Brussels reaffirms Med union won’t affect Turkey

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal for a Mediterranean union, watered down after other European Union countries raised concerns, is set to receive another blow today from the 27-nation bloc's executive commission, reported Todayszaman.

In a document due to be submitted to the European Parliament and the EU Council, the commission states in clear terms that Turkey's bid to become a member of the bloc will not be affected by the proposed Mediterranean union. EU leaders gave the green light to Sarkozy's proposal to create a "Union for the Mediterranean" at a summit in March and asked the commission to propose detailed arrangements for launching the initiative on July 13 in Paris.

The commission is expected to discuss the proposals at a meeting in Strasbourg today. A deal is widely expected to emerge on the document, titled "Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean." Turkey, which dismisses any formula other than full membership in the EU, appears to have dropped its objections to the proposed initiative after receiving assurances from France and EU officials that it is not an alternative to its membership drive.

The document, a copy of which was viewed by Today's Zaman, confirms the project is not an alternative to the bloc's enlargement policy and states that the Union for the Mediterranean is only "complementary" to accession negotiations and the pre-accession process. "It will be complementary to EU bilateral relations with these countries, which will continue under existing policy frameworks such as the European Neighbourhood Policy and, in the case of Mauritania, the African, Caribbean, Pacific framework. It will also be complementary to the regional dimension of the EU enlargement policy, which includes the accession negotiations and the pre-accession process," the document says.

EU diplomats confirm that these terms were specifically inserted into the text to reaffirm that Turkey's accession process is not to be affected by the proposed initiative. If the commission agrees on the document at its meeting today, it will be forwarded to the European Parliament and the member states ahead of the July 13 meeting officially inaugurating the Union for the Mediterranean.

Signals from Brussels also show that the EU is not warm toward a French presidency of the Union for the Mediterranean during the first term following its launch. The document sets up a "co-presidency" for the union and says one of the co-presidents will be from the EU and the other from the Mediterranean partner countries. The term for the Mediterranean co-presidency will be two years, but the EU co-president will change every six months parallel to the six-month term for the EU presidency. France is expected to be the union's president from the EU side during the first summit of the union, since the document states the EU country holding the bloc's rotating presidency will hold the presidency from the EU side for the first summit of the union. France is taking over the EU term presidency on July 1, 2008 for six months. Sarkozy wants to take over the initial co-presidency together with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for two years.

The commission uses careful language to state that the entire union, not any of the EU member states, will be in charge in the proposed union, saying: "The establishment of a co-presidency from the EU side must be compatible with the provisions on the external representation of the European Union in the Treaty of the European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community."

The selection of the co-president from the Mediterranean partner countries will require consensus, according to the document.

Meanwhile, Turkey has not yet announced whether it will attend the first summit of the Union for Mediterranean from July 13-14 in Paris. Turkish diplomats told Today's Zaman that Ankara's concerns regarding the initiative have been addressed and that Turkey is warm toward the project. But the decision on whether to attend the summit is a political one and rests with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said the same diplomats. So far, Turkey is the only country that has not confirmed attendance in the upcoming summit. The issue is still delicate, as France continues to strongly oppose any EU document that refers to Turkish membership. Last week, upon an objection from Paris, the EU Finance and Economy Ministers Council (ECOFIN) deleted the "A" word from documents -- meaning accession for Turkey -- which prompted a mini-crisis. 

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