24th Apr 2019

Brussels outlines plan for new Mediterranean club

The European Commission has begun to look at the possible set-up for the planned Mediterranean union by trying to breathe life into current bilateral relations between the EU and Mediterranean countries while avoiding an unwieldy new political organisation.

An internal paper discussed last week in EU commissioners' cabinets, suggests the new relationship has to be a "multilateral partnership" and "encompass all member states of the European Union."

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  • Summits suggested twice a year with the first official one taking place in Paris on 13 July (Photo: Pixie.Notat)

It suggests summits at head of state and government level twice a year with the first official one to take place in Paris on 13 July, when France has the EU presidency.

This maiden summit is to formally create the "Barcelona Process - A Union for the Mediterranean" and establish the union's "structures and principle goals."

The summit's conclusions should include "a political declaration" and a short list of "concrete projects to be put in place" all of which should be agreed by consensus.

The careful wording as well as the cumbersome title for the EU-Mediterranean relationship reflects its controversial beginnings when, as the brainchild of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, it was foreseen as a more exclusive club, but which would still use EU money for funding.

This proposal, made during Mr Sarkozy's presidential campaign and seen as a way of wrapping Turkey up in a political structure that would keep it away from the EU, managed to offend several member states including Germany.

Eventually, EU leaders in March agreed to a softer all-inclusive version with less bite and Turkey, once it received assurances that it would not be seen as an alternative to EU membership, agreed to take part.

New secretariat

The Union for the Mediterranean which envisages working on a series of issues that affect both the EU and these southern countries including immigration, security and environment issues, is to have a co-presidency and a new secretariat.

The EU would be represented by the EU foreign policy chief and the president of the commission and of the European Council, while Mediterranean countries would have to choose their side by consensus. The co-president would have a mandate of two years.

The paper remains unclear about whether the secretariat should have limited powers, in charge only of following up on decisions made by the summit leaders or if it be something enlarged to every day "governance" of the Union for the Mediterranean.

The new set-up is supposed to include all countries involved in the current Barcelona Process – Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Palestinian Authority, Israel, Libya, Syria, Turkey and Albania – as well as other Mediterranean states – Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Monaco.

It would revamp the current 12-year old Barcelona process which is designed to foster dialogue between the two sides but has become rather stale.

The commission paper suggests that any added value that the new-set-up is to have will depend on its capacity to attract money from the private sector for regional projects. It also suggests bilateral cooperation between certain countries and international financial institutions as further sources of funds.

The commission is soon to present its ideas on the Union for the Mediterranean to member states and the European Parliament. The project will then be formally discussed by EU leaders at a Brussels summit next month.

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