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Opening address by the Hon. Minister at the High-Level Segment of the OSCE Mediterranean Conference in Palermo – 24 October 2017

 (The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)


Mister President,

Mister Secretary General,

Dear Colleagues of the OSCE Countries and of the Mediterranean Partner Countries,

Minister Siyala, our Special Envoy and representative of Libya, a candidate Country for the status of Partner. 

I extend a warm welcome to you all. I am happy of your large attendance here today. We have – I am told – already beat a record. For the first time, more than 30 Government representatives, between Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Undersecretaries, are attending an OSCE Mediterranean Conference. I think that this must be attributed to the welcoming spirit of Palermo as well as to the interest raised by the very topical theme of the Conference.

At Vienna’s OSCE Permanent Council meeting of 20 July, I illustrated the priorities of the 2018 Italian Presidency, out of the conviction that the OSCE has an important role to play in seeking shared solutions to common challenges.

Today I would like to reaffirm two key points in Italy’s priorities:

First, to find a solution to the Ukraine crisis and to the frozen conflicts in the OSCE area. We intend to do so by bringing forward the efforts of the Presidencies that have preceded us, especially the Austrian Presidency, that I thank for the work done.

Second, get the OSCE to concentrate greater attention on the challenges arising from the Mediterranean, knowing that the OSCE’s security dimension in the Mediterranean is complementary, and certainly not alternative, to that of its Euro-Asian dimension.  

Out of the many challenges, we have chosen the migration crisis as the transversal theme for the Palermo Conference.

It is not only a problem of the Mediterranean. In the Mediterranean we have only seen the “tip of the iceberg” of an “exodus” of biblical proportions: global migrations involve 244 million people (IOM figures of 2015). And forced migrations (refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons) have now peaked at 65.6 million people (UNHCR figures of 2016).

Seen on a world map, the Mediterranean looks like a lake. But the destiny that unfolds on this small sea is not regional. It is global. Most of the world’s security and prosperity rests on the dynamics of the Mediterranean. And also on the capacity of the OSCE and its Participating Countries to establish profitable dialogue and close cooperation with the Mediterranean Partner Countries.

Geographically, the shores of the Mediterranean look very close but politically they are still too far apart. This distance has broadened a dangerous gap that has nurtured the proliferation of fanaticism, violent extremism and terrorism. Unless we soon bridge this gap through mutual cooperation, we risk opening up an abyss in which our very security, our societies’ civil and tolerant coexistence and respect for fundamental liberties, could disappear.

So, we must build a real partnership with the Mediterranean Countries. Fostering mutual trust is the best way of not being influenced by the “rhetoric of fear” used so irresponsibly by extremists and populists.

Italy has acted responsibly in facing this challenge. In a world in which ‘zero risk’ does not exist, we have wed security with solidarity, rigour with humanity. We have shown that it is possible to save human lives, welcome people in distress and, at the same time, be strict with those that look down on our values.

I am convinced that “responsibility” and “solidarity” are the key principles with which the international community must respond to the migration crisis. Because no Country – on its own – is capable of tackling this situation of instability in the Mediterranean.

Even more so today, because the control of migration routes has now a more distinctive connotation of security than in the past. Suffice it to think of the risk posed by the possible return of Foreign Fighters, following the military defeat of Daesh in Iraq and the liberation of Raqqa in Syria. 

It is evident that the OSCE’s action is complementary to that of the States and of the International Organisations committed to tackling the migration crisis, such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and also the European Union. In any case, this principle of complementarity is set forth in the Decision adopted by the Ministerial Council of Hamburg in December 2016.

The OSCE has unique competences in this field: it has been active in combating human trafficking since 2003; thanks to this action, last year we launched specialised training courses organised by the Italian Carabinieri at the Centre of Excellence CoESPU in Vicenza.

This is the topic of the First Session. And this too is a security imperative because it is our interest to wipe away the business model of human traffickers: the “agents of the journey of death”. And also because it is now a proven fact that much of this revenue goes to finance criminal and terrorist organisations.

Precisely for this reason, yesterday I signed an Agreement with Ambassador Fedotov, the Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), to allocate 2.7 million euros for 2 projects to build the capacity of West, East and North African Countries to combat migrant trafficking.

And since the other main source of income of criminal organisations is drug trafficking, we have also organised an event on this topic, which will be co-chaired by Italian Chief Prosecutor Gratteri and by Ambassador Fedotov (UNODC).    

The Second Session scheduled for this evening will be dedicated to the positive aspects of migration flows. Reception and integration generate tangible economic benefits. The community of migrants – when well received and well-integrated – become a bridge for dialogue and trade between the Country of origin and that of destination. They enrich the quality of bilateral relations between governments.

The Third and last Session, still connected to the theme of migration, will focus on combating intolerance, xenophobia, racism and religious discrimination. We also greatly appreciate the work that the OSCE performs in this field, especially through the periodic Reports of the Warsaw Office (ODIHR) on the respect of human rights.

These Reports have revealed that during the last few years there has been an upswing in intolerant and discriminating behaviour that spurs violence. We object to this behaviour in the name of the values that unite us in this Organisation. And that induce us to say that: we cannot be tolerant with intolerance.

Yesterday, at the two events that I attended here in Palermo – one on cultural cooperation in the Mediterranean, the other on the protection of religious freedom, again in the Mediterranean – I reminded young people of the “spirit of Palermo”. You can see it in the Emblem of this City – the Quadrilingual Tablet – a stele dating back to 1149 and kept at the Zisa Palace, bearing an inscription in Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Arabic with the different dating systems in the world. That emblem shows respect for all peoples and all religions, something that has always characterised Sicily and Sicilians. It is a tangible symbol of the coexistence and tolerance between peoples and religions.  

It is what we can call the “Spirit of Palermo”.

As you know, more than 40 years ago, the “Spirit of Helsinki” inspired the rapprochement between the East and West of the world in a period of extremely strong contrasts.

I wholeheartedly wish that the “Spirit of Palermo” – nurtured through dialogue and mutual understanding – may irradiate across the Mediterranean, making our Mediterranean Partnership ever-stronger.