Though French president Nicolas Sarkozy's ambitious original plans for a Mediterranean Union have been dramatically scaled down, the group still had its first meeting yesterday in Paris.
Sarkozy was practically beaming after the meeting, calling his idea for the Mediterranean Union an “extraordinary concept,” and heralding the fact that the meeting was able to get Arab leaders and the Israeli leader in the same room. While it's still debatable what impact this new union will actually have, and whether it can really accomplish any of the goals it has set out, it was interesting to see where the media focus on the event seemed to fall.
From the time Sarkozy first suggested the concept during the French presidential campaign last year, the language was always about a union between the “North” and “South” Mediterranean, with seeming focus being on North Africa, the majority of which was formerly held by the French. But the media coverage of yesterday’s event was largely focused on the Levant. The Syrian and Lebanese leaders, both in attendance, said yesterday that the two countries might establish diplomatic relations for the first time in their history. And the Israeli leader said a peace deal with the Palestinians had never been closer. There was also a theoretical statement by the leaders saying they would like to keep the region “free of weapons of mass destruction.” Here's the coverage from ITN:
But there were also significant initiatives announced at the meeting that had nothing to do with the Middle East peace process, including a high-speed rail network from Casablanca to Istanbul, a plan to make the Mediterranean the cleanest sea in the world by 2020 and the development of a common emergency response force to deal with natural disasters in the region. For now though, it was the diplomatic aspects of the meeting that attracted most of the media attention.
Interestingly, with all the talk of the MidEast peace process and further governmental and economic ties, there was no talk about Democracy, or the lack of it, in the Middle East and North Africa. Perhaps such lecturing would have been counter-productive to the larger goal of bridging gaps between the North and South Mediterranean, but it was an interesting omission nonetheless.