At a meeting with Sarkozy in Hannover on March 3 German Chancellor Angela Merkel has finally agreed to the union's formation.
However, the alliance that Europe will try on is very different from what the energetic and ambitious French president suggested initially. Moreover, nobody can say how many countries will join the union and whether it will be viable at all.
He first brought this idea up during the presidential campaign last year. It was central to his foreign policy program. In a nutshell, Sarkozy proposed a regional political and economic alliance of Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Palestine, Portugal, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. It would be governed by a council, have rotating presidency, and conduct regular summits. Its goal would be to promote cooperation in settling regional issues such as immigration, develop economic contacts and trade, and counter terrorism. The proposed union is supposed to bridge Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
All regional diplomats and experts agree that this is a vital idea. It would be accepted if the proposed alliance were not presented as a replica of the European Union (EU). Moreover, it is abundantly clear that Sarkozy is a scene-stealer, and wants to duplicate or altogether replace many EU institutions with those of the proposed union. No wonder, his idea caused a chilly response in Baltic states.
Merkel was the first to declare that Berlin will not let it happen. She said Berlin will not allow EU funds to be spent on a union that will not include the majority of EU members (this was Sarkozy's initial idea). Merkel and Sarkozy have fallen out over his proposal. Off the record, German diplomats admitted that Merkel is very irritated, and has called Sarkozy "hyperactive and boastful."
It is surprising that they met in Hannover at all. A regular French-German summit in Bavaria was scheduled for that day, but Paris suspended it for three months - ostensibly because of the president's timetable. As a result, after the start of the CeBIT-2008 high tech fair, Merkel and Sarkozy settled their differences over the proposed alliance at curtailed talks.
The German Chancellor insisted that the union should include not only the seven coastal Mediterranean EU countries, but all 27 EU members, that is, 38 participants instead of the initial 18. Sarkozy had to accept this because without German support, any European idea is doomed to fail in Brussels.
But as a result, Germany has overloaded Sarkozy's Mediterranean boat so much that it may not be able to stay afloat. He had to agree to another idea of Merkel's. She wants the union to continue the Barcelona process - dialogue with the participation of all EU and Mediterranean countries. Started in 1995, it has now almost ground to a halt. Non-EU experts blame this on the cumbersome Brussels bureaucratic machine, and the reluctance of some countries to take part in the process that has nothing to do with their national interests.
Turkey does not want to hear about membership in the proposed union despite Sarkozy's enthusiastic efforts to invite it. He calls Turkey one of the union's future foundations, but Turkish officials have sarcastically dubbed it Club Med, referring to a popular chain of French tourist hotels. Turkey got it in one that the cunning Sarkozy wants to plant on it his vague alliance instead of the desired EU membership.
Libya does not want to join the alliance because it sees it as a weapon to destroy Maghreb unity. But without these two countries, the union will be somewhat lopsided.
Sarkozy is fully resolved to bring his idea to completion. He is going to announce the formation of the union at the EU summit in Paris on July 13-14. This should be the first major achievement of Sarkozy and France, which will assume EU presidency on July 1. Sarkozy is planning to reach the peak of his Mediterranean triumph on July 14 - the Bastille Day, French national holiday. Vive la France!
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