Union for the Mediterranean (UfM)

The Union for the Mediterranean was established at a special summit between EU heads of government and their opposite numbers from 16 countries bordering the Mediterranean to the south and east, hosted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in Paris in July 2008. In addition to the European Union and its 27 member states, the members of the Union for the Mediterranean are four Maghreb states (Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia), four Mashreq states (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) and four countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro), as well as Turkey, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Monaco. The League of Arab States, an intergovernmental association with 22 member countries, has observer status.

The Union for the Mediterranean is the successor to the ‘Euro-Mediterranean partnership’ (EuroMed), proposed by the European Commission in October 1994 and formalised through the Barcelona Declaration, signed by the (then) 15 foreign ministers of the EU and 12 ‘Mediterranean partners’ in November 1995, during the Spanish presidency of the Council of Ministers. The initiative was the first serious attempt by the EU institutions to deepen relations, on a systematic basis, with the countries of the Mediterranean basin. Although the Community had concluded international agreements with many of the Maghreb and Mashreq countries individually, starting in the 1960s, there had never been a comprehensive policy for the region as a whole. The Community’s earlier attempt at a ‘global Mediterranean policy’ in the 1970s had been thwarted by the consequences of the Arab-Israeli conflict (especially following the Yom Kippur war of 1973). However, a combination of factors led to a reappraisal: pressure from France, Spain and Italy to upgrade Mediterranean relations as a counterpoise to the emergence of central and eastern Europe; the signing of the Oslo peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993; and the widespread hope that closer political dialogue and greater financial assistance could help to stabilise the Middle East and North Africa and relieve migratory pressures on the Union’s southern flank. About five million nationals of non-member Mediterranean states were living in the Union at the time, about half of them Turks.

The EuroMed partnership of 1995 aspired to build ‘the largest free trade area in the world’ by 2010, encompassing both the EU and all the Mediterranean countries. Underpinning the new ‘Barcelona process’ was the creation, in July 1996, of the MEDA programme, which provided € 5.35 billion in development aid to the region over the years 2000-06, supported by another € 7.0 billion in loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB). Institutionally, regular ministerial meetings were held, led by foreign ministers and operating strictly by consensus. A Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA) was established in 2004; it brings together members of the individual national parliaments and the European Parliament and is the only body in the world to include parliamentarians from Israel, Palestine and Lebanon.

Although the EuroMed partnership was seen at the time of its launch as a development with great potential, it soon ran into difficulties. The near simultaneous assassination of the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, quickly derailed the Middle East peace process. Differences of opinion and interest emerged among the Mediterranean countries, including a marked reluctance by some to commit to greater respect for liberal notions of human rights and democracy, as the Union expected. These problems were compounded by the refusal of several EU member states to accept the need to offer greater access to the Union’s agricultural markets, as well as political divisions in both Europe and the Middle East following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

A struggle over the priority attached to Mediterranean policy ensued. With the enlargement of the Union in 2004, the Commission decided to wrap it into a broader European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), of which the Mediterranean and Eastern partnerships would be the twin pillars. The MEDA programme was subsumed into a new European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) for the financing period 2007-13. When a second Barcelona summit was held in 2005, in order to review EuroMed activities during the partnership’s first decade, it failed to attract the heads of government of most of the Union’s Mediterranean partners.

Disturbed by this train of events, the French government, in particular, resolved to move in the opposite direction, making the revival of Mediterranean policy a priority for its six-month presidency of the Council during first half of 2008. President Sarkozy had been elected the previous year on a platform that included the creation of a new ‘Mediterranean Union’, which he presented as a parallel organisation to the European Union, overlapping with the latter and conveniently offering Turkey an alternative to membership of it. The Turkish government quickly made it clear that it would not participate in any initiative of this kind. Equally, the French preference for the scheme to encompass (on the EU side) only member states with a Mediterranean shoreline was rejected by Germany and the European Commission as unacceptable, at least if EU funds were to be put at its disposal, and impractical, as the EU as a whole had exclusive competence for external trade.

The formula eventually agreed upon in spring 2008 saw a modest upgrading and re-branding of the existing EuroMed partnership, still rooted firmly in an EU context and involving all EU member states. The ministerial and inter-parliamentary institutions of the EuroMed partnership were maintained in the UfM, but with a system of biennial summits of heads of government grafted on. One EU member state and one Mediterranean country would act jointly as co-presidents of the UfM for a two-year period (initially France and Egypt), with the biennial summit rotating between EU and Mediterranean cities. A Euro-Mediterranean Assembly of Local and Regional Authorities (ARLEM), whose EU component is provided by the Committee of the Regions, was also created. The UfM is supported by a small permanent secretariat, based in Barcelona, with a secretary-general and six deputy secretaries-general serving for renewable three-year terms. EMPA, now called the UfM Parliamentary Assembly, is establishing a secretariat in Brussels.

A meeting of UfM foreign ministers in Marseilles in November 2008 agreed on six priority areas for practical cooperation: countering pollution in the Mediterranean sea, promoting maritime and land transport in the region, strengthening civil protection, developing a regional solar energy system, creating a Euro-Mediterranean university (in Piran, Slovenia), and encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises. These projects are financed by a mixture of funding from the ENPI, the EIB, the World Bank, and a new InfraMed Infrastructure Fund, which includes a variety of public- and private-sector participants.

The UfM summit process got off to an unhappy start, when the 2010 meeting was twice postponed (and eventually never held) because of tensions surrounding the Israel-Palestine dispute, and a potential Arab boycott if the Israeli foreign minister were to attend. There was also disagreement among the EU member states about which of their number (or indeed the High Representative) should replace France as the co-president on the European side, and when it should do so. Such squabbles were soon overshadowed, however, by the impact of the ‘Arab spring’ in Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011, followed by military action in Libya. This emphasised that Mediterranean policy, instead of being largely the periodic enthusiasm of Spanish and French presidencies of the Council, had to be given much higher priority by the EU institutions and addressed on a more continuous basis. In March 2011, the Commission came forward with an upgraded Southern dimension to ENP, called a ‘Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity’, backed by additional lending by the EIB, which was endorsed by the European Council later in the same month.

Further reading: Paul James Cardwell, ‘EuroMed, European Neighbourhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean’, Journal of Common Market Studies, Volume 49, Number 2, 2011.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry

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