05/11/2010

Failure of the Union for the Mediterranean, the EU responsible

Will the Union for the Mediterranean really take place in November? This is a question that often comes up in discussions. It is true that after the postponement of the date, originally scheduled for June, and new threats of boycott by Arab countries, it is reasonable to ask whether the Union for the Mediterranean will come to life again one day… as long as it has ever existed.

In July 2008, the French EU presidency launched with great fanfare the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). The project was rallying and a lot of heads of state were present. While the young UfM was gradually adopting a secretariat, structures and funding, the Israeli Cast Lead operation in Gaza in December 2008 threw again a chill between Israelis and Arabs. Six months after his birth, the UfM was already paralyzed.

Since then, some ministerial meetings were held, but the structure is sorely lacking credibility on the international scene, like its initiator, the EU. A peace summit had indeed to be held in Paris on October 21 between Israelis, Palestinians and Egyptians leaders. It was designed to prepare the summit of the UfM expected in November. The parties had accepted the meeting until the Israeli Prime Minister office called a few days before the meeting to postpone it. According to Haaretz, Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to avoid any pressure considering the freezing of settlements. Its last-minute defection shows the consideration given by Israel to the European diplomacy in general and the French diplomacy in particular. Without a strong Europe on the international scene, it seems unlikely to see one day the UfM running at full capacity.

Another notable weakness of the UfM is its lack of clarity and visibility. Anyone wondering about the exact date of the summit will not find anything about it yet on any official sites. No website is neither dedicated to the UfM, and to have complete and accurate information about it, it is necessary to browse many websites and articles. And underlining the fact that one purpose of the UfM was to provide greater visibility of the Euro-Mediterranean, we are far from it!

If the disagreement between Israel and Arab countries are undoubtedly the main obstacle to the development of a strong partnership between the EU and its neighbors, the fault also lies in the European chief. With the UfM, the EU had supposedly a flexible structure capable to overcome the many obstacles encountered so far by the Barcelona process. Given the current situation, what should we conclude? Wasn’t the flexibility of the structures put to good use or was it an illusion? On the other hand, the EU can play an effective role in the peace process, for example using economic leverage, which would allow it in a second time to develop an effective regional policy. Nevertheless, it remains largely absent from the peace process. However, if the foreign policy of the EU does not take a role in a nearby region in which it has many strategic interests, it is difficult to imagine what will happen to its presence in the world.

Nathalie Janne d’Othée