Saturday

18th Jan 2020

Sarkozy beaming at birth of Mediterranean Union

  • The Mediterranean Union summit was held in Paris' glass-doomed Grand Palais. (Photo: EUobserver)

France officially announced the launch of the Union for the Mediterranean on Sunday (13 July) – the brainchild of its president Nicolas Sarkozy, who did not hide his pride in seeing the project's official birth.

"We had dreamt of it. The Union for the Mediterranean is now a reality," a visibly content Mr Sarkozy told journalists in Paris after a four-hour long working session with leaders of the countries members of the Union.

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The project – under its official name Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean – regroups 43 states, including all EU members, and will be co-presided over by one EU and one Mediterranean country – currently Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, and Mr Sarkozy himself.

The goal is to boost ties between the EU and its southern neighbours, while the aim of the co-presidency will be to "improve the balance and the joint ownership" of the Union, reads the final declaration adopted by the 43 leaders.

Some critics of the project however had accused European states of wanting to dominate their southern partners.

But "north and south will be on an equal footing … We have exactly the same rights, exactly the same obligations," said the French president during the opening of the summit.

Details of the Union for the Mediterranean's institutional structure are still to be sorted out, but it will have a Joint Permanent Committee based in Brussels that will assist in the preparation of meetings of senior officials; and a joint Secretariat – whose "political mandate," location, as well as the nationality of its director, are to be decided by the Union's foreign ministers, who will meet in November.

A Union for the Mediterranean high-level summit will take place once every two years, while its foreign ministers will meet once a year.

'Concrete projects'

Central parts of Paris were blocked off on Sunday and the city was under high surveillance, as some 18,000 policemen were mobilised to co-ordinate the 43 leaders' security.

The only one who was invited but declined to attend was Libya's Muammar Gaddafi – an outspoken opponent of the project, while the kings of Morocco and Jordan did not come, but instead sent representatives.

The leaders unanimously adopted a declaration deciding to work on six "concrete projects" as initial activities, Mr Sarkozy said.

The new grouping will address the cleaning up of Mediterranean pollution; development of maritime and land highways; or setting up a joint civil protection programme on prevention and response to disasters.

The yet to be established Secretariat will also aim to "explore the feasibility, development and creation of a Mediterranean Solar Plan," looking into solar energy as an alternative source of energy.

A Euro-Mediterranean University, whose seat will be somewhere in Slovenia, hopes to "contribute to the establishment of a Euro-Mediterranean Higher Education, Science and Research area."

Additionally, a so-called Mediterranean Business Development Initiative will support small and medium-sized enterprises.

However, criticism has already been raised about some controversial issues – such as immigration – being left out of the Union's scope at this stage.

A diplomatic success?

But the project's overarching goal is to progressively lead to peace in the Middle East, Mr Sarkozy said.

Conflicts in the region are seen as the main reason preventing the Barcelona Process – an initiative started in 1995 with similar ambitions to the new project – from achieving significant results.

On Sunday, "over the course of four hours, everybody was there. Everybody spoke, discussed and agreed [on things] … If it is possible during four hours, if we could agree on all these projects, we will continue, we will go further," Mr Sarkozy told the press, stressing there had been no incidents at the summit, despite the tense relations between some of the leaders, and said he already saw a chance for peace from this first meeting.

Prior to his statement, Israel's premier, Ehud Olmert, said Israeli and Palestinians had never been so close to reaching a peace agreement as now.

Furthermore, the French president announced on Saturday that Syria and Lebanon had agreed to establish diplomatic relations – an act he called "historic".

Relations between the two countries have been particularly tense since the assassination of Lebanon's former premier, Rafiq Hariri, in April 2005 – followed by Syria's troops' forced withdrawal from Lebanon.

Damascus has denied any involvement in Mr Hariri's killing, but a number of UN inquiries have suggested that Syrian and Lebanese intelligence forces had played some role in the assassination.

"Our position is that there is no problem with the opening of embassies between Syria and Lebanon … If Lebanon is willing to exchange embassies, we have no objections to doing it," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was quoted as saying by French news agency AFP.

But the two countries must "define the steps to take to arrive at this stage" before mutual recognition, he stressed.

Observers have adopted a cautious approach however, insisting that many things have been said about peace in the region over the years and one should wait for concrete results before claiming success.

At the summit, Carl Bildt, Sweden's foreign minister, warned: "The world is not going to be changed by the meeting today," reported AFP.

"But the entire region will, hopefully, be changed over time by this particular approach," he added.

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