A proud President Sarkozy has a spring in his step after the birth of his brainchild, The Mediterranean Union. For the most part it revives the 1995 Barcelona Process, which had been gathering dust in recent years.
Despite a lukewarm reception from leaders in northern Europe, Sarkozy brought to the table all 27 EU members plus 16 other countries with Mediterranean coastlines. In all, around one billion citizens were represented, with the only absentee being Libya.
Sarkozy has already set out his plans for the Union’s future. Drawing the inaugural summit to a close, he said discussions had been “extremely rich.” He announced there would be a summit every two years and that the Union would be co-presided by one northern and one southern Mediterranean country. France and Egypt will get the ball rolling.
A General Secretariat will be in charge of raising funds and following the Union’s projects to fruition.
For the time being these regional initiatives include: de-pollution of the sea, improving transport routes across and around the Med, working to prevent and better respond to natural and man-made disasters, developing alternative energy, setting up a pan-Mediterranean University and helping small and medium-sized businesses.
On the diplomatic front, the summit was noticeable for Syria’s return from the international wilderness.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pledged to re-establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon and his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman provided one of the photographic highlights in Paris.
Another was the firm handshake between Israel’s Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The two sides have never been closer to a peace deal said Olmert. However, behind the symbolic gestures and declarations of goodwill lie some less enthusiastic voices.
The Swedish Foreign Minister for example tempered the optimism, saying that “the world would not be changed by this meeting.” Sweden is among a group of EU countries that are more concerned with a partnership to the east rather than the south of Europe.
As for funding, Brussels has already warned that little EU money will be available for Mediterranean Union projects.