It looks like Nicolas Sarkozy’s pet foreign-policy idea has been sporked, good and proper; his idea of a “Mediterranean Union” is now officially an ex-parrot, after it failed to get German support. As we’ve been saying right back to 2005, the key fact of European politics at the moment is that Angela Merkel has achieved a degree of influence that no other chancellor since Willy Brandt could claim; whether it’s over the economy, the Middle East, Russia, the EU budget, or the EU’s internal organisation, all roads now pass through Berlin. Helmut Kohl and Konrad Adenauer both operated in a triumvirate with a very strong and universally respected French president and a very strong (and pretty respected, but far from universally so) European Commission President; there’s certainly an argument that the Barroso commission is the best for some time, but nobody could seriously describe Nicolas Sarkozy as a leading force in European politics. The UK is absorbed by its own self-inflicted crisis; Italy is coming over all Italian; problems go either to Brussels or Berlin for solution.
So what was this Mediterranean Union thing all about? Well, Sarko’s adviser Henri Guaino had this idea, see; it would be a bit like the EU, but would encompass states along the southern shore of the Mediterranean as well as Spain, Italy, France, and Greece – but no other EU members. This would have done a number of things; for a start, it would have created an undemarcated frontier between the EU’s various existing policy initiatives there and whatever the new organisation did. It would also have been potentially in conflict with the EU accession process. Certainly, the new entity would have been politically dominated by France; which, it’s fair to say, was probably why France wanted it.
This could have worked in a couple of ways; perhaps the EU could subcontract its policy in the Mediterranean to the new organisation (or to the French Foreign Ministry), or else the two would work out a division of labour. Alternatively, the freies Spiel der Krafte, the “free interplay of forces”, would have seen them compete until some sort of de facto arrangement emerged. But what would it actually have been doing?
There are two answers to this; one is that it would have been doing the good work of spreading European integration onto the potentially unstable southern rim (whilst also tactfully getting around the special significance of, say, Moroccan membership in the EU). Another is that it would have been a substitute for accession; rather than the real thing with its guarantees, open borders, trading privileges and development funds, warm words (and the special benefits of Francafrique), and probably highly restrictive agreements on nasty things like immigration. (Via Randy McDonald, check out this view from the other side of the table.) Certainly, the British government reckoned it was a way to put Turkish membership off the table.
Yet another unexplained angle was the relationship between the new organisation and NATO; despite the new organisation’s Frenchness, it’s worth pointing out that all its proposed European members would have been NATO member states. In fact, either three out of four or four out of five, depending on the inclusion or otherwise of Portugal, are home to a major NATO multinational HQ; Portugal, Spain, and Greece all have a Joint Subregional Task Force HQ, Portugal is also home to a NATO SACLANT naval headquarters, Italy is home to NATO headquarters for Southern Europe, SACEUR’s southern naval headquarters, the southern air forces’ headquarters, and the US 6th Fleet. NATO has relationships with most of the other potential members under the Partnership for Peace; the interworking between these and the MU was left for the imagination.
So, plenty of problems. Then there was the touchy subject of whether the MU (with a net-recipient membership) would have EU funds; no wonder Merkel wasn’t keen. As always, for EU funds read “net-contributions from the Northern Alliance of Germany, the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and Slovenia”. Yes, Slovenia – it’s northern, right? No? Well, it is, isn’t it – look at it, it’s parliamentary, it’s a net contributor, it’s got mountains (like Holland…), it’s sort of social-democratic, and vaguely German. Clearly. And so they kiboshed the MU.
But was it a good idea? I think not. The single most effective – almost the only effective – method of EU foreign policy is the enlargement process. So I’m opposed to anything that diverts from it. Our international-society-theory with balls/prototype world government is about the only grand political vision of the last 100 or so years that remains valid; with all its inconsistencies and bizarreries……hold it. The inconsistencies and bizarreries are precisely why it works. A curious combination of bureaucracy, anarchy and diplomacy, it’s not a prototype world government, it’s a world un-government in permanent beta test; we just haven’t invented the right buzzword yet to name it. (Which may be a problem. Successful projects usually breed their own tribe, and hence their own language; we don’t seem to be so good at that. But you’re welcome to try in comments.)
The version of the MU that was actually signed off is considerably more like the EU; it includes all the EU member states, it’s intended to do concrete and practical things, and it actually offers the ‘tothersiders something, namely ERASMUS student exchanges, money, and a higher priority for the extension of the EU free-trade area. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zapatero manages to snap up the headquarters.