French President Nicolas Sarkozy could be excused for being very annoyed at Egypt’s precipitate action in forcing the cancellation of this month’s meeting of the Foreign Ministers from the 43 countries that comprise the Mediterranean Union.
The Union brings together European Union members with States from North Africa, the Balkans, the Arab world and Israel in a bid to foster cooperation in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
It didn’t take long for President Sarkozy’s grandiose plan to unravel when the 43 Presidents and Prime Ministers assembled in Paris at its inaugural summit meeting on 13-14 July 2008 and failed to agree on the wording of a final joint communiqué.
The party pooper was the Palestinian Authority - the only non-state entity in the Union - which belatedly objected to the wording adopted by the other 42 members because it might amount to an abandonment of the Palestinian Authority‘s demand that millions of Arabs be allowed to emigrate to Israel.
Apart from being a totally unrealistic demand, the idea that the Palestinian Authority could thwart the Union in pursuit of policies designed to benefit the region as a whole was a harbinger of worse things to come.
Egypt’s decision to force the cancellation of the Foreign Ministers’ meeting this month was a direct consequence of that initial rebuff fifteen months ago.
Egypt's reasons appear to centre on its Foreign Minister not being prepared to sit in the same room as Israel’s Foreign Minister coupled with Egypt’s view that no further proceedings of the Mediterranean Union should be held until Israel resumes negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.-
The last minute cancellation of the Istanbul conference has prompted an unnamed European Union diplomat to tell the Sunday Times of Malta
“We are risking the death of the Mediterranean Union just after being born. The Union is in complete shambles and no progress has been made since its launch, both on the structure of the organisation and its seat.”President Sarkozy would be absolutely seething at reports in the media that 16.6 million euros was spent on that inaugural President’s meeting in July 2008.
This sum included a dinner for the 43 invited heads of state and government that cost more than 1 million euros. At a cost of about 5000 euros a head for those invited, one must wonder what delicacies they ate.
No doubt Sarkozy watchers and the media will be rushing around trying to get a copy of the menu. It will certainly make interesting reading. The public enjoy being fed this type of information.
Maybe Palestinian Authority President Abbas was suffering from indigestion or some kind of party hangover that caused him to be odd man out when the final communiqué was prepared. He certainly didn’t do his French host any favour - although he might have gained brownie points in the West Bank and Gaza for continuing the struggle for liberation and self-determination on behalf of 4 million Arabs living there and another 4 million living - unintegrated and unabsorbed - in other Arab countries in refugee camps for the last 60 years.
These goals would be seen as far more important by President Abbas than progressing the objectives of the Union in improving the lives of 735 million people living within the member states - including the area presently under control of the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas will have also probably improved his waning image by not succumbing and selling out the Palestinian Arabs whilst himself personally enjoying the pleasures of hospitality on a grand scale as only the French know how.
An apparent beat up has also been made of the fact that President Sarkozy spent 245000 euros building a luxury shower which he never used - according to French opposition MP Rene Dosiere. ABC On Line says it was custom-built for Mr Sarkozy, with power and massage jet buttons and surround-sound radio.
But government spokesman Luc Chatel told Taiwan News that sum was not for a shower for President Sarkozy, but for eight meeting rooms used by the 43 leaders who attended the summit.
French Budget Minister Eric Woerth poured cold water on the shower cost declaring:
“It would be scandalous if it were true, but it is false,” [Expatica 29 October]The bills for running the Mediterranean Union will continue to roll in and the costs of cancelling the Istanbul Conference will be substantial.
President Sarkozy no doubt will be subjected to criticism for the amount of money he has spent in promoting a vision that had very little chance of success from the outset. He has found out - if he didn’t know before - that dealing with the Arab States is a decidedly risky proposition - particularly if Israel is brought into the equation.
Like so much of the conflict in the Middle East, the Arab states are unable to raise their sights beyond the conflict between Jews and Arabs over two tiny strips of land - the West Bank and Gaza - and focus on the bigger canvas that demands joint action by them in the Mediterranean Union for the benefit of all.
The Union’s priorities are to fight pollution in the Mediterranean Sea, increase solar energy use, build land and sea highways and cooperate on higher education and research. Its goals are meant to be achieved by joint projects, which it is hoped would also help improve regional integration.
Israel probably possesses the greatest expertise of any of the Union’s member nations in water management and conservation as well as the harnessing of solar power.
This appears of little consequence to the Arab states as they continue their micro war against Israel within the Mediterranean Union at the expense of the macro economic impact the Union could have on their lives.
The French Audit report concluded:
“For its scale, the irregular procedures followed and its massive impact on our public finances, the summit will go down as a record of sorts,”Perhaps that record will soon be surpassed by the brief lifespan the Mediterranean Union enjoys before it is dead and buried by Arab intransigence and pettiness of mind.