Former President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano
Prime Minister Gentiloni,
Honourable Members of Parliament and Senators,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
These past three days have been very busy. Our time together has flown by, and we are already at the final stage of the 3rd edition of Med Dialogues. I would like to remind everyone that the origins of this project lie in a happy intuition by Prime Minister Gentiloni when he was at the helm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. He is the one who founded this great event. I would also like to thank the ISPI (Italian Institute for International Political Studies) and the whole Farnesina team for the exceptional organisation.
These three days and the high level of political and academic participation have confirmed that the Med Dialogues is the most significant international forum of strategic reflections on the Mediterranean.
This year it was attended by:
- representatives from 56 countries;
- 45 Heads of State, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers, and Senior Officials of international organisations;
- a total of 800 people from the world of politics, business, culture and civil society of Mediterranean Countries;
- and an impressive number of representatives from 80 think tanks for in-depth reports and analyses.
I am sorry that a long series of bilateral meetings prevented me from taking part in all the panel discussions, but I asked my staff to provide me with detailed reports that I will read very attentively.
I would especially like to focus on two points that I believe reflect the high added value created by these three days.
Firstly, at this time of crisis in the Mediterranean, where views can be radically divergent, if not directly opposite, we have wanted to give the floor to all foreign policy leaders in the region. We did so because we are aware that pluralism - as promoted by Italy in the Mediterranean - must take account of a broader plurality of visions, even if they oppose each other.
We have listened to a number of discussions, also intense, in these last three days and we are happy with this result since the very nature of dialogue means “questioning one’s ideas”. We believe that we have supported this constructive dialogue, also thanks to Italy’s capacity to listen respectfully to others and to mediate, which is favoured by our history of non- interference in the internal affairs of others.
Let us not delude ourselves. When crises are so deep-rooted and difficult, solutions are never within easy reach. But negotiating, even if at great length, is an essential value in and of itself. We prefer dialogue and words over violent clashes and weapons.
The second point I’d like to dwell upon, after three days of debates, is that due to its geographic location, Italy has certainly been strongly impacted by the waves of political, social and economic unrest caused by the storms in the Mediterranean.
But I believe I can also affirm that Italy, as is recognised by a number of our interlocutors, has faced these crises in a decent, dignified manner, never failing to honour fundamental rights.
Let me add that Italy has now become a more responsible country. This is because we took a serious political stance, that refused the deceptive temptations of populists; and we never tried to take political advantage of our neighbours’ difficulties in order to spread fear among Italians and obtain easily earned consensus.
After all, Rome originated from the story of a refugee: Aeneas, who fled the wars of Troy to start his life again here on this land, and was the forefather of Romulus, the founder of Rome. Aeneas is still a symbol of our times because he travelled across the Mediterranean to save both his own life and the life of his family, and also to save his culture and roots, and to preserve his identity.
After a few generations, that same flight sowed the seed for a future of prosperity and well-being, of which we are the heirs.
The story of Aeneas teaches us that every crisis creates new opportunities. In these Med Dialogues, we have equally discussed the challenges and the opportunities, promoting a positive agenda for the Mediterranean.
One of the key points that I have been trying to push home during my year at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, is that the Mediterranean “unites” Europe and Africa, the continent the Italian Prime Minister recently travelled to on a diplomatic mission. The Mediterranean is a platform of global connectivity, between Europe, Africa and the world: of logistic connectivity; think of the doubling of the Suez canal and the Chinese “Silk Road”; connectivity of energy; think of the gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean; and connectivy of culture, think of the need to recover the thread of dialogue - in a post-Daesh scenario - in order to defend cultural heritage and political and religious pluralism.
Just as the United States and Canada stimulated development in Central and South America...
...just as China and Japan stimulated growth and development in Southeast Asia...
....it is time for Europe to fearlessly invest in the Mediterranean, and from there in Africa, because there will be an enormous return in terms of both growth and development.
Mention is often made of the importance of trade, and it’s true: both shores of the Mediterranean agree that defending free trade is a priority. Even more so since our civilisation and knack for negotiation originate from the Phoenician emporiums where our forefathers learned that commerce generates both growth and stability: because when goods don’t cross borders, armies will.
However, as De Gasperi said, you can’t promote free trade or free economic communications in general while simultaneously opposing the freedom of expressing thoughts, ideas or engaging in discussions. Every freedom is linked to another.
However, it would be simplistic to look at the relations between the Northern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean only in terms of exports. For example, there are now over 150,000 Italian language students in the wider Mediterranean, and 1022 agreements between Universities in force. It is a cultural and scientific heritage that we have wished to reassert by signing an agreement between Italy, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon and Libya to promote a great “Erasmus of the Mediterranean” so as to bring the two shores of Europe and Africa closer together.
Cultural exchanges encourage mutual acquaintance, helping us to overcome indifference and defeat prejudice. In this sense, culture is also the precondition to developing a great flow of investments between Italy and Africa through the Mediterranean.
The idea of a “Marshall Plan for Africa” has been bandied about for years, with Italy as the “ideal bridge in the Mediterranean” between Europe and Africa. However, these concepts need to be built on strong foundations to prevent repeating mere slogans. Especially since we, people of the Mediterranean, take a realistic approach to things.
We need realistic programmes to bring the two shores of the Mediterranean closer together, taking it step by step, project by project. And after many realistic projects, I am sure that we will have added fuel to an irreversible process that will go beyond rhetoric and make our common destiny in the Mediterranean inevitable. Today, I believe that these Med Dialogues have taken us a step further in the right direction.
Thank you very much, and let me now pass the floor to Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni.