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Speech by Hon. Minister Alfano at the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum Mediterranean “What Italy can do to unlock the full potential of the Mediterranean” – Rome, 9 February 2017

“What Italy can do to unlock the full potential of the Mediterranean”

Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria, 9 febbraio 2017, ore 13.30 

(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)


Deputy Prime Minister of Libya, Ahmed Maiteeq,

Minister for Development of Tunisia, Mohamed Fadhel Abdelkefi, 

Mr. Carmine Di Sibio,

Mr. Donato Iacovone,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to thank Ernst & Young for this opportunity to address you. And to tackle such a vital question.

I was asked to reply to this question: What can Italy do to unlock the full potential of the Mediterranean?

I  would respond that Italy can do a lot. And it is already doing many things.


 This year Italy has an extraordinary opportunity to place the Mediterranean on the centre stage of the international debate.

Because this year we are a member of the Security Council of the United Nations. And I already spoke in the Council last month, where I stressed the centrality of the Mediterranean in the global agenda. 

Because this year the Mediterranean is a key topic of our G7 Presidency.

Because this year we will also hold the Rome Summit on the future of the EU.

A Summit that will celebrate the Sixtieth anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. And that will be a fundamental appointment to put the Mediterranean at the heart of a new vision for Europe. 

Because the destiny of Europe is tied to the destiny of the Mediterranean.

Therefore, it’s urgent that Europe shows that it can respond to the “Mediterranean calls”.

Today, Europe is still communicating in a “chat” when all of us are using  “WhatsApp”.

Europe needs to be faster and keep up with the times.

For example, by building a Common European Defence that looks towards the Southern shores, from where we face multiple and asymmetric threats.

To pick up the pace, I believe it’s important to follow the model of a European Union based on different “concentric circles”.

This idea is already widely accepted and the respect of our differences will allow us to go forward.

It’s also an idea more in line with reality and the existing formats of European unity. For instance, in the Euro we are nineteen Member States; and in Schengen we are twenty-two plus four non-EU members.

In fact, I believe that the main impetus for further integration must come from those Member States that are already sharing the deepest levels of sovereignty.

I believe that these Member States have a duty to show the way forward for the EU.

So we can build a Common European Defence with those Member States that are willing to proceed.

This year security will also be on the agenda of Trieste Summit on the Western Balkans. We want to reconnect the Mediterranean to the Adriatic.

And this year, we will hold the Chairmanship of Mediterranean Contact Group of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.  

As you can see, Italian diplomacy is doing its utmost to focus the international attention on the Mediterranean.

And we want to do this with a new pace and faster rhythm.


Now let me go deeper into the questions that touch the Mediterranean.

Today, this region is associated with “waves” of chaos, fragmentation, volatility, and loss of life. These “waves” are hitting the European shores.

How can we placate the storm?

I believe that Aldo Moro was right when he stressed that the Mediterranean and Europe are one and the same.

He said that: “no one is called to choose between being in Europe or being in the Mediterranean, because Europe is in the Mediterranean”.

However, I think that too many Europeans have been under the illusion that they could separate their fate from the tides of the  Mediterranean.

The crisis in Libya, the huge flows of migrants from Africa, the massive arrival of refugees from Syria, and the spread of Daesh, have all confirmed the huge impact of this region on the political and economic future of Europe.  

Today, populism is a “symptom” of an illness that to a large extent derives from the crises of the Mediterranean.

Low economic growth, sentiments of insecurity, and the migration crisis generated a “perfect storm” for traditional European political parties. And fuel to the fire of populism.

To put out this arson, that risks burning our democracies, we need to extinguish three main fires:

The first fire is: the insecurity felt by our citizens.

Italy and Europe still face Islamic terrorism that is trying to spread across the Mediterranean.

Let’s not forget that Italy is the second contributor, after the United States, in the coalition against Daesh.

We have to defend our freedoms. We cannot afford to live in fear. Fighting against fear is the essence of fighting for freedoms.

The second fire is: the migration crisis.

We must continue to tackle its “root causes”.

That’s why last week I launched the new Africa Fund.

It’s a Fund mainly focused on Libya, Tunisia and Niger, with the goal of strengthening the external borders.  

This Fund will also finance the implementation of the new Migration Agreement between Italy and Libya.

But let me be clear on this issue: I remain committed to  a “double S” approach. An approach that combines  solidarity and security.

“Solidarity” because Italy has saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the Mediterranean.

“Security” because we will continue to operate with resolve in identifying and expelling extremists.

The third fire is: the risk of European indifference to the challenges of the Mediterranean.

To remain protagonist, Europe cannot be indifferent to the problems of our Southern Neighbours.

I refer to the fact that sixty-percent of the population in North Africa and the Middle East is under twenty-five years and many are unemployed.

I refer to the challenge of environmental sustainability. There is still a highly unsustainable energy mix in the Mediterranean.

I refer also to the need for greater economic and industrial integration. The Mediterranean is the least integrated area in the world. Only nine-percent of trade is between the EU and the Southern Mediterranean. And only one-percent is South-South.

However, I see also opportunities in these challenges.


For example, the wider Mediterranean region is a market of almost five-hundred million people and around ten percent of world GDP.

Twenty-percent of the world’s maritime traffic and thirty-percent of the world’s oil navigates on Mediterranean waters.

The full market and investment potential of an integrated Mediterranean has not yet been tapped.

Where should we start? I think we need to start with Energy.

With energy we can redefine the Mediterranean from “a source of crisis and alarm” to “a promise of prosperity”.

Energy is a “win-win” opportunity for regional cooperation, new political partnerships, and the integration of markets.

A Mediterranean Energy Hub is our ambition. But it does require huge efforts.

Italy is committed to this goal.

At the Second Ministerial Energy Conference of the Union for the Mediterranean, hosted in Rome last December, all States agreed to re-launch three cooperation platforms: gas, renewables, and a regional electrical market

My expectation is that energy may drive the “New Positive Agenda for the Mediterranean”.


Another ingredient of this “Positive Agenda” is trade.

In numbers, the value of Italian export towards the wider Mediterranean has reached 44 billion euros in 2015.

But we can do much more if we find a political solution to the crises in Libya and Syria, which have cost us close to 20 billion euros in lost trade. And even more tragically, lost lives and hopes of too many innocent people.

I’m also convinced that in other areas of the Mediterranean a more robust economic diplomacy can unlock new opportunities.


Culture deserves a final word.

Cultural heritage is a pillar for the reconstruction of a shared identity in the Mediterranean,  especially in those Countries suffering from civil conflicts and terrorism. 

History has taught us that the Mediterranean has produced its finest cultural masterpiece when different civilizations have worked together.  

My own cities of Agrigento and Palermo have been enriched by the presence of the Phoenicians (finiscians), Greeks, Jews, Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs.

It’s no surprise that Palermo’s fabulous historical centre has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The “universal spirit of Palermo” should inspire our strategy in the Mediterranean.

But we need to elaborate new initiatives together.

This is the only way to finally calm the turbulent waters of the Mediterranean. 

Thank you.