More than other seas, the Mediterranean has played not only a uniting role, acting as a bridge between different regions (Europe, Africa, and the Middle East), but also an important role in competition and division. Its geographical definition is not unchallenged, nor is its political definition, and the Mediterranean has therefore been defined by some scholars as a region connecting other regions rather than as a region per se. However, it is also considered an ensemble of different sub-regional spaces. This article argues that the many heterogeneous elements as well as the different political and economic systems and the different perceptions of security between the two shores of the Mediterranean are obstacles to the emergence of a homogeneous and organized regional space. Nevertheless, the idea of a common Mediterranean space has a normative value that could be used as a political catalyst for cooperation in the area. Numerous sub-regional cooperation initiatives have been launched in the Mediterranean basin, with mixed results. The European Union (EU) has tried to trigger cooperation both indirectly by supporting sub-regional initiatives, especially in the economic field, and directly, through the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP), which was merged with the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) following the Paris Summit in July 2008. Indeed, EU-led cooperation in the Mediterranean represents the most important and comprehensive form of cooperation in the area, even though the latest developments of the UfM are not encouraging.
Revised version of a paper presented at the first EU4Seas seminar on “The EU and sub-regional multilateralism around Europe’s closed seas: the Baltic, Caspian, Mediterranean and Black Sea Basins”, organised by CIDOB in Barcelona on 28-29 January 2009. Other version: "El Mediterráneo: la cooperación sub-regional y el rol de la Unión Europea", in XXI Simposio electrónico internacional CEID "Europa Central: sus principales problemáticas en 2010", Buenos Aires, 1-26 November 2010.