Med Union plan leaves EU door ajar for Turkey

STRASBOURG (AFP) – The European Commission unveiled plans Tuesday to boost ties with the European Union’s southern neighbors, but they dealt a blow to France’s vision of a grand Mediterranean Union which has angered Turkey. The plans focus on raising the profile of relations with Mediterranean rim countries with a regular summit and ministerial meetings, and would see a new forum for ties launched in Paris on July 13-14 with a raft of projects. It would revamp the creaking Barcelona Process, which was launched in 1995 as a framework for political, economic and social ties, but whose aims have often been thwarted by confrontations between Israel and Arab countries. The forum would be managed by a co-presidency involving one European and one partner nation, but all 27 EU countries will be eligible under the Commission’s plans, not just those around the Mediterranean, as France had hoped. «We are a European Union of 27 countries. It is clear that there are others with interests,» EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said. «This can be a great project if everyone takes part and if everyone feels implicated,» she told reporters at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Germany in particular had feared that the French idea was an attempt to counter Berlin’s growing influence in Central Europe and Chancellor Angela Merkel worked hard to reorient it. Ferrero-Waldner said the Commission’s model was the best way to ensure success. «I see a possibility for a fusion that will be a success and it will be the only way to make a success of this project,» she told reporters. The forum will unite 44 countries. These include the 27 EU states and 13 partners – Albania, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Tunisia, Syria and Turkey – plus Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Monaco. The Commission’s projects promote regional growth include cleaning up pollution in the Mediterranean Sea, building seaways, linking ports and motorways across land, a solar energy plan and developing civil protection. The whole Mediterranean Union idea was first floated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy during election campaigning last year as a union with states stretching from Morocco to Turkey. Indeed it was touted as a more appropriate club for mainly Muslim Turkey to join than the European Union. But while the «Barcelona Process – Union for the Mediterranean,» as it is now known, would include Turkey as a «partner» this version would not have any impact on Ankara’s long and often tortuous quest to join the EU. «It is very clear that this project is not directed against Turkey,» said Ferrero-Waldner, adding that she was «personally confident» that Ankara would accept an invitation to attend the EU-Mediterranean summit in July. Despite the stark contrast between the Commission’s proposals and the vision from Paris, the Elysee welcomed the work done by the EU’s executive body. «The French authorities are delighted by the commission’s presentation, in such a short time,» a statement said. «A deeper examination of the Commission’s proposals must now take place.» EU leaders are set to discuss the plans at a summit in Brussels June 19-20, with France set to take over the bloc’s rotating presidency just afterward on July 1.