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Hopes of “Fresh Impetus” in the projected Union for the Mediterranean?

Translated Thursday 7 August 2008, by Isabelle Métral

On July 3, 2008, forty-three heads of state and prime ministers of EU nations and countries bordering the Mediterranean met with great pomp in Paris on the initiative of the French president to set up the Union for the Mediterranean. The French media – a very few leftist papers excepted – stressed Nicolas Sarkozy’s diplomatic success. Bernard Kouchner, the French minister of Foreign Affairs, always prodigal of categorical pronouncements, even went so far as to call it a “historic achievement”.

But leaving form aside, exactly what promise can this deliver? Is it “the fresh impetus” hailed in the July-12 issue of the French daily le Monde? If so, in which direction? Admittedly, some of these projects – if they are effectively carried out – can bring substantial benefits: cleaning up the Mediterranean, establishing new sea links, pushing solar energy in the south, fighting natural disaster, giving aid and support to small and medium enterprises and industries, developing the Mediterranean University.

But none of the benefits are certain, for no provisions have been made for the financial backing the projects require, and the European Union does not want to spend one cent above the sum allotted under the Barcelona process, by now a signal failure. Evidently the main objective lies elsewhere. The July-13 final declaration over-stresses the fact that the Union for the Mediterranean simply continues the 1995 Barcelona process, one objective of which was to create a free-trade zone with southern countries, a process which serves the interests of banks and industrial groups, to the detriment of the populations of the South. As Socialist European Deputy Véronique Kayser rightly observed in l’Humanité Dimanche’s July-10 issue, “The Barcelona process has failed to curb poverty in countries on the southern border of the Mediterranean.”

The hunting down of immigrants is now the other priority.

So how much credit can be placed in the leaders’ declared intentions to open up to the South, even as the European “bunker” strengthens its repressive arsenal? No wonder the Algerians are hesitant, confronted as they are with France’s policy of limiting the number of visas. Can the Union for the Mediterranean at least help advance the peace process in the Middle East and help settle the conflict over Western Sahara to which Morocco denies the right to self-determination, in contradiction of the expressed desire of the UN?

Sarkozy’s rapprochement with Israel and the planned privileged partnership between the EU and Israel, at a time when the latter is speeding up its policy of annexation of Palestinian territories will make these advances even harder to bring off. Not to mention France’s recent support of the Moroccan position on Western Sahara.

Understandably, the reason that the heads of state and prime ministers of the southern border of the Mediterranean attended the July-13 & 14 meeting in Paris was to show they did not want to neglect the slightest chance of advancement, however small. But as pacifists and anti-colonialists, it is our duty to declare firmly to our government: "We are undeceived: we know what your real intentions are and will scrutinize whatever decisions you and the Union for the Mediterranean will take."

Bernard Deschamps is president of France El Djazaïr (Languedoc-Roussillon) and former Deputy.

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