The Mare Nostrum, the Sea in the Middle of the World, the Mediterranean. From the earliest times in history the Mediterranean has been the mother of all seas to numerous peoples who lived on and around it. True, prehistoric man might have originally come from sub-Saharan Africa. True, other great civilisations have lived farther away from the sea of the Odyssey and the Illyad. That does not detract from the historical value of the Med. Huntington’s much vaunted theory of the clash of civilisations placed the Mediterranean at the crossroads of a number of these civilisations making it a quasi-unique area where (should you subscribe to his theory) these civilisations are supposed to collide.
At the dawn of the 21st century the Med faces a bit of a deja-vu. Current post 9/11 tensions are present in volatile states in the Middle-East not far from the Eastern shores of the island. It has inherited an unsolved Israeli-Arab conflict, a shady Cypriot impasse, a Maghreb and Mashrek in motion (vide: Libyan proto-conversion, Algerian instability and Egyptian reflections on Islamism). In the northern shores we find a melange of members of the European Union, a constantly enigmatic Albania, a Turkey in search of an identity and – for the first time since Tito – a Balkan region that slowly but surely is settling down as a hodge-podge of identities and nationalities that sooner or later will be absorbed into the greater fold of the European Union.
What future then, for the Med? Ranier Fsadni wrote about Sarkozy’s plans for a Mediterranean Union in Thursday’s Times (13.09.2007). Ranier’s main point was that the plans are as shady and shifty as the New Napoleon himself. We (as in us who hope for a bright future in the Med) might once again have to suffer the ignominy of the Med falling down the priority list. Sarkò might be busy patching up with Fraulein Merkel who is not too fond of his kisses or of his redefinition of the Franco-German leadership of the EU.
Whatever the case there are a few points to ponder at this stage. The first is that Sarkò’s primary incentive for the elaboration of a MU is the creation of a new carrot for the Turkish giant. Take away the diet of “you will one day be member” to “you will have a prominent role in a future Mediterranean Union”. The problem might be that this is not the best start for the MU anyway. As Ranier rightly pointed out the MU might turn out to be another extension of the 5+5 group that has until now been one of the few developments of the Barcelona Process.
The Barcelona Process and all that has followed in relation to the development of EU-Med relations is mired in connotations of diplomatic mental masturbation, high-flying promises and finally, whenever something concrete is mentioned we normally end up with a list of the ills of Saharan Africa – the immigrants, the illiteracy, the drugs etc etc.
What the Mediterranean needs is a positive approach. The EU would do well to start speaking to the rest of the Mediterranean nations on equal terms. A Med Union should take what is positive in the Med and build upon it. The Mediterranean is not about rafts and AIDS being prevented from crossing – at least not only about that. It is about tourism, investment, economic exchanges and development, environmental guarantees and cultural enhancement. It should be about education as much as it is about security. It should be about health as much as it is about sales of nuclear stations to Libya.
This is not all about hyperbole. It is not some utopic aspiration. It is about concretely building a basis for mutual advancement through mutual understanding. The basis for talks on a Mediterranean Union must not be alienation but constructive collaboration.
The Mediterranean cannot become a dam and the Berlin Wall of the 21st century. It has always been, is and must remain a bridge that connects and exchanges some of the richest cultures and interesting peoples on the face of this planet. From Mecca to Rome to Jerusalem, the Mediterranean is yearning to get back its rightful place among the advanced civilisations of this world. It should be nurtured not held back.
“A Mediterranean city is really my culture”. – Zinedine Zidane