The Mediterranean is today the center of the world. From Japan to Chile, all look at the Mediterranean as the most problematic area in the world. We are experiencing terrorism, with the threat of Daesh, the war in Syria, the crisis in Libya, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and an immense humanitarian crisis with the flow of refugees from East and of migrants from the South.
This mix of different, distinct, difficult, and in some cases interconnected problems has brought about a totally new awareness in the world and in Europe.
I personally spent most of 2014 as Italian Foreign Minister, arguing that what was happening to the East of the European Union should not have overshadowed what was happening to the South. And my first commitment, upon taking up my new responsibilities at the EU level has been to balance our priorities.
One year ago we put the issues of migration, counter terrorism and energy, for the first time ever on the EU Foreign Ministers’ table. Hard to believe, I know.
Today, the Mediterranean is at the centre of our common EU work, finally. It is not anymore the demand of one or few member States, but a permanent focus of all of us.
Let me say that it took too many tragedies for this to happen.
So today, when I say that the Mediterranean is our region, I say that not only as an Italian, but as a European.
Does this mean that we can be satisfied with the level of European awareness and engagement in the Mediterranean region? Far from that. The way to go is still long and difficult. There is still temptation to imagine a Europe where the South deals with the South, the East with the East – and a few with all.
There is still sometimes, and in some peoples’ minds, the illusion that national interests can be better served through national means. Looking at the challenges of our region, of our times, it should be self-evident to anyone of good faith that what happens around us affects us all, from Lisbon to Tallin, from Dublin to Sofia. Only through a common vision, strategy and action, only together, can we have an impact on what happens around us – and inside the EU, but this is a different story. The Mediterranean is the center of this, for all.
Sometimes one can have the impression that Europe is still far from this common awareness. The point is: what do we mean by Europe? Is our Union a couple of buildings in Brussels, a few thousand civil servants? Or is it rather 500 million people, local authorities, political parties, business, trade unions, national parliaments, and the governments of the 28 member states?
Is our Union the EU institutions only, or is it rather a community of interests and values, of societies and public opinion?
I believe that whenever we say ‘Europe’, we talk about us, each of us, and that being against the EU is being against oneself. And that we all have a responsibility in what the EU does, or does not do.
And yes, there is still a a lot of work to do to make our 500 million citizens and their respective governments, parliaments and media aware of the fact that when we say “Mediterranean” we talk about “our” region.
Within the EU institutions, this awareness is clear. There has not been one single Council or Commission meeting this year during which Mediterranean-related issues have not been on the agenda. But it’s still about our problems, our common problems, which are at the center of our agenda on the Mediterranean while we do have a positive agenda to deal with. This is the excellent intuition of this meeting – and I hope this becomes an annual one.
Two weeks ago, 43 countries were together in Barcelona with the Union for the Mediterranean in a meeting co-chaired by the Jordanian Foreign minister and I, not only to exchange views on crises but also to focus on our peoples’ lives: on our youth, with an average age that in the EU is above 40 and on the other side of the Mediterranean is below 30; on our women; on our investments; on culture; on energy; on our common interests on security, and on saving lives in the Mediterranean.
As we work on the positive agenda we share, it is in our common and immediate interest to work together to solve the two main crises our region faces: Libya and Syria.
We will work on Libya on Sunday, here in Rome, in a format that has proven to bring some results – with the Vienna Talks on Syria- as well as on Monday at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels. We see the possibility of an agreement to be signed soon. It would be very good news. Still, it would be only a starting point and the way ahead would be long. The European Union is ready to support, in partnership with the Libyans, a process that has to have first of all full and broad Libyan ownership.
On Syria, after so many people died and fled the country, we finally managed to refocus the attention of the whole international community on how to put an end to the war.
I know that many in this room have different views, but I believe the Iran deal opened a window of opportunity for a different regional dynamic: as we implement the deal, we also open the possibility for different actors in the region to start building some form of regional architecture. And to solve the Syrian war, we need all the players outside Syria to involve all the players inside Syria in a political process. We need to move from communiques to real impact on the ground: starting a political transition, declaring a ceasefire, uniting forces against Daesh, and granting humanitarian access.
I hope that all the regional players will come to this basic, common interest. We seem to have forgotten that while we speak a lot of geopolitics, the war is destroying people’s lives.
We received rather good news from Riyadh, following the meeting preparing the opposition for the start of the talks, and work is ongoing on the list of terrorist groups. I hope that these two tracks of work will let us go on with the roadmap we have agreed in the talks last November. That after the meeting at a technical level today (Friday 11 Dec.) in Geneva, there will be a new meeting of the Vienna format on Friday 18th December in New York. We need this process to bring results.
If the process brings results, this will be positive for Syria, for peace in region, for the security in Europe, and for the refugee crisis, but also for further developments in the region. When diplomacy brings results this opens new windows of opportunity for diplomacy, and a vicious circle can become a virtuous one.
I still hope this could be a way of designing new regional architectures, when we think of the wider Middle East, of the Gulf, of the Horn of Africa, of Sahel, of the Euro-Mediterranean area. We are linked, we share an interest in peace and security.
The Mediterranean Region is the most problematic region in the world, and still the least integrated in the world. Turn this around, and you might find out that regional integration brings peace and development, exactly as it did for Europe. Work on the integration of the Mediterranean, and the positive agenda will take shape. It is possible. Diplomacy, dialogue, cooperation are possible. And they can bring positive results.
Think of the power of peace in Syria on our positive Mediterranean agenda. The power of peace between Israelis and Palestinians on our positive agenda. The possibility of an election of the president in Lebanon on our positive agenda. The settlement of the Cyprus issues on our positive agenda.
It is possible. It is in our common interest. And it is up to us to make it happen.
Our positive common agenda is us coming together. We cannot and must not fear each other. It’s not the ‘other’ but ‘the fear of the other’ that can destroy our region.
Dialogue, cooperation, win-win situations, common opportunities for our people: this is the way. This is the best investment in our common future.
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