On 10 April, the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) presented a study conducted in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme's Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP), identifying 131 "pollution hotspots" in Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco and the Palestinian Territories.
The study identifies 44 priority projects, worth roughly €2.1 billion, for potential financing under a new "Mediterranean Hot Spot Investment Programme" (MeHSIP). These include urban wastewater and solid waste projects, as well as ones targeting industrial emissions.
The initiative is being slated as an attempt by the Commission to mark its territory and show that Euro-Mediterranean cooperation is indeed advancing under the instruments already in place (like the Barcelona Process), before France takes over the EU's rotating Presidency on 1st July. Indeed, tackling pollution is one of the stated key priorities of Sarkozy's Union for the Mediterranean – a project the French President has already had to scale down considerably following strong opposition from Germany (EurActiv 13/12/07, 05/03/08).
But the Commission underlines that the initiative comes as part of its "Horizon 2020 Initiative", launched in 2005, and is by no means in competition with French plans.
"The need for financial means to de-pollute the Mediterranean is so big that any political support is welcome and necessary," said the director of the Commission's Environment Directorate-General, Soledad Blanco, according to Le Monde. She added that the EU executive was in "permanent contact with the French" and that they were "very interested" in the proposals.
EIB Vice-President Philippe de Fontaine Vive agreed: "The Hot Spot Investment Programme is an important starting point for a joint effort of international and bilateral financing institutions […] We are not cutting the ground from under the feet of the French. Quite the opposite, we are sowing the seeds of a better harvest."
According to the study, more than half of urban areas with a population of over 100,000 on the Mediterranean do not have waste water treatment plants and 60% of their waste water is directly discharged into the sea. "The decline of the Mediterranean threatens the health of the 143 million people living on its shore and jeopardises the long-term development of key economic sectors such as fishing and tourism," it finds.
The EU and Paris would have until the launch summit of 13 July to agree on a list of projects that could be carried out in the context of the Union for the Mediterranean.