Yesterday was Le Quatorze Juillet, or Bastille Day as it is more commonly known here. That is the French national holiday, and what better way to ring in the Revolution’s 219th birthday than the creation of a new international institution.

Yesterday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy celebrated the creation of the Mediterranean Union–an international group comprised of states surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. From the New York Times:

Leaders of 43 nations with nearly 800 million inhabitants inaugurated a “Union for the Mediterranean” on Sunday, meant to bring the northern and southern countries that ring the sea closer together through practical projects dealing with the environment, climate, transportation, immigration and policing.

But the meeting was also an opportunity for President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to exercise some highly public Middle East diplomacy by bringing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria out of isolation for an Élysée Palace meeting and by playing host to a session between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Somehow this whole project has managed to be off of my radar up until now, but it should prove an interesting study in whether or not the defined priorities can bring together unlikely allies.

The ability of Europeans to use soft power through practically-based international unions to slowly end conflict and spread democracy is exemplified by the success of the European Union, and I hope that this new Mediterranean Union will create the same turn-around in Middle Eastern diplomacy that the European Coal and Steel Community (which later became the EU, of course) created for European diplomacy.

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