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21st Oct 2018

France muddies waters with 'Mediterranean Union' idea

  • "In the Mediterranean will be decided whether or not civilisations and religions will wage the most terrible of wars" (Photo: EUobserver)

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has reiterated his plan to set up a Mediterranean Union, a loose grouping of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, in 2008 - a move that is likely to raise eyebrows in some parts of Europe.

"I invite all the heads of state and government of countries bordering the Mediterranean to meet in France in June 2008 to lay the foundations of a political, economic and cultural union founded on the principles of strict equality", Mr Sarkozy said during his visit to Morocco on Tuesday (23 October).

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He added that "in the Mediterranean will be decided whether or not civilisations and religions will wage the most terrible of wars...whether or not the North and the South will clash".

The idea of a Mediterranean Union is not a completely new one - it was floated by Mr Sarkozy leader during the French presidential campaign in spring of this year.

Under the plans, the group should tie southern Europe with Northern Africa as well as Israel and its Arab neighbours and tackle topical issues such as counter-terrorism, immigration, energy, trade, water and sustainable development.

However - after offering Turkey that it could be the backbone of the club - the project has been widely seen as another attempt to give Ankara an alternative for its bid for full EU membership.

Mixed reactions

According to the European Commission, it is "good" to have initiatives promoting regional cooperation, however, they "should build on existing structures".

There are fears that France's proposal would try to bypass the 12-year-old Barcelona process, designed to foster dialogue between the EU bloc and ten countries on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean - Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. Libya has observer status since 1999.

"It is a successful process", the commission spokesperson said on Thursday (25 October), indicating the executive body will want more details on any new union.

According to media reports, some EU capitals are also set to seek clarification of Mr Sarkozy's ideas, with a few even indicating it may be part of his efforts to push his own country's interests in the region.

Only seven EU countries - Cyprus, Greece, France, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain - would be part of the new bloc, the rest would have a role of silent observer.

In his speech in Morocco, Mr Sarkozy himself drew a rather blurry picture of the project.

On the one hand, he called on Mediterranean people "to do the same thing, with the same goal and the same method" as the 27-nation EU bloc has done, but at the same time, he said it would not be based on the EU model.

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