EU - Franco-German 'Mediterrenean Union' tensions cloud summit

14th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

EU leaders gathered Thursday amid tensions over a French proposal for a new Mediterranean Union.

   BRUSSELS, March 14, 2008  - EU leaders gathered Thursday amid tensions
over a French proposal for a new Mediterranean Union and warnings that
increasing competition for energy resources could fuel major conflicts.
   The two-day summit in Brussels will also focus on environment policy amid
fears that Europe's tactics to cut greenhouse gas emissions might just export
jobs and pollution abroad.
   However, it is the Mediterranean project that will test unity, and whether
French President Nicolas Sarkozy will respect a promise to Germany to water
down a plan he first raised in earnest during last year's election campaign.
   Ahead of the summit, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker
underlined a concern already voiced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that
some EU nations might be excluded.
   "What's important is that all the EU member countries take part in an
equitable way in this undertaking," Juncker said.
   It was a line backed by European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.
   "We really welcome this, at the same time, it is important that all member
states of the EU are engaged in it," he said, and also "we hope that all
countries in the region ... will be participating".
   Once seen as a fully-fledged club for Turkey, whose EU membership is
opposed by France, the new union appears to have evolved into a forum for
cooperation with countries around the Mediterranean rim.
   A document circulated among France's EU partners in Brussels this week said that the new union "has the role of promoting cooperation in a regional
dimension, to develop solidarity" between those taking part.
   But despite this compromise, Merkel has still not decided whether to attend
a July 13 summit in Paris on the project, with southern Mediterranean
countries present, just after France takes over the EU's rotating presidency.
   Germany believes that France could be trying to use the project to counter
the influence Berlin has gained since the EU expanded to encompass 10 mainly central European neighbours in 2004.
   One European diplomat said that the idea was born from "such ignorance"
about the EU's so-called Barcelona Process with Mediterranean partners that it
was "lamentable" and "a catastrophe."
   More recently, other EU leaders have tried to "re-orient it," and certainly
"Merkel hammered it home," the diplomat said of Sarkozy's project.
   Launched in 1995 as a framework for political, economic and social ties,
the Barcelona Process has regularly been thwarted in its aims by
confrontations between Israel and the Arab countries taking part.
   "I like to say yes to things I understand and that are presented to me. For
the moment, I haven't heard anything," Juncker said. "I am waiting to hear the
explanations that he'll give us."
   Britain and Scandinavian countries are notably sceptical about the project.
   Some EU countries doubt the usefulness of creating a new structure for
existing policies and many are also worried about how the project would be
financed since a unanimous vote would be required for any EU funds to be used.
   On Friday, the summit will turn to fighting global warming and the turmoil
on the world's financial markets, aiming to boost confidence as the dollar
plunges and oil prices sky-rocket.
   The renewed focus on climate change comes amid new concerns about the
viability of biofuels, and warnings that the phenomenon is likely to have a
serious impact on world security.
   The leaders will receive a report by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana
and External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner which says that
"significant potential conflicts" are likely in years to come because of
"intensified competition over access to, and control over, energy resources."


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