Sunday, January 15, 2012

Disunion for the Mediterranean

President Sarkozy's long-forgotten Union for the Mediterranean was intended to serve several purposes: to establish French primacy in Europe's relations with the states of the Mediterranean rim; to insert France and its hoped-for partners into Middle East peace negotiations in a central role; to secure French gas and oil supplies in North Africa; and, equally important, to draw Turkey into an association that would substitute for full EU membership.

The effort failed, in part because Turkey wanted no substitute for EU membership. Now it may have decided that the desire for EU membership was a mistake anyway. But it is looking to the same region to which France looked in conceiving the UM, North Africa, where Turkey and France find themselves once again in competition, as in the days when Ottomans vied with hussars.

As the Times op-ed reminds us, both Sarkozy and Erdogan attempted to woo Qaddafi as a partner in their designs for the region. Now, with Turkey's economy still growing rapidly and France likely in recession, the economic competition between the two Mediterranean powers will not abate. This puts the recent dust-up between the countries over the issue of Armenian genocide in a somewhat different light. Perhaps there was method in Sarkozy's apparent madness. Rather than merely to curry favor with a small slice of the French electorate, voters of Armenian descent, at the risk of antagonizing Turkey, he may have wished to remind other states in the region that, if France has a colonial past, so has Turkey. A common religion did not make the Ottomans benign masters, any more than the French. The impressive fortresses that dot promontories along the Mediterranean coast stand as stark reminders of this.