The Mediterranean-Black Sea Union: The Ship Sets Sail

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 Mediterranean

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: 

(1) cf Stephen Krasner (Ed.) International Regimes (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983)