Mediterranean dialogue

On 10/12 December, the MED-Rome Mediterranean Dialogues conference aims to help revive the economic and cultural geography of the ‘Middle Sea’.

Over the course of history, the name “Mediterranean” has come to identify a cradle of cultures and a pluralist approach. Paul Valery once defined the Mediterranean as a “machine for making civilisation”, while nowadays our sea is associated with crisis, turmoil and fragmentation.

The machine of Mediterranean civilisation has stalled. Meanwhile, the geography of the Mediterranean has expanded. Its geopolitical concept now comprises new maritime channels, including the Gulf of Aden, and new land-based corridors through the African continent, where institutional fragility favours human trafficking. Jacques Delors liked to say that Europe proceeds with its face concealed behind a mask. Since the end of the interventionist period led by the United States, the concept of the Mediterranean has unmasked us Europeans, revealing our uncertainties, our fears, our divisions. In this sense, the tragic events of 2015 have further proven the Mediterranean’s key role for Europe’s present and future. And this involves the whole of Europe: north and south, east and west. Everyone needs to come to this common awareness because a divided Europe projects only weakness towards its citizens and the world. Today, no one can honestly consider the Mediterranean an exclusively Italian or Greek problem.

The European Commission, Germany, France and other EU member states are finally adopting a far-sighted approach to the issue of migration. On the other hand, this European reawakening could risk being a mere emotional outburst if decisions regarding the challenges are not taken. The ‘much ado about nothing’ syndrome has already damaged Europe and its international credibility. Over the past 20 years, there has been a huge disparity between the relevance of the Mediterranean issue and the institutional and political tools adopted to address it by the EU and member states.

We have to be frank: the Barcelona Process has not achieved its goals. Just as the Union for the Mediterranean and the 3 Ms (money, mobility and market access), which were supposed to embody the European answer to the Arab Spring, have not been particularly effective. There has been a crisis of ideas and a crisis of vision.

We will not emerge from this crisis with the consoling thought that we are facing just another emergency. Momentous changes are afoot. Looking at the current demographics, 16% of Europeans are 65 or over and by 2050 that figure will be 27%, while the population of Africa will have doubled to 2.5 billion. On security issues, one has to consider the frightful combination of the threat posed by Daesh (the socalled Islamic State) and the fragility of many Mediterranean- area nations..

Faced with this sweeping sea change, the EU must realise it will never be a true global player unless it becomes a fully-fledged Mediterranean power, prepared to mobilise all its soft power and allocate the kind of resources expected of the largest economic area in the world. In recent months, Italy has come up with a clear strategy. We have responded to the vocation inherent in our geography – our 8,000km of coastline – by putting the Mediterranean at the top of the government's foreign policy priority list, starting with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s first state visit to Tunisia. We are actively engaged in the international coalition against Daesh and we have been constantly working to reach an agreement on Libya, which Italy is ready to help stabilise.

Meanwhile, in 2015 we have already saved the lives of more than 100,000 people, largely thanks to our navy. In our relations with Tunisia NovEMbER DEcEMbER 2015 | 21 and Egypt, and our cooperation throughout Africa, we have set a positive agenda focused on development, energy and trade, mobilising the country’s best resources without imposing preconceived models. Energy operator ENI’s recent discovery of the largest gas field in the Mediterranean is part of this approach. The aim is to stimulate the full integration of the Mediterranean and Africa into the global economy – through a joint public and private effort – so that both areas can exploit their development potential.

The last piece of the puzzle completing this Italian strategy is the high-level MED-Rome Mediterranean Dialogues conference. It is promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation and the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI). It will be taking place in Rome from 10 to 12 December 2015. MED-Rome Mediterranean Dialogues aims to pursue a new multilateral approach: besides Prime Minister Renzi, we are expecting participants from all countries covered by the new Mediterranean geography. Politics alone cannot rethink the Mediterranean. That is why we will involve in the debate business, research, media and cultural representatives.

Today’s Mediterranean chaos is the outcome of mistaken ideas and wrong choices. Now we can no longer merely analyse the past to avoid these mistakes in the future. We have to go further, coming up with new ideas and proposals. MED-Rome Mediterranean Dialogues is the chance to throw off the cloak of resignation that has seen the Mediterranean identified solely with crises, not with the opportunities it offers. The Rome event will highlight these concrete opportunities, from culture to infrastructure, finance for growth and youth employment policies. The machine of Mediterranean civilisation can be kick-started again from Rome and from Italy.

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