Algeri, 21 gennaio 2018
It’s a pleasure to be in Algeria today. I want to thank Minister Messahel for the excellent hospitality; and Minister Le Drian for co-chairing this meeting.
The year that has just ended was full of opportunities for Italy to put the Mediterranean “back on the map”: as member of the Security Council; during our G7 Presidency; at the Trieste Summit on the Western Balkans; at the Rome Med Dialogues; and at the Palermo Ministerial Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This year, Italy holds the Chairmanship of this Organization, where we will continue to put great emphasis on the Mediterranean.
Patiently, but with great determination, we also pursued a “pivot to the Mediterranean” in the EU and all regional fora. The Mediterranean may be a small sea, almost the size of a large lake when seen on a globe, but it’s where much of our global security is at stake, for example: the risk of returning foreign terrorist fighters after their defeats in Iraq and Syria; the crisis in Libya; new tensions in Lebanon; radicalization and intolerance; and the pressures from the greater Middle East that reverberate back to the Mediterranean. And let me also take this opportunity to acknowledge Algeria’s engagement in promoting regional stability.
Setting aside any rhetoric, our two shores are geographically close, but remain too far apart both politically and economically. And I believe that the 5+5 Dialogue is a fundamental instrument to bridge this gap, tackling both the challenges and the opportunities. Let’s not forget that the Mediterranean is also an area of positive prospects. In recent years, it has acquired new strategic relevance as a platform for global connection. The doubling of the Suez Canal, the discovery of new energy sources, and the new “Silk Road” launched by China make the Mediterranean a global hub for infrastructure, transportation and logistic networks.
The Mediterranean accounts for 30% of the world’s oil trade and 20% of maritime traffic. It’s a market of 500 million consumers, with an annual GDP of about four and a half percent over the last twenty years. These are extremely significant numbers that reinforce our commitment to define - together - a long-term vision for the Mediterranean and its sustainable development.
I especially like the focus today on youth. A partnership between the North and the South of the Mediterranean has to be founded on a more strategic investment on young people.
Firstly, I think it’s important to double our efforts in economic diplomacy: promoting a better climate for investments, more entrepreneurial activities, and greater access to credit for businesses initiated by youth and that employ youth. Trade flows are also critical: intra-regional trade accounts only for three percent of the total trade. So, it’s fundamental that Mediterranean countries continue on the path of globalizing their economies and increase their integration. Free trade not only brings wealth to societies, but it’s also necessary for peaceful interaction. Because when goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.
I was recently in Tunisia, where I had an excellent meeting with President Essebsi, Prime Minister Chahed and Minister Jhinaoui. I firmly believe, from an economic point of view, that if we want the young democracy of Tunisia to remain stable and secure, then we should work together to do much more to relax the constraints imposed on its economy by international creditors. Tunisia needs to be given more space to grow its economy, with increasing trade and investments vis-à-vis the UE and the region.
Tunisia is an extraordinary example of how a farsighted and courageous leadership has drawn the country from the brink of crisis towards a path of historical reforms of profound cultural value and in support of fundamental rights, such as the elimination of discriminatory rules on interfaith marriages. A decision for which we praised President Essebsi publicly. Moreover, Tunisia continues to be firmly on the path of fundamental economic reforms to eliminate inequalities and create more jobs for youth. I also think that the recent tensions showed Tunisian’s ability to ensure the right of citizens to speak out, while curbing violent actions that are unacceptable. That’s democratic maturity. Therefore, Italy is firmly on Tunisia’s side, supporting its impulse for reform, dialogue and respect for diversity, which are also essential to counter extremist elements of our societies. And I will be asking our EU partners, during tomorrow’s Foreign Affairs Council, to do more to support Tunisia in this phase.
Secondly, I want to stress the importance of the intensification of cultural and university exchanges. Italy considers culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development, alongside the economic, social and environmental pillars. This year, we decided to launch an ambitious program - “Italy, culture and the Mediterranean” - with more than 500 cultural initiatives in the Mediterranean region. And we are always ready to hear new ideas and consider new initiatives from your countries.
I have also been a strong advocate for a great “Erasmus of the Mediterranean”, with more scholarships and increased university mobility. I was very happy to sign, last December, an agreement in this regard with the Ministers of Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco. And I hope we can expand this initiative.
Culture and education are powerful tools, not only to promote inclusive societies and inclusive economic development, but also to prevent the radicalization of disenfranchised youth. More cohesive societies are better immune to the threats posed by radical calls to violence and extremism. Algeria, for example, has shown that it’s possible to fight terror not just by force, but also through dialogue, reconciliation and inclusive policies.
Moreover, we cannot achieve sustainable development if half of our society is marginalized. I’m referring to gender equality and the equal participation of women in the economy, which can give a huge boost to our markets. At the same time, we need more women actively involved in diplomacy, mediation, and crisis resolution in the Mediterranean. That’s also the reason why last October, in Rome, we decided to launch the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network.
Allow me a final word on the migration crisis, which Italy has consistently tackled by combining solidarity and security. On the one hand, we have saved more than 650,000 lives at sea, with a firm humanitarian approach. On the other hand, we have worked to keep our country secure by identifying extremists and disrupting the networks of human traffickers.
In 2017 we revitalized our partnership with Africa. The reorientation of our partnership towards this continent is the culmination of a deep political-diplomatic commitment; which included the reactivation of our Embassy in Libya and the opening of new Embassies in Niger, Guinea Conakry and Burkina Faso.
Our multilateral strategy, to tackle the migration crisis, was defined at the First Ministerial Conference of Transit Countries, held in Rome last July, which was a success thanks to the participation of the countries present here today and many others. Together, we created an innovative model, also endorsed by the EU-Africa Summit in Abidjan, based on the voluntary repatriation of economic migrants and the resettlement of refugees; greater cooperation to end the deadly “business model” of human traffickers; and supporting the most vulnerable communities through local economic development.
The results we have seen so far are very encouraging, also thanks to the work - on the ground - of the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration. We are convinced that we need to continue along this approach. Therefore, we are organizing the Second Ministerial Conference of Transit Countries, on the 6th of February in Rome. It will be an occasion to measure the impact of our actions; to fine-tune our approach; and to define new initiatives together.
Ultimately, Italy supports a long-term vision for the sustainable development of the Mediterranean. And all the topics that we discussed today are crucial for that vision to become tangible. At the same time, I would like highlight the importance of research and innovation.
I want to mention the Partnership on Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA), the BLUEMED program, and the Initiative for the Sustainable Development of the Blue Economy in the Western Mediterranean (WESTMED). These initiatives are helping us advance a shared vision for a sustainable Mediterranean, for example by devising new strategies to improve water availability and sustainable agriculture, in a region distressed by climate change, urbanization and population growth. Our objective is to develop new actions to make our common sea safer, cleaner and more productive.
Dear colleagues, at this crucial moment in history, we are moving towards a decisive point: the Mediterranean can once again become a meeting point for cultures, civilizations, trade and investments; or it can degenerate into a region of confrontation, terror, social desperation and unrest. It’s up to us to do everything possible so that the first of these two scenarios - and not the second - comes true. Because the dividends of peace, security, and sustainable development - in a region linking Europe, Africa and Asia - would be huge and global. For us and for the future generations.