Think EU-MED

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Failed Summits -The Union for the Mediterranean at a standstill


After being in place for two years the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) has not achieved any policy outcome and still lacks a visible rapprochement between the two shores. This is even more frustrating when considering that the Spanish EU presidency will pass the torch to Belgium in a few weeks without having been able to breathe new life into the Union. Once again the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has blocked any policy developments in the Euro-Mediterranean relations. Does the Union have any future at all?

When Spain took over the EU presidency, it was expected that Madrid is able to bring the Union back on track after two years of political stagnation. Spain’s high ambitions in the fields of EU’s foreign and neighbourhood policy should be especially translated into the relations with the countries of North Africa and the Middle East. Two summits were considered as one of the cornerstones of the Presidency’s agenda, namely the 4th Euro-Mediterranean ministerial conference about water-management in the region and the 2nd meeting of the Head of states and governments which should have been one of the political highlights of the Spanish presidency.

The Water project is among the six key priorities of the UfM and should manage the water resources and promote common initiatives in the region. It was one of the areas of cooperation which was seen beforehand as a rather uncomplicated field as it was designed to make progress in a specific technical field of cooperation without touching sensitive political areas of the participating states. In addition, it was supposed to be an important field of cooperation for the water scarce region affected by climate change and high population growth. The summit in Barcelona in April 2010 brought together ministers from the 43 countries of the UfM in order to declare the joint ambitions of lowering the consumption of water between now and the year 2025, to levels 25 % below those of 2005. However, instead of signing the document, the conference ended without any feasible result and hampered again any multilateral approach. The conference failed because of a nuance of terminology when Israel and Arab countries disagreed over how to name the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel’s representatives objected to “occupied territories” in the document and proposed instead the term “territories under occupation” which was not accepted by the Arab bloc. In the end, the meeting failed to approve a joint strategy for guaranteeing the water resources of the whole Mediterranean basin.

The 2nd summit of the Head of States and Governements in Barcelona, scheduled to be held in Barcelona on June 7, should have been a key date in the agenda of the Spanish Presidency and give fresh impetus to the stalled relations.
The summit has been cancelled and postponed to November to give the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians a chance to succeed and time to bear fruit. In a statement, the Spanish foreign ministry said: “This postponement will also give a greater amount of time for the process of Israeli-Palestinian talks, which has just been launched, to begin to yield results that will help create the right conditions to ensure the success of the summit.”
Unofficially, many Arab governments have threatened beforehand to stay away from the summit if Israelis foreign minister Liebermann would attend the summit. What actually motivated the Spanish presidency of the EU and the two co-chairs of the Mediterranean Union, Egypt and France, to postpone the Summit is however secondary. Neither Spain is to blame or the new structures of the rotating presidency after the Lisbon Treaty but again the EU’s approach towards the Mediterranean which is depended and too vulnerable from the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Middle East conflict remains the major impediment to improved EU-Med relations and to regional integration. The relations with the MENA region are infected by the conflict which will hinder the implementation of any common strategy in the near future. After the Gaza war in late 2008, the East Jerusalem settlement expansions and most recently the Gaza flotilla conflict it will be increasingly difficult that Israelis and Arab representatives will sit on the same table within the UfM.

How to overcome this standstill?

Should the EU go ahead without including Israel in the future network of cooperation as Eberhard Rhein suggests?

Should the EU-Med relations be completely redesigned by making peace in the Middle East a priority?

Should the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation try a new regional approach, particularly in the Maghreb as Jean-Baptiste Buffet proposes?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

THINK EU-MED #1

What future for the Union for the Mediterranean?

Timo Behr asks in his 2-page comment for the Finnish Institute of International Affairs about the future for the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) after the cancellation of the biannual summit.
The current Israeli-Palestinian crisis has led again to the blockage of the UfM and Behr suggests that it should not be an option for the EU to wait out for any progress in these indirect peace talks. As the chance of success is little the EU should rather concentrate on its own policies and act now to avoid the “further disintegration of its regional policy.”
The Union has to “employ a mixture of quick fixes and long-term restructuring”.

In the short-term perspective Behr recommends, on the one hand, to solve the question of the successor of the French-Egyptian Co-Presidency which ends this July. One the other hand, the newly created Secretariat in Barcelona needs to push ahead the UfM’s core projects such as the Mediterranean Solar Plan and the Motorways of the Sea.

In the long-term the UfM needs to be isolated “from the vagaries of the Middle East” by strengthening the non-political Secretariat and by increasing the “variable geometry” in the development of the envisaged projects.

Dr. Timo Behr is Researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

What future for the Union for the Mediterranean
? Published 7.6.2010