Sarkozy's 'Club Med'
Sunday, 13 July 2008

By Simon Tisdall

THOSE who believe that Nicolas Sarkozy is a bit of a show-off may have their suspicions confirmed this weekend when the French president welcomes about 40 heads of government, including all the EU's leaders, to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris for the extravagant launch of his pet project, the so-called "Union for the Mediterranean".

The idea is to create a permanent institutional link between Europe and all countries with Mediterranean coastlines, including such odd bedfellows as Israel, Palestine, Syria and Libya. The hope is that the union will boost economic and security cooperation.
 
Critics — and there are many — say Sarkozy's "grand project", dubbed "Club Med" in some quarters, is a vainglorious attempt to increase French influence in a region it has manipulated and exploited since Napoleonic times. They say Sarkozy is merely trying to boost his own battered standing and France's EU presidency, which got off to the worst possible start when Ireland rejected the Lisbon treaty, or build a virtual Maginot line across North Africa to repel illegal immigrants.
 
Algeria, which fought a bloody war to rid itself of French control, has been among the more sceptical participants. Like other Arab countries involved, it has warned that the new organisation should not be "a cover for a creeping normalisation of relations with Israel".
 
Muammar Qadhafi, Libya's leader, is boycotting the summit, though he will send an observer. "This project is frightening, it is dangerous. I predict it will be a complete failure," he said this week. He said Islamists in North Africa would view the union as a form of revived colonialism and use it to justify stepped-up jihadi attacks. Germany and other European states have also had their problems with the union. Sarkozy initially envisaged restricting membership to countries touching the Mediterranean sea. Germany and Britain would have been excluded, even though their EU budget contributions would have helped pay for it.
 
The inaugural meeting will provide an exceptional opportunity for bilateral discussions between leaders whose paths rarely cross. They include Syria's Bashar al-Assad and Israel's Ehud Olmert, both of whom are expected to attend. The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Egyptian and Algerian presidents are also said to be coming.
 
—The Guardian, London

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