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Brussels European Council

Publié le April 4, 2008
Press conference given by M. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic
Brussels, March 13, 2008


THE PRESIDENT - (…) I’m pleased to announce to you that tomorrow morning the decision will formally be taken to transform the Barcelona Process into a Union for the Mediterranean. So this evening the decision was taken very enthusiastically and unanimously. It will be stated formally in the communiqué issued tomorrow. I also got agreement with the President of the Council to meet you this evening. Mrs Angela Merkel is also holding a press conference.

So this is very important news: the revitalization of the Barcelona Process, transformed into a Union for the Mediterranean on the basis of the Franco-German paper issued following the meeting we had in Hanover - which I didn’t give you details of at the time, preferring to rally all the European countries round this idea. I should add that the discussion was extremely easy-going, that the Austrian Chancellor strongly approved this initiative, that the Luxembourg Prime Minister requested we take a decision in principle. We have also asked the Commission President, Mr Barroso, to make proposals to us on its governance on the basis of the Franco-German paper.

There was also confirmation of the idea of a Europe/Mediterranean summit in Paris under French presidency. I think I can say that this is the third French initiative: after the simplified treaty, and the Committee of Wise Men, we now have the Union for the Mediterranean which has achieved a very wide consensus in Europe. This is very good news, since everyone has agreed that in this Mediterranean area, countries had to learn to make peace, to rally round projects, as did Jean Monnet in his time. It’s an initiative, as you know, which was very important to me. I had the opportunity to talk about it during the presidential campaign and, for me, it’s very moving to see that this idea which Romano Prodi, José Luis Zapatero and I defended in Rome, and the Chancellor and I clarified, got agreement on in Hanover, is seeing the light of day, since all the European countries have given it an enthusiastic welcome.

[*Q. - How will the Union be financed?*]

THE PRESIDENT - It will be financed by the Commission’s usual methods, we all agreed on this. A great deal of money has been invested in the Mediterranean area, but the political transparency, the political project was itself in a bit of a rut. There are several reasons for this. The instinct behind Barcelona was right. But what wasn’t working in the Barcelona Process? Essentially, the fact that we weren’t coming together on specific projects. Now we’re going to draw up a roadmap based on specific projects; there are ideas around the table. France is proposing an Erasmus system for students from Mediterranean countries, to make the Mediterranean the cleanest sea in the world, establish an area of security, and discussion of an energy policy between the North and South of the Mediterranean. First change: these are concrete projects. The second change is above all - and José Luis Zapatero was right to say this - that this project for the Union of the Mediterranean mustn’t simply be Europe’s project. It’s also the project of the southern shore of the Mediterranean. This is what wasn’t working in the Barcelona Process. For example as regards the decisions, the 27 were taking decisions and then afterwards we went to try and explain them to the others. No, we want to take the decisions together, North and South, hence the idea - and this is a change - of a co-presidency, with a summit every other year, with one president from the European countries bordering the Mediterranean and one from the non-EU Mediterranean coastal States. (…)

[*Q. - You say it’s a project which is really dear to your heart, but there’s nevertheless a feeling that in the past few months, since the Toulon and Tangiers speeches, France has had to reduce her ambitions a great deal to get the project accepted, particularly by her German partners. What’s going to remain of the 13 July initiative?*]

THE PRESIDENT - How has France reduced her ambitions? Honestly, I’m very happy to answer your question. Give me an example of a reduction of these ambitions and I’ll try and reply.

[*Q. - For example, the idea at the outset was to open the project only to countries bordering the Mediterranean, with observer status for the others.*]

THE PRESIDENT - I’ve never supported the idea of excluding some EU countries from the projects, quite the contrary. In the first project, in the first speech, all the European countries were called on to participate on a voluntary basis. (…) I don’t think you can say that we’ve given up the project’s ambition which was to start from Barcelona’s achievements - that too is, I believe, how I phrased it - and move towards the Union for the Mediterranean.

Second change: I had talked about the "Mediterranean Union" and it was José Luis Zapatero who proposed the "Union for the Mediterranean"; he thought that was more positive, that’s fine. I had talked about the co-presidency, I had talked about a secretariat strengthening in a way the Council’s autonomy. Then there was another discussion: last week I had lunch with Mr Barroso in Paris and we discussed the role of the Commission, because he too has to account for the use of the billions of euros invested, so there you are. But frankly, I think that the initial project isn’t far removed from the present one. (…)

What was important for me was:

1) to rally everyone around the Mediterranean priority;

2) to win acceptance for the view that Barcelona was a good idea, that the instinct behind it was right, but that frankly it hadn’t produced all the fruit we’d been entitled to expect from it; and

3) we needed to move on to a new stage called the Union for the Mediterranean. (…)

[*Q. - The Barcelona Process was criticized for its lack of strategy; there was no strategic vision. What is there in the Union for the Mediterranean which can to an extent remedy this deficiency? What’s the end purpose? Is it integration? You mentioned Jean Monnet, what’s your long-term aim for the Union for the Mediterranean?*]


THE PRESIDENT - It’s very simple: for it to have concrete projects. Basically, it’s to create an area of peace, prosperity and security. That’s the vision. And how do we achieve it? How was Europe created? By taking the two belligerents bordering each other, Germany and France, and bringing them together in the coal and steel community. What do we want to do with the Union for the Mediterranean? We’re going to take everyone and try and bring them together, for example on cleaning up the Mediterranean Sea. After all, it’s difficult to clean up the Mediterranean if you work only in the north. Another example, there’s the Erasmus idea, I don’t know if we’re going to adopt it - I’ll campaign hard for us to do so -: Erasmus allows students from all over the EU to study in any EU university. Well, I’d like us to establish a sort of Mediterranean Erasmus.

And bit by bit, gradually through these concrete projects, I’d like our Mediterranean area to become one of peace, and not one of confrontation. That’s the idea I’m promoting, in brief of course, there would be so many other things to say. (…)


[*Q. - How worried are you about the rise in the euro which we’ve seen recently? Can we do anything about it? Do you believe the ECB has to act? And as regards the sovereign wealth funds, do you believe that Europe needs rules similar to the ones the United States has to protect its industry against the risk of being bought out by foreign groups?*]

THE PRESIDENT - That’s something we didn’t talk about this evening, it’s a matter I have discussed bilaterally with Gordon Brown. You know that the British Prime Minister and I share the same view, that we have to take initiatives, that the world needs rules and transparency. You know what I think about the level of the euro, I’ve talked about it on innumerable occasions. (…)


[*Q. - With the Union for the Mediterranean, do you think there’s any longer any point in the neighbourhood policy? The neighbourhood policy, which was created to balance the EU’s relations with the East of Europe and with the Mediterranean…*]

THE PRESIDENT - …no. On the contrary, it can give some ideas, since the Polish Prime Minister immediately seized on the proposal for the Union for Mediterranean, to say that he would make a proposal for a neighbourhood policy directed towards the North. So you see, it doesn’t go against it. (…)


[*Q. - You mentioned, in Lisbon I believe, the names of Tony Blair and Jean-Claude Juncker for the future European Union Presidency. Since then, there’s been a lot of criticism of Tony Blair’s name, including, I think, within the UMP [Union pour un Mouvement populaire - the French right-wing political party]. Do you think he would still make a good candidate and have you got other ideas on possible candidates, and if so, who?*]

THE PRESIDENT - The decision won’t of course be taken in the UMP. It’s a matter on which I can’t express an opinion since I’ll be EU President when we choose the person. So it would be very bad to start the French presidency by taking sides.

Secondly, it would be a mistake to deal with the matter of the EU president, independently of those of the Commission president and high representative. It’s a package deal. When the time comes, I’ll have to make a number of contacts, but you will understand that I’m not adopting any position and that I’m sticking to the proper discretion of a future EU president. (…)


[*Q. - (on Britain)*]

THE PRESIDENT - (…) I’m paying a State visit to Britain. You know my position: Europe needs Britain, that’s what I think. And this isn’t new, I’ve thought it for a very long time. Anyone who’s been following me for a long time knows that I’ve constantly championed this idea, that we need Britain in Europe. I’ve constantly championed this. And this applies to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. I know Gordon Brown well, I was finance minister, not for as long as he was, but, in short, I’ve worked with him a lot. I know him personally. I think what he’s doing for Europe at the moment is very courageous and he’s doing it well. I support his efforts, because if he manages to get the simplified treaty ratified it will help all of us in Europe because we need the unanimous approval of all the countries. And so, yes, we need Britain, I’ve every intention of developing this idea in London.

Let me add that on all these matters of the transparency and ethics of capitalism, rules on sovereign wealth funds, transparency in all this, we’re in total agreement. We agree on the need to reform the international institutions. On the IMF there are still points we certainly need to talk about. But, honestly, I work with Gordon Brown in a climate of trust. I had suggested going to London to him when we had the last summit and we’ll perhaps take other initiatives under the French presidency. And also I’ve a lot of admiration for what Gordon Brown did over the ten years he was British Chancellor of the Exchequer. He did quite a lot of modernizing. (…)./.