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Brussels proposes Mediterranean Union plans

Latest update : 2008-05-20

The European Commission unveiled its plans for the Mediterranean Union on Tuesday, scaling back the proposal originally put forward by France for an EU partnership with the southern Mediterranean neighbours. (Report: C.Moore)

STRASBOURG, France, May 20  - A new union of European and Mediterranean countries should aim to boost trade and prosperity, helping to reduce illegal migration, terrorism and criminality, the European Commission said on Tuesday.

Laying out its vision for the plan launched by French President Nicolas Sarkozy but diluted by other EU states, the EU executive said the Mediterranean region was vital strategically.

The Commission set out four projects for approval at an inaugural summit of the new union in Paris on July 13.

These include new sea routes and upgraded port facilities,  a new road link for the Maghreb Arab states Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, and added impetus and finance to a agreed plan for cleaning up the Mediterranean.

Additional projects cover improved maritime security and plans to exploit North Africa’s plentiful sunshine to generate solar power to help meet the EU’s huge energy import needs.

“This is an initiative to reinforce, to reinvigorate our relationship,” EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told a news conference.

“The more we can develop the region in the south, the less illegal migration there will be...The more prosperity we can give, the less terrorism, the less criminality will be there.”

The project should encompass all 27 EU states plus Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Albania, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Monaco, a Commission policy paper said.


Sarkozy was forced to scale back his original grand vision after German voiced fears it would split the EU and siphon off funds. In March, EU leaders agreed to a limited union involving a regular summit, a joint presidency and a small secretariat.

In practice, it will be little more than a new political umbrella over an existing Euro-Mediterranean partnership, launched in 1995, known as the Barcelona process.

The Commission recommended that the new organisation, called “Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean”, should hold summits every two years, but avoided suggesting where to locate its headquarters, saying that should be decided by the summit.

The presidency on the EU side will be held by France for an initial six months before the Lisbon treaty reforming EU institutions enters into force. It will then by the new long-term president of the council of EU states, the European Commission president and the EU’s high representative for foreign policy.

Paris had originally wanted the grouping limited to states with Mediterranean coasts. It still wants the union’s permanent secretariat in a Mediterranean country, with French officials suggesting Morocco, Tunisia or EU member Malta as possibilities.

Ferrero-Waldner said the Commission favoured a “light” secretariat backed by a Joint Permanent Committee of members of the union based in Brussels, something that should allow the EU executive to exert close control on its activities.

Sarkozy has dismissed fears the plan would tie EU states into a new, unwanted political corset, saying it would allow some states to work closely and others to stay on the sidelines.

Syria, Libya and some other Arab states appear lukewarm as it might suggest an indirect normalisation of ties with Israel, while Turkey has been reluctant to engage in anything that might be seen as an alternative to its drive for full EU membership.  (Reporting by David Brunnstrom, editing by Paul Taylor)

Date created : 2008-05-20