22nd Oct 2016

Mediterranean union not for conflict resolution, Fuele says

  • The Union for the Mediterranean is headquartered in Barcelona (Photo: EUobserver)

The Union for the Mediterranean is not a platform for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a "project-oriented" club, EU neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele said after Arab leaders threatened to boycott an upcoming summit if Israel's foreign minister participates as planned.

"The very idea of the Union for the Mediterranean is not to create another framework for political discussions trying to solve the existing conflicts," Mr Fuele said Wednesday (12 May) in a press briefing in Brussels on the EU's relations with its eastern and southern neighbours over the past five years.

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The Barcelona-based organisation is instead designed to be a: "project-oriented union, where the secretariat led by Jordan's former EU ambassador is expected to put together ideas, investors, experts and to help stamp projects which will bring real benefits to the citizens of the region."

The main focus of the Union for the Mediterranean is to deal with energy, security, counter-terrorism, immigration and trade issues. But all projects need to be approved by consensus among its 48 members, around half of which are EU countries.

Launched by the French EU presidency in 2008, the Union was supposed to revive the looser regional co-operation framework dubbed the "Barcelona process," which failed to achieve any major results since its creation in 1995.

After Israel's bombing of the Gaza strip in the winter of 2008-2009, the establishment of the Union's secretariat was put on ice for roughly a year. The process was resumed this spring, with the Spanish EU presidency hoping to host the first summit since the Gaza war in Barcelona on 7 June.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos is currently in the regio trying to "boost support" for the summit, Mr Fuele said, adding that he will also work his way through diplomatic contacts on the ground in a visit planned for the coming weeks.

Some 43 countries from the European Union and the states bordering the Mediterranean Sea - including Israel, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, as well as Jordan and the Palestinian Authority - have been invited to the June event.

The Israeli-Palestinian row is threatening to derail proceedings however, as it already did in October 2009, when Arab states pulled out from a foreign ministers' meeting because Israel's hardline top diplomat Avigdor Lieberman announced his participation.

Egypt and Syria recently announced they would boycott the Barcelona gathering if Mr Lieberman came. "I intend to, and I will be there," Mr Lieberman told Israel Radio. "We're not forcing ourselves on anyone and we're not forcing anyone else to come."

Unlike his predecessor Benita Fererro-Waldner, a former Austrian minister who took a critical stance towards Israel during her mandate, making her to clash occasionally with the Czech EU presidency, Mr Fuele, a Czech diplomat, kept a more cautious line.

"Israel and Palestine are both our partners. We have a very ambitious action plan on Israel and are ready to advance relations as soon as there is a consensus among member states," he said, while adding that Brussels also envisaged upgrading relations with the Palestinian Authority, if member states agree.

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