EU pushes for Euro-Med focus on trade links and environment

STRASBOURG – A planned Euro-Mediterranean Union should start by upgrading sea and road links, cleaning up the Mediterranean Sea and developing solar energy, the European Commission said yesterday. Laying out its vision for an initiative launched by French President Nicolas Sarkozy but watered down by other EU states, the EU executive said the Mediterranean was of vital strategic importance and ties with the region needed a higher profile. 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, it said in a policy paper. The union, to be launched at a Paris summit on July 13, will build on the existing Euro-Mediterranean partnership, launched in 1995 in Barcelona, and hence known as the Barcelona process. The Commission recommended that the new organization, dubbed 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 consensus. It called for a shared presidency, to be held by France for an initial six months on the EU side before the Lisbon treaty reforming EU institutions enters into force. After that the new long-term president of the council of EU states, the European Commission president and the EU’s high representative for foreign policy will lead the European side. The presidency on the side of non-EU Mediterranean partner states would be chosen for a period of two years, it said. The Commission set out four projects that should be considered for approval at the inaugural July 13 Paris summit. These included improved maritime and road infrastructure, identifying new sea routes and upgrading port facilities, and building a new road to link the Maghreb Arab states – Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. The new union should also give added impetus and finance to a plan agreed by Euro-Med ministers in 2006 for de-pollution of the Mediterranean, a key French priority. 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. Sarkozy was forced to scale back his original grand vision after Germany voiced reservations, fearing it would split the EU and siphon off common 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 the existing partnership. Paris had originally wanted EU members of the grouping limited to those with Mediterranean coasts and then sought to confine the presidency to such states. It still wants the union’s permanent secretariat to be based in a Mediterranean country, with French officials suggesting Morocco, Tunisia or EU member Malta as possibilities. Diplomats say the Commission is keen for practical and political reasons to have the headquarters in Brussels, where it could exert most influence. 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 normalization 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. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak could lead southern states in the union.