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Whither the Mediterranean Union?

 Update (March 4, 2008) Der Spiegel is reporting that the “cold snap” between the Franco-German partners is thawing, following a “constructive” meeting in which President Sarkozy agreed to a compromise to extend negotiations on a future Mediterranean Union to all 27 EU Member States, not just bordering countries. Quoting the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung the Spiegel notes that Chancellor Merkel's misgivings stemmed not so much from German concerns over the issue, but rather her European perspective of the proposed bloc, which is to closely cooperate on issues pertaining to border security, immigration and Mideast peace. Merkel wants to see the Union built upon the already existing Barcelona Process.

Though both leaders were quick to underline their willingness to compromise and work together on key issues in their joint Hanover statement on March 3rd, the necessity to stress a collaborative mindset alone is an indication that not all is well in the Franco-German tandem.

New York TimesFor France the object of being a driving force in the European Union – as part of the Franco-German tandem – was often ascribed to its desire to continue the self-aggrandizing politicking of “la grande nation” through different means. As the only European nuclear “super power,” the ‘other’ large European power, Germany, rarely had a problem conceding big brother status to France. The partnership has seen its share of vivid imagery borrowed from the world of transportation – the tandem, the motor, the driving force of European integration. Irrespective of personal differences throughout history (Schmidt and Giscard didn't start out as friends, and Chirac and Schroeder could surely have been more chaleureux) the unwritten rules in European policy making for “the big two” dictated that major advances from either side be checked with the partner on the other side of the Rhein first. All this was surely true until the conclusion of the Nice Treaty negotiations, when Jacques Chirac's demanding behaviour irked more than just the Germans. While the rift was felt then, the introduction of new players into the constellation (the Weimar triangle, including Poland for one) and the practical bargaining games around a larger table have seemingly let the air out of the tandem's tires.

Cracks in the veneer began to show around the negotiations for a Constitution for Europe, but tensions sparked over the Turkey question with the last German government, who favored Turkish accession to the Union. While current governments in both country's are thinking more along the same lines with respect to a further enlargement round to include the big man on the Bosperus, France's newest advance across it's bordering waters is raising a few eyebrows in Germany.

In its February 21st edition, The Economist, chronicles the fate of President Sarkozy's next big idea: the Mediterranean Union. The launch of this ‘grand projet‘ is to fall squarely into the French EU presidency, which starts in the summer, and is intended to tackle non-ideological issues, such as transport, sea safety and to a certain degree border control and immigration. All well, all good, except for ‘la grande question’: Why? EU bordering countries have been closely bound to the Union through the Barcelona Process and the European Neighborhood Policy, thus other EU member states are having a hard time reading Mr. Sarkozy's project as little more than a prestige object.

Most concerned, according to the Economist are – yes, the Germans:

Not only did the new union seem devised to exclude them but its relation to the EU has been muddled. At first, the French did not see it as an EU matter. But this, viewed from Berlin, looked like an aggressive move to launch a rival body without following the cherished tradition of Franco-German co-operation. Now that the French have made the launch of the project a quasi-EU event, there is a new concern: finance. Dark voices in Berlin worry that Mr Sarkozy may try to use EU money to take the political credit for projects on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, home to several ex-French colonies.

Does make you wonder, though, doesn't it? Whom exactly is Mr. Sarkozy aiming to please?

Even more suspicious to the Germans – Sarkozy is veiling his argumentation in favor of his Mediterranean Union plans in terms of the fabled “avant garde” – essentially the provisions in the new Lisbon Treaty that allow certain countries to move ahead on certain policy areas, paving the way for the much critiqued two-speed Europe (which, to a certain extent already exists through the exemptions of the UK and Denmark on certain social protocols, and in another form in the close cooperation on defence matters among other groups of member states). “Those who want to proceed must be able to do so together," declared Mr Sarkozy, using a line more commonly deployed by EU enthusiasts against Britain, "but those who don't want to must not stop the others from moving forward,” the Economist quotes Sarkozy as saying. Needless to say, perhaps, the Germans are not invited to the July 13th meeting, in which he plans to unveil his blueprint for the Mediterranean Union. I have a feeling, a little touch of motor oil will not be enough to keep the Franco-German motor humming, having hit yet another road block.

Additional background information can be found here, here and here.

 

Author

Cathryn Cluver

Cathryn Cluver is a journalist and EU analyst. Now based in Hamburg, Germany, she previously worked at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, Belgium, where she was Deputy Editor of the EU policy journal, Challenge Europe. Prior to that, she was a producer with CNN-International in Atlanta and London. Cathryn graduated from the London School of Economics with a Master's Degree in European Studies and holds a BA with honors from Brown University in International Relations.

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