'Mare Nostrum': The Launch of the Mediterranean Union

Article excerpt

'COMETH the hour, cometh the man'. The hour is now, the consideration is that the Mediterranean as a region requires the same political dynamic as the European mainland after Year Zero in 1945. This is where it begins again. The man is Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France, defined by his ancestry and his energy.

During the summit meeting from 13 to 14 July in Paris of 43 leaders of the European Union and the Mediterranean littoral countries Sarkozy said: 'For our future to be a future of security, justice and progress, we have to work very hard and do like the Europeans when they decided among themselves to end an era of wars and violence. We shall succeed together or fail together'

This was a direct allusion to the Treaty of Paris in 1951, when six countries (France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), devastated by war, decided to pool the resources which made weapons of war, and to put these resources under an authority outside themselves, but created by themselves. This became the supra-national authority of the European institutions, so well known today. It was an idea almost unique in history and the beginnings of a new political and legal order. It came from a sharing of sovereignty for common purposes and benefits.

The Treaty of Rome in 1957 continued this process and built upon what was a basis for security, which had to come before economic prosperity. The European Community transmuted in time into the European Union, which again has become a template for many other unions throughout the world. In his speech at the summit, Sarkozy concluded by saying: 'the generation that preceded us has been able to make peace in Europe. The generation that came to power, it is ours, will we make peace in the Mediterranean? That is the only thing that will count once it has begun ... our children will ask: have you made peace or is it that you continued to make war?'

Sarkozy's own ancestry undoubtedly contributed to his psychological approach to this new departure. Half-Hungarian and half-French, he also has Greek and Jewish ancestry, which have made his approach essentially cosmopolitan and empathetic. Driven by his own extraordinary energy, a new political dynamic now seems not only possible, but is now launched, in political terms, in the shortest possible time. It is reminiscent of another figure who changed outlooks in the twentieth century, Pope John XXIII, Angelo Roncalli. Told it was impossible to have an Ecumenical Council of the Church in 1963, he replied simply: 'Well, we'll have it in 1962'. Great issues require faith. The Council duly met in October 1962.

France's President has a similar immediacy of nature, yet a great idea will always meet deterrents. One of these for Sarkozy is or was a person of a very different political makeup, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. At first she poured cold water on the proposal of a Mediterranean Union, seeing it as a detraction to the influence of Germany. Other Northern states shared this scepticism.

In May 2008 Poland and Sweden put forward rival proposals to focus political effort on the EU's eastern neighbours, including the Ukraine, as the Herald Tribune reported. This initiative was discussed by EU foreign ministers. Under the Polish-Swedish plan, the EU would develop closer ties with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. 'We believe these countries should be part of the European family', said Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, the Polish Minister for Europe.

Thus it can be seen that the Mediterranean Union was only one idea spawned from a Europe looking beyond its borders. That would have been understood by Sarkozy, but he needed to contain and validate his own idea. 'Beyond the platitudes and projects lies the germ of a brilliant idea', wrote the Economist on 12th July, before the Union for the Mediterranean was launched in Paris. Sarkozy had complied with Merkel's objections, and the new Union was not to be seen as simply a French initiative, but a continuation of the moribund Barcelona Process, begun in 1995. …