Sarkozy's Watered-Down Union: EU Leaders Show Muted Enthusiasm for Club Med Plans

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was forced to drastically scale back his plans for a Paris-dominated Mediterranean Union. But even the watered-down plans for closer ties with the bloc's southern neighbors inspired only muted enthusiasm amongst his fellow EU leaders.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel led the charge against Sarkozy's more grandiose plans for a Mediterranean Union.
REUTERS

German Chancellor Angela Merkel led the charge against Sarkozy's more grandiose plans for a Mediterranean Union.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy tried to put a positive spin on the luke-warm backing his plans for a Mediterranean Union received in Brussels on Thursday, but the other EU leaders' enthusiasm was muted even about the watered-down plans to forge closer ties with the EU's southern neighbors.

Sarkozy presented the project to forge greater links between the 27-member bloc and 12 Mediterranean countries to the EU leaders on Thursday jointly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

After the meeting Sarkozy told reporters that the project was taken up with "great enthusiasm" on Thursday, although in effect the scheme is merely building on the already existing partnership that came into force in 1995.

"This initiative enjoys support in the Council and work will now begin in the relevant council bodies in order to prepare everything necessary," Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa said after chairing the meeting.

The new concept has shrunk from Sarkozy's vision of an international forum only including Mediterranean countries with nine new agencies and a bank, to just a regular meeting of the entire EU and non-member Mediterranean countries. In its new incarnation, however, the body will have two co-presidents and a secretariat of 20 bureaucrats. It is not yet clear who will pay for this new revamped "Club Med" or what specific projects it will work on.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the plan, which would now not divide southern and northern Europe and said the Commission would make practical proposals.

Others were less enthusiastic. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said there was still little clarity on what the plan entailed. "Had we voted on it today, it would definitely not have gone through," he told Associated Press. "I am somewhat skeptical."

Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said all the leaders had agreed to give "more volume" to EU ties with the Mediterranean region. However, he said that the leaders did not agree on adding extra EU cash for the project.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that while he broadly supported the plan he would like the EU to commit to "a European perspective," namely closer ties and eventual membership for Ukraine.

Germany's Chancellor Merkel had led the criticism of Sarkozy's more grandiose plans for a Paris-led Mediterranean Union. Merkel had been concerned that France's original plans would use EU money while boosting Paris' influence.

The two leaders met last week and hammered out a compromise on the French proposals, after Merkel insisted that any union should include all 27 member states and not just those bordering the Mediterranean. The Guardian newspaper reports on Friday that Merkel threatened to boycott the Paris EU summit in July unless Sarkozy scaled back his plans. "She was very firm," EU diplomats told the paper. "They had quite a fight about this."

Other EU members, including Austria, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, are reported to be annoyed with Sarkozy for trying to ram through a policy they see little use for given the EU already has in place a €2 billion-a-year aid program for the region. The so-called Euro-Mediterranean partnership has not yielded particularly impressive results, partly because of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as the presence of authoritarian governments in many of the states in question.

The new body will officially be launched at the July 13 summit in Paris at the start of France's six-month EU presidency.

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