Rhein on Energy and Climate

It is almost a year since President Sarkozy has launched his idea for a “Mediterranean Union” uniting all riparian countries in a more intensive form of cooperation than the Barcelona process between the EU and its neighbours in the MED.

Today, nothing is left of his initial idea. The name has changed into “Union for the Mediterranean”, composed of all EU and all MED countries, including the Western Balkans, a tall figure of almost 50 participants. According to French-German thinking the primary function of this Union should be the promotion of “new projects of a regional dimension”. Two co-presidents, from the south and the north, assisted by a “light” Secretariat, composed from officials from the south and the north should be in charge of organising summit and ministerial meetings.

A summit meeting of all the prospective parties scheduled for July 13-14 in Paris will formally inaugurate the new “UfM”. During the past few months hectic and often confused discussions have taken place in Europe and around the MED on how to best fit the “UfM”into the existing structures of Euro-MED cooperation.

These discussions have centred on the mechanics and the institutional aspects rather than on substance. There has been little debate on the value added of the “UfM” over the intensive cooperation that is already taking place between the north and south, both bilaterally and regionally.

Indeed, there is hardly any area, from education to environment, energy, migration or security that is not covered by almost monthly ministerial meetings and 50 working groups set up to exchange ideas between officials from both sides of the MED. Up to now, the Commission and the Secretariat of the EU Council prepare these meetings in close collaboration with their colleagues from the South; and everybody seems quite happy with this setup.

Of course, the North has always been the driving force behind the process. But considering the political divisions and logistic incapacities of the south, nobody has seriously taken issue with the northern “dominance”. Will a new Secretariat, composed of 20 officials from both sides, located somewhere in the MED, do a more efficient job or simply create bureaucratic frictions between Brussels and say Malta or Tunis, the possible locations of the Secretariat?

And can anyone really believe that two-year “Co-Presidencies”, say of the French and Egyptian Presidents, will correct the structural imbalances between the “powerful” EU and 10-12 countries in the south that lack coherence and good governance!

The Euro-MED partnership does neither need a new name nor additional institutional and bureaucratic gimmicks. It needs more sincere debates on what is going wrong in the south. It needs more focus on the four basic issues the south will increasingly face in the coming decades: high unemployment, inadequate education, increasing environmental strains and last, not least, poor governance.

Despite innumerable conferences and talks the EU has failed to put the necessary political and financial focus on its southern neighbours. It spends less than one percent of its budget – one billion Euros annually – on helping the south face its huge modernisation problems, to which one may add three billion Euros EIB loans annually.

The Summit Meeting July 13-14 may help to raise awareness among European political leaders for what is at stake in the MED. To that end, both sides have to address the serious political, economic, social and environmental challenges the MED faces today and even more so in the future. To tackle them, serious in-depth reforms will be necessary. Europe already offers its experience and a bit of money to those countries that engage in serious reform policies. It should do more. The real work has to take place at home, not in jumbo meetings.

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  1. It looks as if UfM was a union of French and German national interests. The ideas floated by Mr Sarkozy on Mediterranean Union originally would have left Germany and the UK out of a new, EU-backed or financed initiative towards places that are important countries of influence in economic and political turns for France. The UfM now incorporates the Western Balkans which is important for Germany, Austria and other Central European members. I believe that the Morocco-EU relations are very different from the Kosovo-EU or Montenegro-EU relations, and the whole idea of UfM is to put a cover over diverging national ambitions in the EU. The fact that not already existing structures will manage these relationships (say, the DGs responsible for external relations and enlargement) also highlight the national interest here. I do not think that the UfM will make the EU stronger.

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