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Prodi, Sarkozy and Zapatero agree on “Mediterranean Union”

21 December 2007

ROME – Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Spanish Premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Thursday they agreed to the need to create a "Mediterranean Union."

The three leaders made the announcement at a joint evening news conference in Rome following a meeting that lasted some 45 minutes. They were scheduled to continue "informal talks" over dinner, Prodi said.

Sarkozy has in recent weeks, including during visits to Morocco and Algeria, strongly advocated the establishment of a Mediterranean Union comprising 20 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including bitter enemies such as Israel and Syria.

Italy and Spain’s initial response to the French president’s call had been lukewarm, but on Thursday both Prodi and Zapatero appeared enthusiastic.

"The idea of a Mediterranean Union … a real one aimed at peace, dialogue and development, has been mentioned many times before, but never a pragmatic way to achieve it. Well tonight we have started doing this," Prodi said.

"The Mediterranean must be at the centre of European policy. Changes such as the emergence of the great economies of Asia place this initiative in first place," he added.

"A Mediterranean Union needs to bring about a change in relations between the two sides of the Mediterranean Sea, for a new form of development and for peace," Zapatero said.

Problems such as immigration and the environment would be central to the focus of the new entity, he said.

Like Prodi, Zapatero also stressed that any initiative should "start with the European Union."

Sarkozy, who spoke last at the news conference, said he was in "full agreement" with Prodi and Zapatero’s remarks.

"It’s a great dream, a great vision, which I am sure can be realised," Sarkozy said.

He said a summit "bringing together all the countries" would be held in Paris on 13 July, one day before an EU summit scheduled in Brussels.

The three leaders, who did not take questions at the news conference, provided no additional details on the shape of the future "Mediterranean Union."

Italy reportedly favours the creation of a financial institution to boost small- and medium-size businesses, and the promotion of closer ties in the fields of technology and education.

Different attitudes in Rome and Paris toward Turkey have yet to be resolved.

While Italy supports Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, the notion of a Mediterranean Union is viewed by some as Sarkozy’s attempt to offer an alternative solution to Ankara, whose EU ambitions he opposes.

Sarkozy, who earlier Thursday held talks with Pope Benedict XVI, reiterated his stance on Turkey in an interview with Vatican Radio.

Turkey "is not in Europe but in Asia Minor, and this is a geographical reality," he said.

Sarkozy said he hoped an "area of peace" would be created in the Mediterranean and to do this "a very close relationship was needed between Turkey and Europe."

"Turkey is a great state, a great people but it is not in Europe," he said.

[Copyright dpa 2007]

Subject: Spanish news