12 September 2008
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security Section
The Union for the Mediterranean (UM) is an economic and diplomatic community that comprises the countries of the European Union and the Middle Eastern and North African countries that have a Mediterranean coastline. It is intended to act as a forum for Europe and the Middle East to address diplomatic, economic and environmental issues and to stabilise the political situation in the Middle East.
Opinion has been divided on its possible achievements. As will be discussed below, some commentators believed that it would be no more than a continuation of the unsuccessful Barcelona Process, or disguised European colonialism. However, others have been more hopeful. At the first meeting of the UM, the Paris Summit of July 2008, Syria renewed political ties with the West, began rapprochement with Israel, and opened diplomatic relations with Lebanon; and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders met and seemed close to reaching an agreement. The architects of the Union hope that if it succeeds it will lead to improved diplomatic relations and political stability in the Middle East both of which would be of importance to Australia.
The Union for the Mediterranean
The UM was launched in Paris on 13 July 2008, and was largely an initiative of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. It comprises 43 nations, representing 750 million people.
As shown in Figure 1, the member nations are:
- the twenty-seven members of the European Union;
- five other European nations (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Monaco, and Montenegro);
- four African nations (Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia);
- six Middle Eastern nations (Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey) and the Palestinian Authority.
Libya has observer status.
Figure 1: Members of the Union for the Mediterranean
Source: Wikipedia, Union for the Mediterranean , accessed on 29 August 2008.
Blue: Members of the European Union
Green: Other members (primarily from the African Union and Arab League)
Striped green: Observer members.
The UM is a joint partnership between countries North and South of the Mediterranean. It has a co-presidency of one president from the North and another from the South.
For the first two years (2008 2010), the presidents are: Nicolas Sarkozy, who is President of France, and also currently the President of the European Council; and Egyptian President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak.
The main political body of the UM is the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA). Summits will be held every two years, and aim to produce a two-year work program . The Foreign Affairs Ministers of each of the UM nations will meet annually.
A joint secretariat organises the technical aspects of the UM and its projects, and a joint permanent committee in Brussels organises meetings of Senior Officials. The Joint Declaration states that the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures and the UN Alliance of Civilisations will contribute in an effective manner to the cultural dimension of the initiative .
Projects and initiatives
The UM believes that it could address issues relating to:
- economic and social development
- the world food security crisis
- degradation of the environment, including climate change and desertification, with the view of promoting sustainable development
- terrorism and extremism, and
- promoting dialogue between cultures.
At the Paris Summit, the UM identified six key initiatives:
- de-pollution of the Mediterranean
- maritime and land highways
- civil protection
- alternative energies: Mediterranean Solar Plan
- higher education and research, Euro-Mediterranean University, and
- the Mediterranean Business Development Initiative.
Projects would be funded through:
private sector participation; contributions from the EU budget and all partners; contributions from other countries, international financial institutions and regional entities; the Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership Facility (FEMIP); the ENPI Euro-Med envelope, the Neighbourhood Investment Facility and the cross-border cooperation instrument within the ENPI, as well as the other instruments applicable to the countries covered by the initiative.
The Barcelona Process and relations with the EU
The UM expands on the Barcelona Process of 1995 (also known as the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership). This is a bilateral and regional mechanism that aims to strengthen the links between the [European] Union and the partner countries, whilst encouraging closer ties among the Mediterranean Countries themselves through the establishment of political dialogue, conflict prevention and resolution, the creation of a free-trade area, and increased cooperation.
The UM is a reinforced partnership that aims to take advantage of an enhanced framework of multilateral cooperation to translate the objectives of the Barcelona Declaration into tangible results . It will do so by:
- upgrading the political level of the EU s relationship with its Mediterranean partners
- providing for further co-ownership of their multilateral relations; and
- making these relations more concrete and visible through additional regional and sub-regional projects, relevant for the citizens of the region.
Although it comprises all EU members, the UM is complementary to EU bilateral relations , but at the same time independent from the EU enlargement policy, accession negotiations and the pre-accession process .
The fact that the UM is based on the Barcelona Process, which some commentators believe did not achieve its goals, has caused some concern. The Financial Times stated that the older system s attempts to create a multilateral forum for economic cooperation between Arabs and Israelis and other objectives trade, migration, human rights, etc. had not succeeded. Describing the last gathering in Barcelona three years ago as doomed , another report noted that:
Many leaders from the south refused to attend that meeting, called to mark a decade of the Barcelona process, and those who did were unable to agree a final declaration.
The Financial Times thought that the UM would provide a welcome refocus of European attention on the Mediterranean , but considered it to be an extra chapter in an expanded Barcelona Process, rather than the new direction Mr Sarkozy had in mind .
The UM and the EU
Although it now includes the entire European Union, the UM was originally intended to include only those members of the EU that have Mediterranean coastlines. Germany had reportedly been concerned and wanted a broader membership. This was partly because, as the richest member of the EU, it would be paying for most of the Union, and partly because it feared that the UM, with its associations of French colonialism in the Maghreb, would be a French sphere of influence, dividing the EU.
The UM as it exists now is, therefore, a compromise or what some German sources have allegedly called a facesaving deal for Sarkozy which gutted the scheme of much of its substance . However, French policy makers such as Alain Leroy, a diplomat who had been instrumental in creating the institution, believe that Sarkozy s original intentions can be achieved in the long term. Leroy points to the fact that the EU began as a group for coal and steel, and suggests that from such humble origins, something important can arise.
Some commentators have suspected France and the European Union of ulterior motives in pushing for the creation of the UM:
- Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade thought that Europe was interested in Algeria s oil and gas and Libyan oil . He believed that the Union would divide Africa north and south of the Sahara and create a two-speed cooperation with Europe in which black Africa will be relegated . To meet Africa s needs, he advocated the creation of a United States of Africa.
- Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Al-Qaddafi claimed that it smacked of colonialism , and that it was a European ploy to undermine Arab and African unity . He also believed that it would increase illegal migration and terrorism and give a justification to Islamist extremists to step up Jihad attacks. These extremists would explain it as a crusade against Islam and European colonisation .
- Cairo University law professor Ayman Abdelaziz Salaama thought that it was a colonialist gambit, with Sarkozy taking advantage of the current crises faced by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan to reinvigorate French influence in North Africa and the Middle East .
- a report from the New China News Agency suggested that France and the European Union had created the institution to stabilise south-eastern European Mediterranean countries, which were economically backward and prone to becoming the hotbed of terrorism . It also believed that Europe wanted more access to rich reserves of petroleum and natural gas in North African countries. It also suspected that Europe hoped to expand its influence in the Mediterranean and Africa .
- Middle East specialist Rudolph Chimelli was concerned that Europe would dominate the UM, and that the United States would influence it from the sidelines, because of its massive presence in the Arabic Peninsula, Iraq and Israel .
However, others were less suspicious of Europe s motives. Rosa Balfour, of the European Policy Centre think-tank, did not believe that the EU had ulterior motives in creating the UM, but was not sure whether it would work.
The emphasis on co-ownership represents an attempt to avoid the EU imposing the policy agenda on its partners. On the other hand, co-ownership undermines the leverage that the Union could exercise to push for reform
The co-ownership element seems to confirm the practice so far: plenty of summitry , but no real dialogue due to the lack of genuine interest and commitment on both sides to address the real issues at stake.
The exclusion of the European and national parliaments and of civil society organisations also reinforces the intergovernmental and elite-driven nature of this initiative.
The UM and the Middle East
The Union for the Mediterranean s initiators hoped that it would lead to improved diplomatic relations and political stability in the Middle East.
At the Paris Summit, Sarkozy stated that:
Arab states had made a gesture of peace by attending the founding summit of the Union for the Mediterranean and pledged that Europe would build peace in the Mediterranean, just as yesterday we built peace in Europe .
He also said that:
although the Mediterranean Union cannot achieve regional peace and stability overnight, countries on both sides of the Mediterranean have started working for peace and stability for the next generation.
In terms of achieving progress in the Middle East, the following took place at the Paris Summit:
- Syrian President HE Dr Bashar Al-Assad renewed diplomatic ties with the West, which had suffered following suspicions that Syria had been responsible for the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, and because of its alleged association with the Iranian government and Palestinian terrorist groups.
- Syria and Israel which have been at war since 1948 began the process of rapprochement through the intermediary of Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met separately Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Assad. Erdogan hoped for face-to-face peace negotiations between Syria and Israel . Assad stated that he was ready to have normal relations with Israel but that direct talks would have to await a new American president . He recently stated that Syria had presented a proposal for peace, and that, although it would not recognise Israel before a peace accord is reached , there would be reciprocal recognition if and when such an accord is reached .
- Syria and Lebanon agreed to establish embassies in Beirut and Damascus respectively, which appears to imply recognition by Syria of Lebanon s sovereignty . In August 2008, Syria and Lebanon agreed to establish full diplomatic ties.
- Israeli President Ehud Olmert and Palestinian National Authority President Dr Mahmoud Abbas met. Mr Olmert said that they had never been as close to the possibility of an agreement .
- Sarkozy asked Syria to convince Iran to provide proof that it did not seek to arm itself with nuclear weaponry.
Although the Paris Summit was praised for its diplomatic achievement in gathering together countries with strained or hostile relations, some commentators thought that achieving peace would be difficult and uncertain.
They believed that in spite of Olmert s statement that a peace agreement with Palestine was close the Israelis were not likely to agree to a just settlement ; and that Arab countries were opposed to a creeping normalisation of ties with Israel .
Colonel Qaddafi claimed that it was merely a ruse aimed at promoting normalized Arab relations with Israel in the absence of a just settlement on Palestine a claim denied by President Mubarak. Law specialist Ayman Abdelaziz Salaama believes that Qaddafi s suspicions were justified, given that Arab countries were not supposed to deal with Israel unless they had recognised its existence.
A Financial Times commentator observed that while face-to-face peace talks between Israel and Syria arising from the Paris Summit would be a genuine diplomatic coup for France , it was unclear what longer term contribution the new union will make to solving problems in the Mediterranean .
Turkey initially refused to join the UM, fearing that it was being offered membership to this body instead of the EU, which Sarkozy has opposed. Sarkozy believes that admitting Turkey to the EU would deal a fatal blow to the very notion of European identity . However, it seems that France is not opposed to a privileged partnership , instead of full membership. After reassurances from Sarkozy that it was not an either/or choice, Turkey decided to participate.
Because of the difficulty in launching the UM, and the suspicion of Europe s motives, many commentators doubt whether it will succeed.
For example, the Economist praised Sarkozy s success in holding the Paris Summit, but stated that:
On Middle East peace, there were gestures and words, but no concessions. On the Union for the Mediterranean, there was no agreement on financing, nor even on where the club should be based.
Senior adviser at the French Institute for International Relations Dominique Mo si thinks that it has the potential to be a great institution , but that, due to mismanagement and bad presentation, it may lead nowhere .
French economist Guillaume Duval has expressed concern that problems could arise from disparities between the European Union members and the Maghreb countries and the plan to transform the region into a free trade zone , which would open the southern and western Mediterranean shore even more to European multinationals , and lead to further urban overpopulation. He also believes that EU member nations from Eastern Europe are worried that it would divert European financial resources and political attention from their region toward the Mediterranean basin .
However, others have qualified their doubts, seeing some positives in the Union. The New China News Agency has argued that the UM is a new platform for joint efforts by countries on both sides of the Mediterranean to seek stability and development, ushering trans-Mediterranean cooperation to a new stage . However, it fears that the UM could be troubled by hostility between Israel on one hand and Syria and Palestine on the other.
In Australia, the Financial Review stated that the UM might just be the start of something exciting , if it were to involve a free-trade area that opens the EU to goods and services from the south and the EU were to use its patronage to boost spending on infrastructure, promote trade in the region and clean up politics . It has suggested that such developments might also lead to membership of the EU for non-European countries.
It remains to be seen what the Union for the Mediterranean will actually achieve, and what relevance to Australia it might ultimately have.
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. Jorge Sampaio, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, wrote a letter to the International Herald Tribune, discussing the need for the UM and the AoC to work together. See: Club Med; Israel and Iran , International Herald Tribune, 21 July 2008,
http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/07/21/opinion/edlet.php, accessed on 28 August 2008.
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