Friday, 21 December 2007

France struggling to sell Mediterranean proposal

France is trying to persuade its EU partners to adopt its idea of a Mediterranean Union which President Sarkozy launched during the presidential election campaign earlier this year and which he mentioned again in greater detail in a speech in Tangier on 23 October. However, at a debate organised in Paris on 26 November by the Heinrich Heine House and the College of Spain, German and even Spanish scepticism of the idea became evident. The French State Secretary for European Affairs, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, tried to demonstrate that Mr. Sarkozy’s idea fitted into the Mediterranean policy of the EU (known as the Barcelona process) arguing that it would complement and add to an insufficient policy.

The Barcelona process had been originally conceived as a akin to the Helsinki Conference of 1975 which was intended to bridge the gap between East and West during the Cold War, but Paris’ view is that it has not had the desired effect and the two shores of the Mediterranean remain as far apart politically as ever. Barcelona has also not contributed to an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as originally hoped. The French minister explained that Paris was interested to hear what other Mediterranean states thought of President Sarkozy’s proposal and that the basic idea is for the Union to be built up progressively, starting with a few states and then being enlarged to include potentially all states on the shores of the Mediterranean. Northern EU Member States which do not border the sea would be invited to have observer or associate status.

It is precisely this point which has elicited opposition from Germany. Jouyet’s German and Spanish opposite numbers, Günter Gloser and Miguel Angel Navarro, insisted at the debate on the importance of the Barcelona process and of the policy of good neighbourliness which, they said, are “integral parts of the EU’s policy” and something in which “all EU states are involved”. In other words, Germany and Spain are hostile to any undermining of the EU’s role by the new Union. They said that the problems of the Mediterranean were “common problems” which must be tackled together by all EU states and the common approach forms part of the EU’s overall common foreign and security policy. All 27 EU states had to have the same rights, they said. The Spanish minister said that Madrid was “always available where the Mediterranean is concerned” but it is obvious that France’s partners are sceptical about the need to invent a new organisation. [Daniel Vernet, Le Monde, 28 November 2007]

President Sarkozy heard about German scepticism towards the plan from the horse’s mouth when Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, came to Paris to talk about it on 5 December. The two agreed to ask their sherpas to come up with an agreement which would associate all EU states to the proposed new union by the time of the Brussels summit on 14 December. But Mrs Merkel said that it would be “a difficult test for Europe” if states on the Mediterranean decided to create their own union, because the EU, including Germany, itself takes a strong interest in that region. [Henri de Bresson, Le Monde, 8 December 2007]

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here ----

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