, it seems very likely that this project succeed. But in what form? Originally conceived as a real institutionalized Union of countries of the Mediterranean region, the Union for the Mediterranean seems to be moving towards a simple resuscitation of the Barcelona Process. This seems to us quite commendable, if not necessary, but is it really necessary to do so through a new structure?

N.J.O.