The Mediterranean-Black Sea Union: The Ship Sets Sail

Rene Wadlow

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

On July 13, in the Grand Palais, an ornate meeting hall built for the
1900 World’s Fair in Paris, the Mediterranean-Black Sea Union ship was
set to sea with many good wishes from the assembled 44 heads of State
or Government. How sea worthy the ship is and what it will carry is
too soon to tell.

Much of the ship’s planning was done by the French President,
Nicolas Sarkozy and the small, high level group of his foreign policy
staff led by Jean-David Levite, former Ambassador to the UN, the
Secretary-General of the Presidency, Claude Gueant, Henri Guaino,
the president’s personal envoy on the issue along with the Foreign
Minister Bernard Kouchner.

There is always a tendency, largely for public relations reasons, to
name an institution in broader and brighter terms than the reality
merits. Thus when Roosevelt and Churchill decided upon the name
"United Nations" the reality was neither united nor nations but rather
a traditional alliance of States. Likewise, the Mediterranean- Black
Sea Union comprises States which have little Mediterranean tradition
nor is there an aim for a union in the middle-range future.

At the insistence of Germany, the earlier name for European efforts
of collective relations with North Africa and the Middle East –
the Barcelona Process – was kept. The new institution is called The
Barcelona Process-Mediterranean Union. In addition, because all 27
States of the European Union (EU) are involved, the process would be
better called the Mediterranean-Black Sea Union. There already exists
since 1992 the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Project (BSEC) among
Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova,
Romania, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Ukraine.

Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Turkey are part of the
Barcelona Process-Mediterranean Union, and Turkey is the "swing State"
between the Mediterranean and Black Sea processes.

The Barcelona Process-Mediterranean Union’s membership includes
the 27 States of the EU, the North African States of Mauritania,
Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt. (Libya was represented at the
meeting by its Foreign Minister; it is not clear what policy it will
follow.) Five Middle East States: Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon,
Syria. Three States of former Yugoslavia – Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Montenegro. (Serbia, which has no outlet to the sea was excluded,
but obviously has more economic weight than Montenegro). Lastly,
as a place to put one’s money, Monaco is part of the Union.

President Hosni Moubarak of Egypt and Nicolas Sarkozy were co-hosts
of the launch and will be co-presidents for two years of a rotating
presidency. The fact that heads of State who are often not on speaking
terms such as Bachar al Assad of Syria, the new president of Lebanon,
former General Michel Sleimane, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehoud
Olmert were all at the same table can be taken as a good omen but
must be followed up quickly with meaningful steps.

The Barcelona Process has had some useful, largely ‘low profile’
activities of cultural and scientific exchanges. While the term
‘partnership’ is often used, the Barcelona Process has been one
nearly exclusively set by the EU and largely to facilitate European
interests. It is hoped that by having co-presidents and a small
Secretariat in a southern country (probably Tunisia or Malta), the
Mediterranean Union will be closer to a real partnership. In practice,
most relations between EU members and North Africa-Middle East States
have been bilateral rather than through EU institutions.

However, there is little civil society structure to support the
Union. While there are a good number of people from North Africa
working in Europe, they do not serve as a political force pushing
for closer ties among the Mediterranean countries. In fact, one of
the not-so-hidden agenda items for the Union on the part of European
States is to limit migration, especially illegal immigrants. However a
negative agenda of curbing illegal immigration and fighting terrorism
will not build enthusiasm among southern countries.

There are a number of structures proposed for the Union, largely
based on existing EU structures :

-A Mediterranean Investment Bank, modelled on the European Investment
Bank created to facilitate economic development in Central Europe
and the States of the ex-USSR

-A Mediterranean university exchange program inspired by the EU’s
successful Erasmus program

-An environmental agency working especially on Mediterranean pollution

-A common audiovisual structure

-A nuclear energy agency

Today, we see growing cooperation among States and peoples of the

and Black Sea regions. Common problems of poverty, social tensions,
and environmental degradation call for common strategies. Enlightened
leadership, understanding these common interests of all the peoples
of the Mediterranean and Black Sea area is required as well as a
multitude of cooperative initiatives among the peoples of the area.

Work on common tasks will deepen the cultural foundations upon which
Mediterranean and Black Sea integration will be built. Much will depend
on an uninvited State, Russia. Russia is the largest State of the Black
Sea Economic Cooperation Project and is currently re-negotiating its
general relations with the EU and is also engaged in energy-security
negotiations with individual EU countries.

A Mediterranean-Black Sea Union is not a unified, fixed concept
but is always in the making. A more realistic title would be a
Mediterranean -Black Sea regime in the sense of Stephen Krasner’s
widely used definition of regime: "Regimes can be defined as sets
of implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules and decision-making
procedures around which actor’s expectations converge in a given area
of international relations." (1)

But regime is a less hopeful word than union, even if more realistic in
this case. Bold steps are needed to build on the impressive launch. The
Mediterranean-Black Sea ship has set sail.

Rene Wadlow, Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association
of World Citizens and editor of the on-line journal of world politics
and culture: