Think EU-MED

Friday, August 1, 2008

The launch of the Union- Concepts and Contents

The French EU presidency launched the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) on Sunday July 13, in a pompous event in Paris' Grand Palais. For France, the launch of the Union is one of the centerpieces of their agenda.
Nevertheless, there are fears that after the extravaganza is over, the Union will center its attention on more symbolic policies than on substance. The new UfM must prove that it is more than a symbolic draft without soul and principles. The launch confirmed the previous doubts that the Union is ineffective, as it was rather a symbolic show than a decision-making meeting.

We should not forget that the original purpose, as designed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was substantially changed. Originally, the Union was intended to be restricted to countries on the Mediterranean Basin, which, despite having fewer members, would have created a stronger coalition. Sarkozy's proposal was watered down by the EU and it became incorporated into the already existing Barcelona Process. The Bloc's leaders agreed to include 44 countries, including the EU's 27 members, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Mauritania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Monaco, Montenegro, and Albania.



The UfM is set up to handle specific regional projects, including water and waste management, as well as a joint program for managing immigration and cultural exchanges. The Union aims to work on a series of practical projects such as tackling pollution problems in the Mediterranean Sea, improving infrastructure, and launching a solar energy program. Although the goals sound ambitious, the EU's budget for the Union during 2007 to 2013 would not surpass 7.5 billion Euros. However, as the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) presented, the "de-pollution" projects would already cost about 2.1 billion Euros. For other projects like improving the use of solar energy, building land and sea motorways, enhancing cooperation on civil protection, and founding the Euromed University, billions more Euros would be needed. Compared to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership’s (EMP) budget of 5,350 billion Euros between 2000 and 2006, the projected increase will be slight.
José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, has warned that little should be expected from the EU –budget, considering the amount of money that would be needed to complete the projects. In addition to the aforementioned programs, the UfM should work also as a tool for improving diplomatic relations.
Therefore, the UfM needs to attract private funds to provide a solid foundation for these projects. However, it is not yet clear who will finance the projects. Dorothée Schmid, a specialist of Euro-Mediterranean relations at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) in Paris, said in an interview to Euractiv, "Regarding private funds, we don't know yet who will get involved. It is not easy to attract the private sector on long term projects, which, by nature, tend to rather mobilise public funds."

Already, there has been some tension about what the summit can and should achieve. One point of contention is the forced cooperation in the Union between Arab states and Israel, which Arab leaders fear because it could "normalize" the ties with Israel. Another issue concerns Turkey, which worries that its membership in the Mediterranean Union could block it from gaining entry into the EU. Finally, yet importantly, there is tension with Libyan leader Gaddafi because he appeals to the Arabic states that do not to support the weak and Western orientated project.
It is evident that programs related to controversial issues, such as immigration and terrorism, have been predominantly omitted. Maybe the new setup tries to avoid the failures of the Barcelona Process, which has been terminated due to political apathy.

Scepticism about the strength and quality of the UfM can be understood by taking into account that very few concrete decisions were made at the launch. For example, France and Egypt will serve as the Union's first co-chairs, which will manage the summits and annual foreign affairs ministerial meetings; this is in accordance with the requirement that there be representation from one northern and one southern nation. The heads of states and governments will meet every two years and a permanent joint secretariat will be established to promote and follow up the projects. This joint secretariat is, according to Schmid, another controversial subject as the "French government would like the secretariat to play a more political role but the Commission would like to limit it to a more technical role." The Union's institutional architecture cannot be overestimated. The Union needs is own powerful institutions to push its policies in a dynamic but not too administrative way.

1 comment:

ben said...

Thanx for this great overview