European Parliament President Martin Schulz announced today (4 April) that he will revive the ‘Union for the Mediterranean’, a now moribund initiative first launched in 2008 by the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, during a parliamentary summit on 7 April in Marseille.
The summit of the speakers or Presidents of the Parliaments of ‘Union for the Mediterranean’ (UfM), convened at the initiative of Schulz, will be the first high-level meeting since the summit of the heads of state and government which launched the initiative in 2008 under French EU Presidency (see background).
The fact that Schulz, a German politician, is re-launching a French initiative Berlin initially opposed may appear paradoxical.
But with Sarkozy having left the political scene, Schulz, who nourishes ambitions to become the next Commission President following the 2014 European elections, apparently seized the occasion to position himself above national politics.
Announcing the event, the European Parliament President said that the Marseille summit would be “an opportunity to show that parliaments are ready to fill the political leadership gap from which the UfM has suffered in recent years”.
Initial expectations invested in the UfM failed to materialise, and the wave of popular revolutions known as the “Arab Spring” were largely seen as a wasted chance for the EU to foster democracy and prosperity in its neighbourhood.
Schulz stated that the Speakers and Presidents of the Parliaments wanted to give impetus to the implementation of UfM projects “at a time of major regional political and economic upheaval”.
“If the challenge of democratic transition which is under way in some Mediterranean countries is successfully to be met, we will need strong and effective parliaments which listen to their citizens,” Schulz added.
Before the summit of the Parliament’s heads, a civil society forum, bringing together around a thousand participants, will also take place in Marseille to formulate recommendations for the summit.
Parliament heads will exchange views on 7 April and adopt a declaration on the same day. A list of participants seen by EurActiv shows that Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia will be represented at the level of heads of parliaments, while Jordan and Palestine will be represented at a lower level.
The President of the Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, and the President of the French National Assembly, Claude Bartolone, will be among the 20 heads of parliaments from EU countries.
Asked about its own involvement, the European Commission said Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle will attend the meeting.
Heads of state from 43 countries, the 27 EU members and the 16 Mediterranean partners from North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans, launched the ‘Union for the Mediterranean’ (UfM) on 13 July 2008, breathing life into a project dear to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which initially drew heavy criticism from his European partners.
France had nourished hopes that UfM would provide new impetus to regional cooperation by agreeing a set of priority development projects "that create de facto solidarity" between participating nations.
Expectations were also high that the structure of UfM, based on a shared presidency between north and south, will "increase co-ownership" in the process and give it more political authority via regular summits, to be held every two years.
The Paris meeting decided that two countries, one from the EU and one from the Mediterranean partner countries, will jointly preside UfM.
The Euro-Mediterranean Ministers of Foreign Affairs decided at the Marseilles conference of November 2008 that the headquarters of the Secretariat would be in Barcelona.
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