Portuguese Presidency turns EU eyes south

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Portugal is aiming to turn Europe’s focus to the south over the course of its EU presidency, claims Robin Pedler of Oxford University – with the creation of a ‘Mediterranean Union’ one possible outcome.

Embracing both the member states on the north shore of the Mediterranean and the North African countries on the south shore, such a Union would see a deepening of integration within the region beyond the scope of the current Neighbourhood Policy, writes Pedler. 

The author – stating that engagement to the south is a priority for the Portuguese presidency – reflects that although it is difficult for a country to refocus the EU in the course of just six months as President, the Mediterranean Union idea should gain favour quickly, with France assuming the presidency in the second half of 2008 following on from Slovenia – another southern state – in between. 

There is already a plan in place for a Mediterranean free-trade area – set to be achieved by 2010, Pedler reminds us. Partnership agreements are already in place with all the countries to the south and east of the EU – from Morocco to Syria, with the exception of Libya. 

Presently, neighbourhood policy seeks to reach out to – and encourage good relations with – all immediate members to land or sea, with the exception of Russia, which has its own partnership agreement, Pedler explains. 

He points to the potential for the south-east weight of the Union to develop following Bulgarian and Romanian accession and the opening of accession negotiations with Croatia and Turkey, citing Austria’s accession and its impact on negotiations with the CEECs as an example of this effect. 

After successive enlargements have pulled policy focus in different directions, Pedler observes that the current Neighbourhood Policy is reaching out across all the Union’s frontiers – with the new budget providing funds to back this approach. 

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