28th Sep 2023

Barcelona to host Mediterranean Union headquarters

  • The Royal Palace of Pedralbes in Barcelona, where the headquarters of the Union for the Mediterranean will be located. (Photo: Wikipedia/Pex Cornel)

The headquarters of the recently launched Union for the Mediterranean will be located in Barcelona, Spain, foreign ministers of the countries participating in the project decided on Tuesday (4 November).

The secretariat will be presided over by a single secretary general – yet to be appointed – and five deputy secretaries from Greece, Italy, Malta, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner – whose country currently presides over the Union for the Mediterranean together with Egypt.

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Mr Kouchner, speaking to reporters following a meeting of EU and Mediterranean foreign ministers in Marseille, added that a sixth deputy secretary may yet be added to the list at the demand of Turkey.

The secretariat will be tasked with "implementing concrete projects" in a number of different areas: maritime safety, economy, energy, transport, agriculture, urban development and environment.

The French foreign minister hailed the results of the meeting as a great success and underlined that it was the first time that Israel would be present at such a level in an international institution alongside the Palestinian Authority.

In exchange for a position as deputy secretary, Israel has accepted that the Arab League could be present at all Union meetings, at all levels, although without any voting rights.

Prior to the decision, the Arab League had only been allowed to take part in Euro-Mediterranean meetings as part of the Egyptian delegation.

Barcelona beats Tunis and Valetta

Valetta, the capital of EU member Malta, and Tunis, the capital of Tunisia had also been in the running to host the UM's headquarters, but Tunis withdrew its candidacy last Friday, while Valetta did not gather enough support for its candidacy, according to the Times of Malta.

Barcelona had given the name to an earlier initiative aiming to boost EU co-operation with its southern neighbours that was set up in 1995 – the Barcelona Process.

Spain had also increased diplomatic efforts in the past weeks in order to gather support for its candidacy, with its prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero meeting both EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner last week.

EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana – himself a Spaniard, said he was "very happy" that the Union for the Mediterranean's headquarters would be located in Barcelona, in the 19th-century Palace of Pedralbes.

"It is a great joy for me," he told reporters in Marseille.

After the decision that Barcelona would host the secretariat of the project, Spain demanded that its name also be changed from "the Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean" to simply "Union for the Mediterranean," Mr Kouchner pointed out.

Academics remain sceptical

The Union for the Mediterranean – the brainchild of French President Nicolas Sarkozy – was officially launched at a summit meeting in Paris in July.

It is aimed at breathing a new life into the Barcelona Process, which has failed to achieve any significant results.

But observers and academics remain sceptical as to what the new initiative's added value can be.

"Essentially, I don't think that much has changed at all," professor Ahmed Driss from the University of Tunis said at a conference organised on Monday (3 November) during the European Parliament's Arab Week.

Additionally, the balance of powers within the Union of the Mediterranean is not good, he said.

"If we really want to have a joint presidency, one has to believe it is a joint, common project. There is no such impression today. You have one side proposing something to the other side. There was no common preparation, no real dialogue between the two sides prior to this," he told the conference's audience.

Professor Annette Junemann, from the Helmut Schmidt University of the Armed Forces in Hamburg voiced a similar opinion.

"The Mediterranean countries were not involved in setting up the project, it was mainly made in France," she said.

She added she saw "a lot of hot air" in the Union for the Mediterranean and "very little substance."

Additionally, all participants in the conference deplored the "de-politisation" of the project, which they said did not contain enough provisions on human rights. NGOs regularly complain of serious breaches in a number of the countries that are members of the new Union.

Conference participants also complained of a lack of civil society involvement.

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