03/07/2009

Fragile thawing of the Union for the Mediterranean

On June 25th, the first ministerial conference of the Union for the Mediterranean (UM) on sustainable development took place in Paris. Since the French craze for what was planned to be a « Mediterranean union », it has been predicted that such a process would be a hostage of the conflicts that paralyze the southern Mediterranean. Unsurprisingly, last winter’s Israeli intervention on Gaza has immediately suspended the initiative, breaking with the « spirit » of July 13th 2008. Carrying on the initiative in the “post-Gaza period” seemed to be utopia. However, the meeting took place, bringing together Israeli and Palestinian representatives and addressing the core projects of the Union for the Mediterranean.

Despite the French government’s optimism, we shall keep in mind that the UfM is not « saved. » It was obviously revived. However, the UfM is still not immune to a « re-freezing » in case of renewed regional tension. Besides, some issues are still unresolved and such a persistent vagueness is a cause for concern. Indeed, the name of the future General Secretary of the Union has still not been chosen. The latter will come from the southern shore, but as Dominique Baudis from the Arab World Institute (Paris) summarized « all countries of the southern Mediterranean agreed to renounce to this role on the condition that their neighbor did not get it neither. » However, it may be difficult to move forward without a Secretary-General.

In addition, the southern shore has not the monopoly of dissension and rivalries. N. Sarkozy had to face the German anger and the Turkish suspicion. Now it is Belgium’s turn to protest against the agreements between France and the successive rotating presidencies of the EU, which allow France to keep the co-presidency far beyond the scheduled semester.

Moreover, forecasts for project funding are not up to the assessed needs and the asymmetry of the interest shown by member States is not to be underestimated. However, it is not these deficiencies but the coherence of the project which is most often discussed. To N. Sarkozy’s comparison between the Union for the Mediterranean’s projects and the ECSC-the foundation of the future EU- many have responded- and they are right- that France and Germany were reconciled before the launch of a European cooperation. Therefore it would be logical to start with Peace in the Middle East. It is undeniable that the scope of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes far beyond the region of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the UfM will evolve depending on the conflict’s vagaries.

However, given the apathy of the world in general and of Europe in particular towards this tragedy, one can wonder: would waiting for the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before considering an appropriate and responsible management of the Mediterranean be reasonable? The Union for the Mediterranean does not solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and does not pretend to. It nevertheless has the advantage of recalling other emergencies: an endangered sea and a region which, if it does not prepare itself, will be the first victim of global warming and of its own demographic, economic, agricultural and energetic mutations.

Facing the emergencies embodied by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and by the survival of the Mediterranean basin, there is no choice to make.

Luce Ricard