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26th Apr 2019

Brussels to keep control of 'Mediterranean Union'

  • The Mediterranean: Brussels is not keen to let the sea slip away (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission on Tuesday (20 May) unveiled plans for a Mediterranean Union, taking care to emphasise its low-key vision for the new political set-up.

Rather than a radical shake-up of relations between the bloc and it southern neighbours, external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner said the proposals represented an "upgrade" in current relations and stressed that the EU's 13-year-old relationship with Mediterranean countries - known as the Barcelona process - remained "valid."

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The new model will be formally launched on 13 July in Paris with a series of concrete projects, and foresees regular summits and ministerial meetings.

The commissioner noted: "It is very clear that this project is not directed against Turkey."

When the idea for a new Mediterranean organisation was first floated last year by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who presented it as a far more dynamic and exclusive club, open only to states with a Mediterranean coastline, he tried to sell it as an alternative to EU membership for Turkey.

But his original vision was appreciated neither in Ankara nor several other EU capitals, including, most importantly, Germany, who was concerned it would pit northern member states against their southern counterparts.

In March, all 27 EU leaders gave the nod to Mr Sarkozy's general idea but with some restrictive conditions - happily taken up by the commission, which was also not a fan of Mr Sarkozy's more elaborate plans.

"I see a possibility for a fusion that will be a success, and it will be the only way to make a success of this project," said Ms Ferrero-Waldner, of the 'Barcelona Process - Union for the Mediterranean' as it is now supposed to be known.

The new union will bring together 44 countries, including the 27 EU member states as well as Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Albania, plus Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Monaco.

The commission is suggesting that the structure be backed up by a new secretariat - the location of which remains to be decided - that will organise summits and help co-ordinate projects. The projects are to focus on areas such as infrastructure and the environment.

The Mediterranean Union is to have a co-presidency from the EU and a Mediterranean country lasting two years.

EU to hold the reins

In an significant blow to France's grander vision for the project, the commission also suggested that the presidency on the EU side be kept firmly within existing EU structures.

France had wanted to be a presidency country for the first two years, but the commission suggests the role should fall to the EU foreign minister or commission president, under the new EU treaty - keeping political control of the process firmly in Brussels' hands.

Despite the reining in of the project, Paris welcomed the commission's plans.

"The French authorities are delighted by the commission's presentation in such a short time," a statement said. "A deeper examination of the commission's proposals must now take place."

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