A Union for the Mediterranean
Emblem of the Union for the Mediterranean
The success of international organisations depends on the political will which backs them and the clout accorded to them by constituent nations. An institution which is staffed with a competent secretariat but lacks political will and clout is likely to struggle to be effective.The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) is no exception. 

The challenges which the Mediterranean region faces necessitate a forum, where several regional players can come together and discuss issues and possible solutions. Coming up with the optimal institutional architecture and the best political structure is a challenge.

Not all Mediterranean countries are willing to sit around the same discussion table. A cursory look at the Mediterranean reveals some serious stumbling blocks. The Arab-Israeli conflict is a long-standing source of friction in the region which hampers debate and discussion. The financial-crisis presents a real challenge in the financing of any organisation and its operations. Moreover, growing inequalities foster a tense relationship between the Northern and Southern shores.

This article seeks to present some points for consideration when analysing this relatively new institution.

Background and Purpose

The Barcelona Process is the precursor of the Union for the Mediterranean. The aims set out during the Barcelona Conference in 1995 include efforts to “transform the Mediterranean into an area of peace, democracy, cooperation and prosperity.”

To its supporters, the Barcelona Process was an excellent opportunity to put the region on the agenda. Some cited an “unspoken agenda” to protect Europe from terrorism, to limit migration and to cushion the effects of competition in the agricultural sector. Others viewed this process as “the North dictating terms to the South” (Seale, 16.03.2009).

During the 2007 Presidential Campaign, Nicholas Sarkozy pledged to form a Union for the Mediterranean. During a state visit to Morocco, he invited heads of state and government of countries bordering the Mediterranean to meet in France for a summit.

In July 2008, the Euro-Mediterranean Heads of Government met in Paris. The Joint-Declaration signed by 43 countries from the Euro-Mediterranean area expressed the collective need to address “economic and social development; world food security crisis; degradation of the environment, including climate change and desertification, with the view of promoting sustainable development; energy; migration; terrorism and extremism.” Promoting dialogue between cultures was also a priority.

This summit upgraded “the political level of the EU’s relationship with the Mediterranean partners” (Paris, VI.2008). It was followed by another summit in Marseilles. This summit approved several guidelines and structures to address the scope and the objectives outlined during the Paris Summit.

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Summit for the Mediterranean


The Union for the Mediterranean is made up of 43 countries; all 28 EU member states, the European Commission and 15 other Mediterranean states. The League of Arab States also participates in the meetings of the Union.

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Members of the Union for the Mediterranean

Its institutional architecture makes a distinction between the political and the technical aspect of its operations.

The political mandate of the initiative is the responsibility of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Senior Officials who set criteria for the approval of project proposals. The Heads of State and the Government also established a co-presidency “in order to improve the balance and the joint ownership of their cooperation.” The co-presidents represent an EU country and a Mediterranean partner country.

A Brussels-based Joint Permanent Committee assists in the preparation of meetings for Senior Officials and ensures that an appropriate follow up is made. It also provides a mechanism which allows it to react rapidly should an exceptional situation arise in the region.

The Secretariat is responsible for technical ventures. Both the Paris and the Marseilles Declarations define the role of the Secretariat as that of giving a new impulse “in terms of identification, follow-up, promotion of the projects and the search for partners.”  The Secretariat has a separate legal personality with an autonomous status. It is responsible for the preparation of working documents for the decision-making bodies. (Paris, VI.2008; Marseille, X.2008)

A number of partners work in close partnership with the Secretariat. Institutional partners include the European Commission; the European Investment Bank; the Arab League; the Parliamentary Assembly-UfM which comprises of 180 members from the Mediterranean who hold a minimum of one plenary session per year; and ARLEM – an assembly representing local and regional assemblies.

Other partners include the Euro-Mediterranean University (EMUNI) and the Anna Lindh Foundation which promotes dialogue between cultures.

Aims and Priority Areas

The Secretariat aims to identify projects and procure funding within members states, provide assistance to partners, enhance the visibility of the Union for the Mediterranean and highlight the challenges members face.

These projects are chosen on the basis of the six priority areas outlined by the Heads of State and Government. They include business development, transport and urban development, energy, the environment, higher education and research and social affairs.

Maritime pollution, climate change, droughts, forest fires and the erosion of natural habitat are some of the challenges the littoral countries face. The worldwide energy crisis and the need for cleaner energy can also be acutely felt. Moreover, the high level of maritime traffic necessitates some form of protection for passengers and travelling cargo.

Pollution at the Mediterranean coastline

Thus, the Union for the Mediterranean seeks to promote projects which foster de-pollution of the Mediterranean, the management of land and sea highways, civil protection and a Mediterranean solar plan to promote alternative energy.

The market offers a unique opportunity for growth and thus entrepreneurship is a value which should be fostered and sustained. The Mediterranean Business Development Initiative is a programme which promotes business development and aims to assist existing entities which provide support to SMEs.

A thriving economy must foster high standards of education. The establishment of a Euro-Mediterranean Higher Education, Science and Research Area seeks to bring together academics, students and researchers to ensure effective knowledge transfer. These will in turn help stimulate entrepreneurship and encourage employability.


The projects and ideas brought forward by the Secretariat are commendable. However, these projects alone will not bring about the necessary political changes needed in the Mediterranean.

Technical assistance must be accompanied by political will to achieve political solutions. The diverse political systems and the number of countries still in democratic transition make a closer political union untenable and undesirable. Nonetheless there are ways in which the Union can be more effective.

Calleya (2009) lists a number of “geopolitical dynamics which will determine the extent to which it will be possible to advance cooperative relations between countries across the Mediterranean.” Some of these points are particularly pertinent to this analysis:

The most prevalent source of instability and tension in the region is the Arab-Israeli conflict. This hampers relations among a number of countries in the Mediterranean basin. Another source of tension is the rise of the extremist wing of Islam and terrorism.

Further regional cooperation is required in the fight against terror; political reform in the Arab world needs the support of the international community and a diplomatic effort is needed to adapt to the rise of political Islam.

Illegal immigration is a humanitarian and security concern which requires a comprehensive policy involving as many regional stakeholders as possible.

The internal developments and the political turmoil within the European Union should not impinge on its relationship with the Mediterranean. Neither should the future EU-enlargement lead to the marginalisation of the Mediterranean. One must also acknowledge that “to date no serious south-south Mediterranean regional forum has emerged that the EU can engage with.”

There is also a strong case for engaging two vital partners: NATO and the United States of America.

Calleya (2009) makes the case: “there is no doubt that both America and NATO can share essential experience they have developed in the Euro-Mediterranean area when it comes to realising the goals set out in the political and security chapter of the Barcelona Process. Inviting representatives from the United States and NATO to UfM foreign ministerial meetings will also boost the credibility of such gatherings, just as inviting representatives of the Arab League and the Arab Maghreb Union is already achieving.”

It is perhaps too early to measure the effectiveness or otherwise of the Union for the Mediterranean. Nonetheless, it is quite evident that the present structures may not be entirely ideal to address the challenges of the Mediterranean. These challenges require technical expertise and political solutions. These two are indivisible elements.

Read André P. Debattista's artcile on "The Challenges of Europe and the Mediterranean" , where he describes the common issues and mutual opportunities in the Mediterranean region:



Calleya, S. (2009), From the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership to the Union for the Mediterranean, Mediterranean Perspective on International Relations: a Collection of Paper’s on the Occasion of MEDAC’s 20th Anniversary (ed. Calleya S.), pp. 15 – 34  

Goldirova R. (2007.10.25), France muddies waters with 'Mediterranean Union' idea, EUObserver.com - http://euobserver.com/foreign/25043

Seale, P. (2009.03.16), Sarkozy’s Mediterranean Union on Hold, Europafrica -

Union for the Mediterranean: Joint Declaration of the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean, Paris, 13 July 2008 -

Union for the Mediterranean: Final Statement, Marseille, 3-4 November 2008 -

Union for the Mediterranean Website - http://ufmsecretariat.org/ (accessed 13.VI.2013)