The Mediterranean Union: Sarkozy's 'Grand Design'

Article excerpt

WE are all of us informed by our backgrounds and influenced by our upbringing. Of no-one is this more true than Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France. Erstwhile first generation immigrant, only one quarter French, even this salient factor about him is questioned. According to some he was born in Hungary and admitted such in a previous visit. His convoluted ancestral history contributes to an overall psyche which is at the same time predisposed to explore ideas of a greater European Union and cautious about the inclusion of certain elements which may not be conducive to its cohesion.

His recent visit to Hungary, the homeland of his father, and previous visits he has made there tell us something of the ambivalent way he approaches his own background, and of his early revelations of policy. Indeed, an early critique of these two considerations may very well be instructive as events unfold. Sarkozy's own Hungarian roots go way back to the sixteenth century, his family being enobled as minor aristocracy by the Emperor Ferdinand II in 1628.

Sarkozy admires the Hungarian people, whatever his feelings towards his father and his father's language: 'I belong to a generation that grew up in the tradition of the events of Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968, and when I was a student, I always greatly valued the courage of the Hungarian people, who never gave up'. It was appropriate therefore that it has been in Hungary, during his first visit to Eastern Europe, that the President chose to expand on his ideas for a Mediterranean Union and its further consequences, a plan he had revealed even before becoming President. It is interesting to note in what has been described as his 'truly divisive personality' more than a trace element of his ancestry, being defined also as the 'Half-Hungarian prince of the Gaullists', and now indeed a Prince in name, as the President of the French Republic is also, ex-officio, Co-Prince of the Principality of Andorra, a title dating back to the time of Henri IV, King of Navarre and King of France. It was a title not lost on the status-conscious de Gaulle.

Many similarities have been drawn between Sarkozy and Napoleon: his size, his dynamism and ambition, his wives and children, his foreign ancestry, his childhood and youth, his quest for a father figure, but of course he remains his own man. While in Hungary in September, Sarkozy stated 'Europe cannot remain immobile, Europe has to take a step forward. I'd like the French Presidency (of the EU, in the second half of 2008) to be useful to Europe--we need to act together and we need to push Europe to act together'.

Sarkozy is perhaps more than aware that all previous attempts at European Union have stalled on the questions of Russia and Turkey, going right back to the Grand Dessin of the Duc de Sully in the reign of Henri IV, whether these countries are called Russia and Turkey or Muscovy and the Sublime Porte. They present problems which seem intractable, although no problem is unsolvable if both the parties are disposed to a solution. Sarkozy addressed the question in Hungary of the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline, aimed at reducing dependency on Russian gas. A conference on this very question was taking place in Budapest on the day Sarkozy was there, and he said that France backed this project.

The call for the Mediterranean Union tackles both the question of Turkish membership, and addresses the question of a world political and economic balance, taking in the vital questions of energy and that of human resources, well described as the 'coal and steel' of the Mediterranean Union proposals, just as the actual coal and steel were the foundation of the Treaty of Paris in 1951. It is the sharing of resources for the benefit of all which defined that Treaty. Human resources and energy are the resources which need to be shared by the sixteen states which ring the littoral of the Mediterranean. The logic is that if this is done, and if proposals can be reinforced, then economic wellbeing will defuse political extremism. …