Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Mediterranean Union?

While French President Sarkozy’s proposal to establish a Mediterranean Union has been hotly debated in the European Union, it is unclear what such an organization might actually look like.

According to the original plans, it would work closely with the European Union but remain a separate organization. It would include all Mediterranean countries including Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. It would aim to enhance regional cooperation in fields such as energy, security, counter-terrorism, immigration and trade (see International Herald Tribune)

Reactions by other EU member states range from hesitant support by Spain and Italy to strong resistance from Germany and other Northern EU member states.

According to the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) the proposal provokes more questions than it answers. It remains unclear how the new organization would related to other regional organizations including the African Union, the Union of Arab Maghreb or the International Gulf Cooperation Council and, last but not least, to the European Union and its various Mediterranean policies including the EU Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and Barcelona Process. The paper suggests that:

“a constructive version of the ‘Union of the Mediterranean’ could thus translate into a restructuring of the ENP, a reconsideration of the policy content of the present Barcelona+ENP and some reconfiguration of the role of ‘most interested member states’.”

A recent analysis for the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) by Dorothée Schmid sheds further light on the French proposals. It puts Sarkozy's Union plans into a larger framework of French Mediterranean policy. According to Schmidt, France never fully supported the European Neighbourhood Policy. The Europe-Mediterranean Partnership under the ENP is criticized as being inefficient, indolent, non-transparent and lacking a strategic vision.

Although France managed to gain support by some EU member states and could appease others, it remains unanswered why a Mediterranean Union would be more successful than another initiatives. Furthermore is dubious how such a new organization could be financed. Schmidt points out that neither the ENP - which will only support EU projects - nor so called 'enhanced cooperation' can be considered since the project includes non-EU members.

Considering all this, one has to remain skeptical whether the new French proposal can bring a solution towards a peaceful and prosperous development of the Mediterranean region.

Paris plans to hold a summit for potential members of a Mediterranean Union on July 13, one day before an EU summit in Brussels.

by Martin Behrens

Further reading: See the EuroMeSCo January 2008 newsletter on the EU-Mediterranean Partnership.

See Euforic's newsfeeds on EU-Mediterranean cooperation and EU neighbourhood policies.