• A number of countries are making waves ahead of a summit set to launch the Mediterranean Union (Photo: EUobserver.com)

Arab countries complicate Med Union plan

09.06.08 @ 09:35

  1. By Elitsa Vucheva

A number of Arab countries are worried that if they join the EU's planned Mediterranean Union together with Israel, it would imply a normalisation of bilateral relations, with the Algerian foreign minister stressing that an overall vision for the project still has to be agreed.

The Union for the Mediterranean was proposed by France last year to boost ties with the EU's southern neighbours – and to include Turkey in a political structure seen as an alternative to EU membership.

In March, the bloc's leaders agreed on a final and softer version of the project which would include Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Palestinian Authority, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Albania.

Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Monaco would also take part.

But Arab countries on Friday (6 June) asked for "clarifications on the consequences" of Israel joining the so-called Mediterranean Union, AFP reports.

"The membership of Israel was among questions we discussed and clarifications were urged on this," Algerian foreign minister Mourad Medelci said after a meeting of Mediterranean foreign ministers in Algiers.

"The Mediterranean Union must not normalise [relations] between Israel and Arab countries…The process of normalisation with Israel is linked to other debates and commitments," he added.

In particular, the Algerian foreign minister referred to an Arab peace initiative from 2002, which calls for the Jewish state to withdraw from the Palestinian territories it occupied in 1967, before talking about normalisation of ties.

Other issues

The official Mediterranean Union launch is planned to take place at a summit in Paris on 13 July, when France will hold the EU's rotating presidency.

However, a number of questions remain unsolved for some of the participants only a month before the start date.

In addition to Israel's participation, clarifications on other issues including the new union's institutions, financing and decision-making are needed as well, Mr Medelci said.

Southern Mediterranean countries fear that Brussels will dominate the decision-making process and the "overwhelming majority" of the 11 states participating in Friday's meeting in Algiers remain unconvinced by the term 'union' itself.

"Relations with the EU are unbalanced and decisions belong to those who now have money and know-how," Mr Medelci added.

For its part, Algeria has still not confirmed whether it will attend the 13 July summit.

Another country which is to still take a decision on joining the Mediterranean club is Turkey where "assessments are underway," Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan said in May.

Recently, the country was irritated by a vote of French deputies to establish an obligatory referendum as a way to ratify Ankara's possible EU membership, calling such an approach "discriminatory."

This has made French diplomats nervous that Turkey may boycott the Mediterranean Union, according to reports in the French press.