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News Union for the Mediterranean – a Tunisian Viewpoint

The idea of a union in the Mediterranean region was for a long time ambiguous and blurry. Its contours remain only loosely defined, however, it has recently been much discussed and has been the object of several attempts at analysis, most of which were eventually challenged, leading to successive changes being made to the original concept. It thus evolved from the initial “Mediterranean Union”, to the “Union for the Mediterranean”, and later becoming the “Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean”, following the European Summit in Brussels, 13-14 March 2008.

It should be noted that while initiatives targeting the Mediterranean have not been lacking, none has to this day truly managed to achieve its objectives. European initiatives such as the European policy for the Mediterranean, the EMP, and the ENP each sought to make the Mediterranean a space of peace, stability and prosperity. All lauded the stabilisation of the region through the virtues of free-exchange. Europe demanded that its Mediterranean partners adhere to its system, notably that of democracy and the State of law, offering them in exchange a share of the prosperity bred by its liberal economy, and even promising access to the “four liberties” to those who progressed most quickly within the framework
of the new Neighbourhood Policy. These diverse arrangements failed to convince, however, the
Southern Mediterranean countries, resistant to rapid social and political changes, as well as those
of the North, little inclined to direct investments, technological transfers, or the global treatment of
cultural and migratory issues related to the field of security. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict
aggravated an already complex situation and resulted in a political block within the Partnership.
Considering this backdrop, can a Mediterranean union resolve or work around these issues? By not addressing them immediately, or even ignoring them, does this union not risk mortgaging the
future of what is a potentially successful Mediterranean neighbourhood? Does such a paralysis not
risk affecting the proposed union, thus fuelling reactions wavering between prudence and

Starting from this, it is unavoidable that the southern EU partners be tempted, with France’s
announcement of the Mediterranean Union project, to evoke a negative balance of the Barcelona
Process (BP), coupled with a certain reticence vis-à-vis the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).
As regards the first, for a few years now, the governments of the South have voiced much criticism
concerning the BP’s incapacity to attain its set objectives. The last exasperating straw was on the
occasion of the BP’s tenth anniversary, where the absence of Arab Mediterranean leaders was
sorely noted. Most southern Mediterranean experts claim that the Process has not improved the
asymmetries still dividing the opposite shores of the Mediterranean.

Despite these criticisms, the southern Mediterranean leaders of the Maghreb region emphasised
the importance of not disassociating this new project from the EMP, estimating that such a union
should contribute towards a re-launching of the Barcelona Process. The project’s evolution and its
adoption during the March European Summit as a continuity to the Barcelona Process, finally
lends reason to those from the South who predicted this development and who feel reassured by
the participation of all EU member states, confirmed by the Franco-German compromise
announced in Hanover on 3 March 2008. This springs from reactions expressed by Maghreb
leaders who insisted on the importance, in one form or another, of Germany’s participation, seeing
as it is a crucial actor in the Mediterranean and a privileged economic partner in the Maghreb
region. Now that the participation of all is assured, consensus has emerged regarding the proposal
that the Union for the Mediterranean act instead as an updated and improved model of the EMP.
But will it live up to this expectation? A question difficult to confirm at this stage, especially since
the Partnership does not operate solely on a multilateral basis, but mainly through multi- and
bilateral agreements of association that at present will remain unchanged.

Nevertheless, certain elements of this “new and improved” Barcelona Process, within the context of
the Union for the Mediterranean, appear to command a particular interest and, at the same time,
respond to demands expressed by southern partners. The preoccupation is in establishing a
balanced basis that will allow all actors to engage in the elaboration of common projects on an
equal footing. This notion of equality, flawed within the Barcelona framework, failed to promote a
sense of appropriation amongst the partners of the southern shores. Calls from these countries
requested that they be more integrated in the decision-making process, at the very least on a
consultative basis, seeing as these were matters perceived by the South as ones of shared

For a long time, the southern Mediterranean states, or at least many of them, demanded that the
EMP outline a concerted direction as a means of assuring a rebalance between the two groups of
partners. Some affirmed that it was necessary to reach this solution in order to “rotate responsibility
amongst each State, directing or otherwise implying a global vision of related matters”. The
principle of co-presidency surfaced within the framework of the Union for the Mediterranean, or at
least that is what emerges from the Franco-German agreement on this initiative, which also
indicates an intention to establish a small secretariat of around twenty people that shall be
jointly-led by a Director from the North and another from the South, who are also charged with
assisting the co-presidency. This does not impede criticism and reticence from the part of certain
European actors, who doubt that the new structures will be compatible with already existing ones,
and from certain southern Mediterraneans, notably Arabs, who not seeing being subject to an
Israeli presidency in a good light, altogether refuse the possibility of this eventuality.
If the principle of co-direction is definitely maintained, it shall require a reformulation of the
Partnership’s institutional plan, with the creation of an exclusive competence within the domain of
the EMP. This competency should permit it to contribute, or at least have a say, in the elaboration
and implementation of the Partnership’s policy, and not only in the organisation of summit
meetings. It should also allow watchful management of the application of the associative Accords,
and finally, assume a role as mediator in disputes between partners.

In relation to the initiative’s content, a Union for the Mediterranean founded on the notion of a
union of projects and building on the domains where progress is already in evidence, seems to
respond to some southern Mediterranean expectations, while at the same time discarding the
integrationist aspirations, as were formulated in the project’s original version, where the focus was on creating a union that would permit a form of political integration an aim provoking great
enthusiasm. The initial orientation, of structuring the initiative around the idea of integration, was,
however, dashed by the reticence of certain European states and their desire for re-equilibrium.
This ended up reframing the project, by explicitly pursuing a logic of cooperation that from then on
prevailed over the integrationist logic a tendency confirmed following the adoption of the project,
during the recent European summit, as a continuity to the Barcelona Process.

Although it appears that the southern Mediterranean countries are interested in this new
orientation, they reveal differences in approach linked to the lessons learnt from the failures of the
Barcelona Process: namely, lack of means, lack of structures, deficiencies in the area of
governance, and shortcomings in trans-Mediterranean market integration. Others highlight
objective difficulties that would be dangerous to obscure and that question the efficiency of the
project method, with countries’ stability threatened by terrorist, migratory and climactic challenges.
On the other hand, serious conflicts (Sahara being a main one) persist between some southern
partners, weighing heavily on public opinion and the government of each country, and preventing
them from accomplishing their process of integration – a necessary condition if companies and
private investors are to be offered a driving role, as is predicted and hoped for the projects of the
Union for the Mediterranean.

See also.

Contact information Dr.Ahmed Driss is the Director of the Centre for Mediterranean and International Studies (CEMI), in Tunis/ EuroMeSCo Secretariat, Instituto de Estudos Estratégicos e Internacionais (IEEI), Largo de São Sebastião, 8, Paço do Lumiar, 1600-762 Lisboa - Portugal (email:
Phone: +351 21 030 67 00 ; Fax: +351 21 759 39 83
News type Inbrief
File link
Source of information EuroMeSCo newsletter
Keyword(s) Mediterranean-Union
Geographical coverage Tunisia, Euromed
News date 08/04/2008
Working language(s) ENGLISH