Think EU-MED

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Union for the Mediterranean is Coming Closer –What Will Come?

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (also Barcelona Process)was initiated in 1995 to improve and develop the EU’s relations with neighboring Mediterranean states. The goals and ambitions of this multilateral project have, thus far, not fulfilled the high expectations. One of the reasons for the lack of success may be due to the failure of the Mediterranean States to cooperate with one another (no wonder, as Israel is also part of the Barcelona Process). Perhaps the most essential origin for the shortfalling lies in the uncertain and shy policy of the EU itself. The EU did too little to attract the southern neighbors from executing economic and political reforms. Now, a new "Mediterranean Union" shall continue the Barcelona-Process with some modifications in the design.

The French president Nicola Sarkozy first proposed the idea of a new Mediterranean Union during his national election campaign in 2007. This resulted from the conclusion that the Barcelona Process failed in achieving its goals and that EU external relations focused rather on the Eastern European neighbourhood.
Sarkozy's proposal should be a kind of exclusive club between the Mediterranean neighbors and five EU member states (France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Malta). Not only would this Union keep out the other EU states, this plan would also indicate that it would be more beneficial for Turkey to join this Union than to join the EU. So, this proposal would have fulfilled Sarkozy’s goals to improve the relations with the French-speaking states in Africa and to keep out Turkey, as he is a strong opponent of Turkey's EU membership.

Sarkozy's proposed Mediterranean Union

While this proposal attracted support from the EU Mediterranean states, other EU states, especially Germany, criticized the plans because the new union could compete with the EU or the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and split the EU down the middle.
In addition, why let pay Europe for a project that would mainly help French companies acquire lucrative contracts in water management, sea purification, and nuclear energy that do not have German Chancellor Angela Merkel's support? Merkel wanted more EU focus and funds placed into the Union's expansion to the east and did not want to shut the EU-door for Turkey. Also, some Mediterranean partner states, especially Algeria, backed Merkel's efforts.

After long negotiations between Sarkozy and Merkel, both agreed on a revised union with the participation of all 27-member states. The new agreement, entitled 'The Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean', would be managed by a rotating co-presidency involving one EU and one Mediterranean partner country. Nevertheless, it also stated that all 27 EU countries would be eligible for co-presidency under the Commission's plan, and the Commission has also made clear that this project is not directed against Turkey’s EU accession ambitions.
The Union’s main areas will be energy, environment, civil protection and transport, and a focus on crime, terrorism, and illegal immigration. Potential projects of the forum are new sea traffic routes, depollution of Mediterranean waters, improvements to maritime security, and exploitation of solar power in North Africa to help meet the energy needs of the region.

Although EU leaders backed the “Union for the Mediterranean” at a summit in March, the final design of the Union still remains uncertain. The EU-Mediterranean summit in Paris on July 13, under the French EU Presidency, must bring clear results as the EU leaders could adopt a final version at their summit to be held in Brussels on June 19-20.

European Commission: Euro-Mediterranean Partnership/Barcelona Process

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

EuroMed: Building bridges across the Mediterranean

Politicians from across the EU and all the Mediterranean countries meet to discuss the situation in the Middle East, the world's biggest free trade zone, climate change, energy and the strengthening of the EuroMed Parliamentary Assembly. Athens, March 2008.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Europe for Mediterranean Journalists

“Europe for Mediterranean Journalists” is an 18-month long project financed by the European Commission. The European Journalism Centre, the International Federation of Journalists, the Thomson Foundation and BBJ Consult are running the website. Sixty media organisations from Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey are taking part in the project. All journalists from these sixty media teams are participating in the programme and will form the network; but also journalists from the Mediterranean region and from Europe are invited to join if you are involved in the media.

The initiative aims to teach journalists from Southern Mediterranean countries how to gather information about European affairs. The program consists of conferences, workshops, and seminars about the relations between the EU and the Mediterranean countries, and of training in new media technologies and methods.

On the trilingual (English, French and Arabic) website, journalists is provided information on specific aspects of the cooperation and relations between the European Union and the Mediterranean region. Journalist from the Southern Mediterranean countries may become part of the journalists’ network section. There you can build up a network within you have the opportunity to contact partners and colleagues from the region for help, advice or exchange of projects and ideas.

In my opinion the creation of a network among journalists in the region is important to reinforce co-operation among media. However, the website gives hardly information about the status of the project. As the website stated, the project started on May 29-31. However, in which year it came into practice, I could not find out. The latest news on the website was written in the beginning of 2008. If it is still running is unclear; maybe a small notice about would be worth.

Europe for Mediterranean Journalists

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Civil War and Old Conflicts in Lebanon

Fighting has largely ended between predominantly Sunni supporters of the government and the Shiite opposition group Hezbollah. Last week, the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah turned against its own people to wrest more political power from the western oriented government. During their violent occupations and armed clashes, the Hezbollah militia brought much of Lebanon's capital, Beirut, and surrounding areas under its control. Its forces controlled most of western Beirut and blockaded the city's port and airport. At least 80 people have been killed and over 200 have been wounded in the recent fighting, which is the country's worst civil crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. After six days of clashes between Hezbollah fighters and pro-government gunmen, the previously neutral Lebanese army stepped up patrols to restore order.

The strife erupted after the government, under the US-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, sacked the pro-Shiite head of security at Beirut airport and announced it was taking action against Hezbollah’s private telephone network on May 8. The government declared Hezbollah’s military communications network as a threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, labelled the government’s decisions a “declaration of war”, as the phone network was an essential part of Hezbollah’s weapon campaign. The actions of Lebanon's Shiite militant Hezbollah movement against the Lebanese government tend to be understood as a confirmation of who has the power in the state. The government's decision to withdraw the measures against Hezbollah marks a significant short-term victory for the Shiites.

What are the reasons for the crisis? Over the past three years, there have been continuous political problems between the government and Hezbollah. The situation worsened after the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005, and the following Cedar Revolution that lasted until 1976 and ultimately ended the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon. Further assassinations of members of the parliament and public officials spilled over into violence in the streets of Beirut. The wider political divisions and ongoing unstable situation has forced the Lebanese Parliament to postpone a vote to pick a new president. Lebanon has been without a president since Emile Lahoud gave up the post last November. In Lebanon, there is an agreement that the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the National Assembly is a Shiite Muslim. The Christian group makes up about 39% of the total population and are mainly Maronite Catholic and Greek Orthodox. The biggest religious group is Muslim, which accounts for almost 60% of the population (Shiite, Sunni, Druze).