Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Mediterranean Union

Sarkozy is starting his presidency of the EU off with a very strange bang. His attention has quickly turned south, away from the EU that he is supposed to be safeguarding, and towards an entirely new Union, formed just this weekend: The Mediterranean Union. Sarkozy clearly has the role of "leader" at this point: he made the negotiations for the Union, and heads the largest and most powerful country in the Union. Having primary leadership precedence over the Union would give the French a renewed international standing that they have lacked since their thrice-licking by Germany in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and Egypt, are of great importance to peace and stability in the Middle East. And keeping them bound by agreements for peace and cooperation in a particularly pro-Western manner (in which they have pledged their support for democracy and human rights in the Union already) will mean that Sarkozy could thrust a united front at Iran to keep it in line, and keep the Middle East stable.

Sarkozy also hopes to preside over the development of massive solar farms in North Africa. He would likely be able to achieve precedence to French alternative energy companies to begin development there, if he strikes the deal. But the implications of all this are not entirely rosy. Sarkozy is now presdident of the EU, and has a great responsibility to the largest economic bloc in the world, even if he does not have great power over it (particularly thanks to the crippling defeat of the Irish "No" vote). His warm embrace of the Mediterranean Union is not making all members of the EU happy, particularly Germany. The EU is an institution where each country has very little say in the entire operation of the bloc, and without a strong presidency, Sarkozy himself will be able to do little for the bloc besides try to influence monetary policy. EU countries see the Mediterranean Union largely as a way for France to distance itself from the possibly-failed politics of the EU and start a bloc of countries both large enough to be important and small enough that France can lead. And surely, this is part of what they are doing. But would Med.U members get access to EU markets through access to France? Would there be a leaking in, a hole through France where the economies of these two blocs start to meld? EU countries are concerned, and it depends largely on what the southern cousin of the EU plans to do with its policy. So far, it is even less powerful than ASEAN, but it hast just started. If Sarkozy can get these countries to cooperate, there may be huge economic impact. Interestingly, Turkey's acceptance to the Med.U may hurt its chances in the EU, but it may be hedging its bets.

Nonetheless, what Sarkozy has done is pretty impressive. For all his failings in his home economy, he has done wonders with Diplomacy, in that classic French style that was completely missing from the Chirac presidency. Even modest leadership power over such a region would start to largely resemble the Roman Empire--the only thing missing at this point is England and some Balkan states. But the Med.U could mean great power for France and Sarkozy in the future, and could make them the continential powerhouse of Europe once more--when there has been none since the second World War besides the Soviet Union, and then only through conquest. Furthermore, bringing Israel, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco into a Western-style bloc will turn them to re-focus their viewpoints and foreign policies, and leave the Middle East rifted enough that Iran will be unable to dominate it. Not only will the Med.U resist Iranian intervention, but the Union is likely very bad news for Hamas and Hezbollah, which have been Iran's tools of terror and control for decades in the western part of the Middle East. Iran's day may be coming to a close--this, along with a potential Syrian peace deal and an agreement on Iraq are likely to leave Iran a long-term small-dog on the international scene.

So in one swift stroke, Sarkozy has defied the EU, given himself a legacy and France great power, cut the legs out from under Iran, and given the Middle East the potential for peace that it has not had in millennia. Not quite the Roman Empire, but not a bad start.
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