July 14, 2008
“Beyond the platitudes and projects lies the germ of a brilliant idea”, said The Economist’ leader of 12 July, before the “Union for the Mediterranean” was launched yesterday in Paris. The event was a great success for Nicolas Sarkozy and French diplomacy. The atmosphere was good and the body language and informality at the final press conference noticeable.
A joint secretariat, operated by France and Egypt will be set up. Several initiatives were announced: a solar power development in North Africa, a clean-up-the-Med project, the promotion of ports and transport infrastructure to boost regional trade, and the setting up of a new Mediterranean university in Slovenia. President Barroso confirmed that financing was available through the EU budget.
The 13-year old Barcelona process has not been successful and certainly needs renewing. Meanwhile, growth and investment in the region have substantially risen and its prospects are bright, and would be even brighter if the commitment of the participants to peace, stability and security can be achieved. It is to be hoped that a cocktail of politics and economics can be successfully mixed. The EU is seen as worth emulating and adapting. It is premature to discuss institutions but the co-chairman, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek made reference to this as a future aim. The principle of creating a broader community through economic steps has so far worked for Europe.
Sarkozy brought Syrian President Bashar Assad in from the cold, sitting at the same table as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Syria and Lebanon agreed to exchange embassies. Useful informal meetings took place on the fringes of the summit.
Inevitably, feathers were ruffled in the process. It took Angela Merkel to make the French President include all 27 Member States. My principal reservation on the apparent intended structure is that this is to be a Union comprising perhaps 43 countries, instead of 16 plus the EU 27 (following the EEA model).
So far, so good. But we have a long way to go if the Mediterranean Union is to be more than a money-primer.Author : Stanley Crossick