EU - French 'Club Med' plan part of Sarkozy's EU apprenticeship
French President Nicolas Sarkozy could not resist taking a bow when one of his pet projects, albeit highly modified, was endorsed.French 'Club Med' plan part of Sarkozy's EU apprenticeship
by Philippe Alfroy
France's grand plan to boost ties with Mediterranean countries, diluted by its EU partners, is a stern lesson in the art of European compromise three months before Paris takes the bloc's reins.
Just as when he claimed credit for Europe's "simplified" Lisbon Treaty of
reforms, French President Nicolas Sarkozy could not resist taking a bow when
one of his pet projects, albeit highly modified, was endorsed.
"This is the third French initiative after the simplified treaty, after the
group of wise men, which has won a large consensus in Europe. This is very
good news," he told reporters.
And while he rejected claims that his Union for the Mediterranean had been
watered down, he did concede that the final result had just a little European
"A compromise had to be found with the EU countries not in the region, and
I perfectly understand that they wanted to feel involved," he said.
From its origins as a union with states stretching from Morocco to Turkey,
Sarkozy's plan emerged from the EU machine as a forum for regional cooperation
based on an old structure.
Early on, he even suggested it would be a good club for Turkey to join,
given his belief that the large mainly Muslim country does not have a place in
the European Union.
"I don't know if it will be a success," said one senior summit participant,
who spoke about the sensitive issue only on condition of anonymity, after it
had been thrashed out over dinner late Thursday.
The project "will bring nothing concrete for European citizens, except for
abstract things like fewer refugees in Europe or a dialogue of cultures," this
Germany feared that the project -- not the first to be watered down by
France's EU partners -- would involve only southern European nations, and
Chancellor Angela Merkel worked hard to re-orient it.
Berlin was also concerned that France would try to use the plan as a
counter-weight to Germany's growing influence in central Europe since the EU
expanded eastward in 2004.
The French president's energy and drive to get results since he took power
last year has previously run into a wall in Europe, where action is usually
only taken after a consensus across all 27 nations has been found.
"This is not the only occasion when President Sarkozy has made an impulsive
and ill-defined proposal on a subject of strategic importance of the EU,"
noted Michael Emerson, analyst at the Centre for European Policy Studies think
In December, leaders agreed to set up a "reflection group" to consider
Europe's long-term future, but only after tempering a French demand that the
committee determine how far the EU should expand.
Sarkozy initially insisted that a committee of "wise men" be set up. In
exchange France would commit not to block Turkey's membership of the EU, a
process which has pitted with obstacles since it began late in 2005.
"We had many reservations towards the original idea," Czech European
affairs minister Aleksandr Vondra said at the time.
Sarkozy also irked his partners in July, when he attended a meeting of
eurozone finance ministers in Brussels, to tell them that France would
probably miss a deadline to balance its budget by 2010.
One European diplomat said that the Mediterranean Union idea was born from "such ignorance" about the EU's so-called Barcelona Process with Mediterranean partners that it was "lamentable" and "a catastrophe."
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 Arab countries.
In conclusions from the summit, the revamped version was dubbed: "Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean".
"It's difficult to build Europe without compromise," Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy had another reason to be pleased with the outcome of the two-day
summit after his fellow EU leaders agreed to consider an Anglo-French
initiative to introduce favourable tax levels for environmentally friendly