Nicholas Sarkozy – who began his six-month turn as Acting President of the European Union on July 1st – is in a position of power that Napoleon would have envied. Being in the catbird seat of the EU is just the half of it.
In early 2007, when he was campaigning to become the President of France, Sarkozy floated a grandiose idea. He said that if elected he would create a grand alliance consisting of the 21 countries, on three continents, which border the Mediterranean Sea. This new political entity, he vowed, would enrich the lives of the 400 million residents in those 21 countries, bringing Christians, Jews, and Muslims together as never before to solve regional issues, and perhaps end conflicts in the Middle East for one and for all. This was all seen as very ambitious since the functional realities of constructing this proposed alliance were unformed back then. This is now. Sarkozy is proving to be the energizer bunny of world politics with – his detractors fret – a tendency toward megalomania.
On July 14th, 2008, Bastille Day (France’s Independence Day equivalent), Sarkozy publicly christened his cherished political baby, the Union for the Mediterranean.
Developed by way of something known as “The Barcelona Process,” Sarko’s Mediterranean Union (quickly dubbed “Club Med” by the European media) now supposedly binds together not 21, but 43 member countries, with a combined population of 800 million, some of which are nowhere near the Mediterranean Sea.
This new entity came into being on the heels of the Irish NO vote on the failed European Union Constitution (aka the Lisbon Treaty), an act of rebellion greeted by Sarko with contempt. He glowered and declared that the Irish would just have to vote again. He delivered himself of this opinion on Irish soil no less. This got the leader of Sinn Fein, very riled up and that could be a plot for novelist Tom Clancy down the line if those risky fences aren’t mended.
But on Bastille Day, everything seemed rosy. Sarkozy and his new glamorous, top of the pop charts, one time nude model wife, Carla Bruni, beamed as parachutists filtered down from the skies above Paris, while smartly dressed military troops marched down the Champs Elysees. In the reviewing stands for the big show were Israel’s scandal-ridden Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Lebanon’s new President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, Palestine’s Mahmoud Abbas, as well as representatives from Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Greece and Cyprus, plus delegates from the 27 existing EU member states, and a few folks from the Balkans. 18,000 French police were required to provide security for this collection of strange bedfellows. The only no-show was Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who is skeptical about the whole idea. He is not alone.
Early on, Germany let it be known that it was not happy about having EU funds redirected to finance Club Med. Chancellor Angela Merkel (who is no fan of Sarko) suspected he was out to create northern and southern spheres of influence, taking the latter for himself. Sarkozy did little to discourage Merkel’s worries when he announced that the initial meetings of Club Med’s charter members would be run by him, with Egypt’s Mubarak serving as “co-presider.” Mubarak is no spring chicken and is unlikely to take any of the limelight away from Sarkozy. However, other voices from the southern contingent are already accusing the European states of dominating them. And the ink isn’t even dry on the membership cards.
Some other questions have surfaced. Do Europeans need yet another super bureaucracy to suck up their money and run even more of their lives? Wasn’t Brussels enough already? How much trust and commonweal can be expected between Brussels and the Middle East? What can a committee of 43 members actually accomplish when their cultures, economies and interests are so diverse? Does Sarkozy want the Nobel Peace Prize, or is he just doing an Oprah?
Sarkozy was quoted as saying Club Med summits offered members the chance to learn how to love one another. Or is he planning to create a new world order monocracy with himself in the role of monarch? Only time will tell.
Six preliminary goals were agreed to by all parties in the initial meetings held before the July 14th pomp and glory display. These are: cleaning up the Mediterranean Sea, developing a Mediterranean Solar Energy Plan, developing better maritime and land highways, setting up joint civil protection and disaster response plans, creating a Euro-Mediterranean University as part of a greater Euro Mediterranean Higher Education and Science Research Institute and the creation of an overall Mediterranean Business Development Initiative.
Once again, very ambitious, especially since the foreign ministers of the Club members will only meet once a year, with a general summit called every two years. Who runs what and which “secretariat” (a term that makes everyone outside the horseracing world slightly nervous) will be placed in what country is all up for discussion. It is troubling that immigration matters were brushed aside to create an aura of harmony. Yes, it all seems impossibly idealistic, and brings Woodrow Wilson to mind. The difference is that Sarkozy is a driven man, so it could all be fun to watch. Or frightening.
Speaking of fun things to watch, Barack Obama will visit President Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace – on July 25th – as part of his European pre-victory tour. Afterwards, the dynamite duo will hold a joint press conference. Having seen recent photos of tall skinny Obama playing B Ball at the gym, and thinking of the diminutive Sarkozy, one cannot wait to see how the press gets both of these guys in the same frame without resorting to special effects.