BRUSSELS: President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany will end months of wrangling Thursday by presenting a joint plan to strengthen Europe’s ties with countries on its southern borders.The French and German leaders, whose relationship has been marred by a series of differences, will brief colleagues at a summit in Brussels on proposals for a Union for the Mediterranean designed to intensify cooperation in the region. The idea provoked fierce opposition from Berlin when it was put forward by Sarkozy last year.
A less ambitious version of the plan, outlined in a new document seen by the International Herald Tribune, says that the new structure will attempt “to open a new phase of cooperation in the Mediterranean” and revitalize efforts to engage with the region.
The document of less than two pages emerged after a meeting this month between Sarkozy and Merkel in Hannover at which they appeared to overcome many differences.
The ability of the two leaders to stick to a unified position during and after the summit Thursday will test whether they can work together effectively, despite sharply differing political styles.
The alliance between Paris and Berlin has traditionally underpinned European integration, but relations have been strained over several issues in the past year.
France has sought to pressure the European Central Bank on interest rates and exchange rates in a way which some German policy makers fear could undermine its independence. Disputes over industrial policy and the environment have also caused strain.
The EU’s relationship with southern Mediterranean countries is currently administered under the so-called Barcelona process which includes Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. Libya has observer status. Launched in 1995, it has delivered few clear achievements.
After his election last year, Sarkozy set out his “Mediterranean dream” and said that the EU’s southern states and their non-EU neighbors should “realize that their destinies are tied together.”
Suggesting a Mediterranean council linking southern EU nations with non-EU countries, Sarkozy said a range of issues from the economy and the environment to migration and efforts to combat acts of terrorism were vital to the region.
For Berlin, the idea of a union similar to the EU itself was anathema because it would exclude Germany – which does not border the Mediterranean – from an important area of European integration.
As the largest contributor to the EU budget, Germany was apprehensive that EU funds might be allocated to support traditional French foreign policy interests. Under the new compromise, Germany has won assurances that the Mediterranean Union will replace the Barcelona process, that no new structures will be created and all that EU countries will participate on equal terms.
The Franco-German document, circulated to governments ahead of the summit, says the new union will have two presidents who will serve for two years, one drawn from the non-EU countries and the other from one of the 27 member states. Summit meetings will take place every two years.
In a partial victory for Paris, the southern nations of Europe will hold the first presidencies.
But a 20-person secretariat will be headed by two directors. One will be drawn from non-EU nations, the other from the EU member states with no preference for southern nations.
The document says that funding identified for the Barcelona process could be diverted to the Mediterranean group but it does not identify project areas. It also suggests that money from the EU’s budget surplus may be used, an idea likely to be opposed by member states like Britain that are anxious to reduce EU spending.
Because of the way the EU budget is organized there is no overall figure for spending on Mediterranean countries. But, for the period 2007-10, Algeria has been allocated 220 million, Egypt 558 million, Morocco 654 million, the Palestinian Authority 632 million, Syria 130 million, Tunisia 300 million and Israel – which counts as a developed country – 8 million.
Some EU officials were privately critical of the paper. “These are some ideas scribbled down on a piece of paper,” said an official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There are many questions that need to be looked at to see if this is viable.”
By Stephen Castle
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Source: International Herald Tribune