Sarkozy to Open Union for the Mediterranean; European, N. African, Mideast Leaders to Coordinate on Projects

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Byline: Baptiste Etchegaray, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

After months of diplomatic quarrels, French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday will host his cherished Union for the Mediterranean, a group aimed at promoting concrete projects among states bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

In the glass-domed Grand Palais in Paris, most of the leaders of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East are expected to endorse Mr. Sarkozy's plan for the new north-south community.

"It is in southern Europe where our future has been at stake," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner wrote recently in a column in the Le Monde newspaper to justify the initiative.

Yet the road was long and tough before almost all of the 44 countries involved - 27 from Europe and 17 from North Africa and the Middle East - agreed to meet to start what Paris hopes will be the shining achievement of France's six-month presidency of the European Union that began July 1.

The initial project Mr. Sarkozy outlined in a speech in Tangiers, Morocco, in October involved creating an organization linking only the EU members on the northern shore of the sea with North African and Middle Eastern countries to the south, with no role for northern European countries.

Italy and Spain quickly endorsed the plan, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel objected, claiming the plan could deepen regional polarization and become a rival of the European Union itself.

"Sarkozy's idea was fair, as the Mediterranean Sea represents an instable geopolitical zone [that needs to be addressed]. But he presented his plan exactly the way he should not have done: seeming to play the game alone, without consulting any of his European counterparts and first of all Germany," said Sylvie Goulard, head of the French wing of the European Movement, a pro-integration campaign group.

As a result, at an EU summit in March in Hanover, Germany, Mr. Sarkozy had to cut back his plan and agree to fold the proposed union into an existing EU-Mediterranean arrangement, eventually making the initiative a common EU plan in order to reach a compromise with Mrs. Merkel.

"Sarkozy understood France must work with its European partners to launch any significant project. We cannot do as if the EU did not exist. We need to cultivate our European garden," Ms. Goulard wrote in an essay.

Soon after winning the support of Europe, Mr. Sarkozy faced problems bringing to the same table old rivals of the Middle East, especially the Arabs and Israel. …