The new president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, launched a campaign for Mediterranean unity that begins in the Maghreb region, to which he devoted his first tour outside of Europe.
As soon as he came to power, Sarkozy announced this project, considering it the natural step towards building a wider Europe.
In fact, the project is not new. In recent years, this plan was put forward in various formulas, the most significant of which is the Euro–Mediterranean partnership known as the Barcelona Process.
However, at that time, this process was connected to the peaceful settlement negotiations of the Middle East dispute and sought a regional framework for the ultimate solution. Yet the project collapsed after the settlement negotiations reached a deadlock. In parallel, the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative, proposed by the United States, collapsed owing to the same reasons.
This time the backdrop is different as it is not related directly to the Middle Eastern situation or the Arab-Israeli conflict, rather, it is governed by three decisive factors:
Firstly, the matter of immigration to Europe has become more intense recently, whereby the death boats that cross the Mediterranean coast have become a frequent, uncontrollable and terrifying phenomenon. It is well known that illegal immigration has constituted one of the main aspects of Sarkozy’s platform during the last presidential campaign. To confront this phenomenon that is related to a pivotal agenda such as identity, nationalism, unemployment, and the relationships with former colonies (especially African countries), Sarkozy proposed the Mediterranean strategic and economic partnership option as a drastic and practical solution to face the increasing southern invasion [a reference to illegal immigration to the south of France].
Secondly is the complexity of Turkey’s accession to the European Union that was categorically rejected by Sarkozy under the pretext that Turkey lacks geographical and cultural affiliation to the continent. Sarkozy’s stance yielded a sharp reaction from the EU that was split between those who accept Ankara, in support of its secular identity and pro-West positions and those who reject it outright for different reasons, (such as the influence of fundamentalist currents that come to power through democracy and their presence amidst the Middle Eastern crises(. Therefore, the new Mediterranean project constitutes a framework for integrating Turkey into an alternative bloc other than the European one.
The third factor is promoting the strategic position of France at the international level, which has seriously deteriorated due to two factors; firstly, related to the status of Francophone countries that have not exceeded the flexible cultural partnership, and secondly, the status of the European Union that transformed, following its continuous expansion in the last two decades into a space without a centre, as it is no longer based around the German-French nucleus.
If the European integration project was launched in the wake of World War II in order to secure peace among the regional powers that were torn by confrontation and transformed this confrontational relationship into a framework of partnership, then the French aspiration would come under the same context, after the southern Mediterranean region had become the focus of all risks that threaten Europe such as terrorism, illegal immigration, sectarian religious conflict etc.
It is obvious that Sarkozy’s project was not met by a wide response even within European circles. Southern Mediterranean parties (North African and eastern Arab countries besides Turkey and Israel) have not shown enthusiasm over what seems to be an impracticable idea at present.
If we limited the interest in both the official and civil Arab discourse, we would differentiate between two distinct types of objection to Sarkozy’s project:
1 – Rejection on national bases, in view of the fact that the aforementioned project contrasts with the option of Arab unity, which is considered the strategic horizon of the regional bloc adopted by Arab League countries. Not only does Sarkozy’s project break the national identity rule on which the Arab integration principle is based, but it also includes an antagonistic party, at the point in which the peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict ended in deadlock.
2 – Rejection on procedural bases, emanated not from rejecting the project, but from the despair of achieving it in the foreseeable future. Therefore, most formal positions emerged from this pessimistic background. We are not interested in commenting on these reservations (mostly acceptable and sound), but rather we will point out that the Mediterranean partnership may be a vital option for Arabs provided it is put in a comprehensive and strategic vision that utilizes the circles of geopolitical activity that are available, the most important of which are following three:
– The extensive Islamic circle that forms a natural stretch for the Arab entity as there is a dire need to rebuild this circle, which is centered on the three main regional parties; the Arab world, Turkey and Iran.
– The Afro-Asian circle that suffered a severe setback after the Cold War when the “non-alignment” concept was considered nonsense in the wake of the decline of the former ideological-polar conflict. However, the Bandung Conference [also known as the Asian-African Conference] is still a standing option for the future although from different backgrounds and trends.
– The Mediterranean circle that should be changed from the economic and security partnership into Mediterranean rehabilitation for cultural and civil dialogue.
In fact, we need not say that the most important and necessary prerequisite to invest this compound vision is the activation of Arab strategic performance that remains a great delusion.