Dear Prof. Dr. Martin Heger,
Dear Prof. Dr. Dr. Stefan Grundmann,
Dear friends and colleagues,
Thank you for welcoming me here at the prestigious Humboldt University. It is an honor for me to address you in this beautiful building, which is not only an important hub for innovative research, a crossroads of ideas, an important forum for frank and open discussions about our common past, present and future, but is also a site rich in history and a landmark for Europeanism.
This is testified, among other things, by the well-known “Humboldt Reden zu Europa”, which have seen, just over the last few years, the participation of four Italian Prime Ministers: Prime Minister Renzi and Prime Minister Gentiloni – who spoke here respectively in 2015 and 2018 in their capacity as Heads of Government – and former Prime Ministers Amato and Monti, who were invited in 2008 and 2016.
Two of our Heads of State also accepted the invitation in the past: President Ciampi in 2003 and President Napolitano in 2007. Italy, I am happy to say, is a firm and long-standing friend to this institution, to its faculty and, most importantly, to its students.
The core of today’s talk, and of the fruitful discussion I hope to table with you in the Q&A session which will follow, is the absolute centrality of the Mediterranean region, not only for Italy – a peninsula at the heart of the Mediterranean – but also for Europe as a whole.
Mare Nostrum, as the Romans once called it. For millennia, it has been a hub of cultural, political and commercial exchanges, as well as a melting pot of peoples and ideas. It has been the cradle of European civilization, democracy, invention, and remains, to this day, an area of strategic importance for its riparian countries as well as for all the those ones affected by its stability or turbulence, in continental Europe and across the Gulf, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Obviously, this is particularly true for the European Union, whose major priorities, for geographical and historical reasons, are its Eastern and Southern borders, alongside the Transatlantic pillar of our common strategic outlook.
Despite the challenges it continues to face today in finding a strong and common voice across the board, the EU has strongly affected the ways in which its Member States interact beyond our external borders. The Union has helped shape our relations with our traditional allies and given us new mechanisms for furthering our ties to the East and to the South, through accession talks, partnerships and a number of different fora and initiatives aimed at promoting dialogue and strengthening our political, economic, social and cultural linkages.
There is no doubt that the Eastern borders of the EU have benefited from somewhat greater attention than the Southern borders in the aftermath of the Cold War. This happened for a broad range of reasons going from cultural and economic integration to the imperative of rapidly reintegrating European countries within the large EU family after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Over the years, we have admitted new Member States into the European Union, and tabled accession talks or preliminary discussions with our partners in Eastern Europe and in the Western Balkans. We have established special EU programs to increase cohesion and help non-member States breach the gap to qualify for membership in the future.
Much remains to be done, undoubtedly – such as, to cite an example, the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, a prospect that Italy firmly supports – but certainly Europe has been able to set up, at least, a framework and a path ahead dedicated to our Eastern partners.
What about the Southern flank, and, more broadly speaking, the “greater Mediterranean”? The reality is that, in addition to the long millennia of fruitful exchange and cooperation between the countries appearing at the Mediterranean, the EU itself has a deeply engrained, long-standing history of cooperation and interconnection with the region, going back to the mid-90s and the launch of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, or Barcelona Process, as it came to be called.
This partnership was directed towards establishing a multilateral framework for dialogue and cooperation between EU countries and their Mediterranean partners, in order to promote the development of a “space of peace and stability” and facilitate the flow of trade in the Mediterranean. It was also meant to bring coherence to a policy made up, until that time, of a series of disconnected bilateral agreements, which often failed to live up to the potential of larger, multilateral exercises.
At the dawn of the new millennium, the complexity of this challenge became increasingly apparent, compounded by important shocks such as the launch of second Intifada in 2000 and the September 11th attacks the following year. In parallel, the new dynamics instilled by the EU enlargement process, which led to 10 new countries joining the Union in 2004, drew ever greater attention to the Eastern Neighborhood, and the EU decided, in 2003, to launch the European Neighborhood Policy, bringing together its main programs for cooperation with the East and South and essentially replacing the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.
This policy, directed at six Eastern European States and ten Mediterranean States, was meant to improve existing mechanisms of mutual collaboration in both directions, and created new tools aimed at strengthening convergence around common values, from human rights to good governance, and promoting political, institutional and economic reform. One of its main overarching objectives was to pave the way towards the access to the EU Common Market of those countries most determined to follow through with the needed reforms. To support this process, we established an important new financial instrument: the ENPI, or European Neighborhood Partnership Instrument.
Broadly speaking, the instrument focused on cross-border cooperation, the implementation of national action plans in line with an ambitious reform agenda, direct contacts between public administrations at local and technical levels and a range of ad-hoc projects often related to energy and transport. Building bridges, both physically and metaphorically, was the key objective. Over the course of the instrument’s implementation period, however, which went from 2007 to 2013, a much stronger emphasis was placed on engaging with the East, which absorbed about 85 % of the resources made available, greatly reducing the impact on the Southern Neighborhood. In addition, because of the increased fragmentation, which the Mediterranean region was experiencing at the time, the implementation of the Policy in general had to shift away from prior efforts to develop multilateral frameworks.
Therefore, it focused instead on more limited – although perhaps better tailored – priorities, which included new sectors such as energy, environmental sustainability, and enhanced contacts between civil societies.
Efforts on the multilateral approach were channeled towards the institution of a new forum, the Union for the Mediterranean, established in 2008. This UfM, which still exists today, is a platform for regular exchanges between regional partners, often at Ministerial level. In addition to its primary functions as a forum for political and strategic dialogue, the Union for the Mediterranean also enables “North-South” co-financing of specific projects, mostly in the fields of sustainability, alternative energies, and support to small businesses.
Things changed again in 2011, when events related to what was then generally referred to as the “Arab Spring” – a term which has since lost much of its poetry – led the EU to partially rethink its approach to the Mediterranean.
This gave rise to the ideas enshrined in the “Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean” and to the European Neighborhood Instrument, which replaced the European Neighborhood Partnership Instrument. Building on the lines drawn by its predecessor, and with a substantially bigger budget (over 15 ,4 billion euro during the 2014-2020 timeframe, as compared to the 11,2 billion made available under ENPI from 2007 to 2013), the European Neighborhood Instrument enhanced the focus given to regional, sub-regional and transboundary, “South-South” cooperation. The major focus, however, remained on the Eastern partnership. We are now heading towards a new Multiannual Financial Framework at EU level, which will span from 2021 to 2027 and whose contents are still under negotiation. This is likely to lead to a further strengthening of our neighborhood policy, which is becoming ever more central in a time of growing uncertainty and shifting power structures worldwide.
Italy is hard at work to stress the fundamental relevance of an adequate, more robust, focus on the Mediterranean, a key aspect that, as I have mentioned, we have been insisting on for a long time.
The reality is that the Mediterranean and the enlarged Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region represented a “global” reality throughout history, with its numerous challenges and opportunities and in light of the strategic interest, it has always held for all the great powers.
Today, it has become an essential hub for energy routes and pipelines, for financial flows, for international trade, but also a home to an increasing range of non-state actors, militias, terrorist organizations and criminal bands, who have found fertile ground in the many crisis-ridden areas, which exist there today.
This has made it, perhaps even more so than in the past, a central area of the globe, inextricably linked not only to the EU but also, for various reasons, to the Balkans, to the Sahel, to the Horn of Africa, as well as to the Persian Gulf and beyond.
Engaging more with our Mediterranean partners is not only a priority for Italy; it is a strategic interest for the EU as such, as well as for the stability and prosperity of the region – and, dare I say, for the global international peace and security.
Here again, much of the growing attention of the EU for the enlarged MENA region is – at least partially – the result of a constant and determined effort by my Country throughout the years – regardless of the political belonging of the ruling majority of the moment – to stress the relevance of both the risks and the opportunities stemming from the Mediterranean. Italy has been a vocal advocate of strengthening ties and increasing cooperation in sectors ranging from security to investments, private-public partnerships and capacity building, in a spirit of renewed collaboration and mutual interest. We have done so within the European Union, despite the prevalent focus on the East which, as I have mentioned before, has characterized our Neighborhood Policy for decades. We have, done so within NATO, where we have greatly contributed to the substantial evolution of the Alliance’s posture vis-à-vis the Southern flank, leading to the development of an effective 360° (360 degrees) defense and deterrence capacity.
To that end, an important milestone was the establishment, in 2017, of the “Strategic Hub for the South” in Naples, within the NATO Allied Joint Force Command, which is further improving our understanding of how best to address the root-causes of regional instability. It also aims to contribute to preventing future security disruptions stemming from the South, building on engagement and enhanced dialogue with Partners in the region, which are trademarks of Italian foreign policy. Again, we have drawn the attention of the OSCE towards the South, while of course continuing to balance it with the key strategic importance of the Eastern dimension. Italy’s OSCE Chairmanship in 2018 was an important passage in this regard, which has, I believe, left durable traces within the organization and its broader outlook. We have done so in multilateral fora, both within the UN and in formats such as the G7 and the G20.
Finally, in recent years, we have sought to bring the Mediterranean to the forefront of global attention with our “Mediterranean Dialogues”, born in 2015 and whose sixth edition will take place in Rome in December of this year. According to the Global Go to Think Tank Index, the Conference ranked third in 2018 and second in 2017 and 2016, so becoming one of the biggest worldwide. Last year’s edition counted with the presence of 50 Heads of State or Government, Ministers and Heads of International Organizations and over 1000 participants from public institutions, the private sector, civil society, the scientific community and the cultural sector. Through its broad-based and inclusive approach, aimed at creating an atmosphere of greater mutual understanding and interaction between all actors, the Med Dialogues represent an extremely useful platform, bringing participants together to discuss issues related to its four main pillars: security; prosperity; migrations; culture and civil society.
To give you a sense of the depth of this exercise, which represents an effective image of the comprehensive view Italy believes is necessary when engaging with the greater Mediterranean, I think it can be useful that I briefly highlight the main contents covered during the three days of the last edition.
Current conflicts were of course at the center of many debates. Libya and Syria – whose UN Special Envoys, Salameh and Pedersen, were both present – were under the spotlights. The tensions in the Gulf were discussed in detail, as were the situation in Yemen and the stalemate of the Middle East Peace Process.
Transversal issues made also the object of in-depth discussions, going from the risks of a perceived US disengagement in the region to the fight against terrorism, the security implications of climate change and the proliferation of militias and armed groups.
Another relevant aspect was the role of global and regional powers in the region and the geopolitical rivalries between these actors, often leading to overt or covert support of opposing factions in third countries (the so called “proxy-wars”), as we are witnessing, for example, in Yemen and Libya.
More generally, the reassessment of a regional equilibrium was at the heart of many debates and discussions, as was the issue of the dramatically different impact that civil society and popular protests are able to have on their respective governments today, in comparison to the past. This fed into the issues of innovation and the role of modern communication tools, which is connected to a key aspect of Italy’s perspective on how to engage with the Mediterranean: creating and pursuing a positive agenda, especially in the sectors of investments, trade, energy and connectivity.
Participants also discussed migrations, issues of cooperation and solidarity, rule of law, the Sustainable Development Goals and environmental protection, including the role the new EU “Green Deal” could play. The importance of culture in bridging gaps and uniting young generations, fighting against prejudices and facilitating mutual understanding was also given ample space, in line with Italy’s strong traditional focus on cultural diplomacy.
The message is clear. Italy wants a stable, prosperous Mediterranean, with which to engage with a positive agenda, and we are reaching out to all global partners to help them realize this is a common interest, well worth investing all the time, the efforts, and the multi-faceted support that we are able to provide. I think this message is being heard. We cannot ignore the turmoil in the Southern Mediterranean, in particular at a time when we are witnessing signs of a gradual disengagement of the United States – a vital ally and a friend – from the region at large. The security concerns stemming from the Southern flank are very real, and humanitarian imperatives push us to take action where we can in order to reduce human suffering, protect cultural pluralism and religious freedom and, insofar as we can, ensure accountability.
The challenge is not only to find effective solutions, but also to avoid the risk that other players fill in the void in case of inaction from our part.
To achieve this, Italy firmly believes that inclusive political processes are the only possible – or at least the only sustainable – means to ensuring ownership and constructive transitions or reconciliations. This is true in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, just to recall a few. In all of these contexts, we are firm supporters of the work undertaken under the umbrella of the United Nations, aimed at finding negotiated political solutions mindful of human rights and institution building (or reconstruction).
An essential objective, in all of these cases, is to help recreate spaces for dialogue when the existing ones have been damaged or destroyed by internal or external factors.
In Syria, despite many years of effort, during which Italy initially tried, alongside its EU partners, to engage with the regime, many paths were pursued, from sanctions to active engagement with the opposition and interested external stakeholders, always with the aim of reaching a peaceful, political solution.
While it may seem, from a quick glance, that Russia’s military support to the regime has been instrumental in stabilizing most of the country, the situation on the ground remains unsustainable in the long term. At the moment, the only real process that truly has any chance of succeeding is the work of the Constitutional Committee established under the auspices of UN Special Envoy Pedersen, although its credibility is undermined by the regime. Only diplomatic efforts from all sides can push all Syrian actors to engage seriously in this process, and Italy is committed both with these actors and with their external allies to further this cause.
Another long-standing Mediterranean crisis is the Middle East Peace Process, where decades of conflict have been unable to resolve the differences between the parties. Italy, as a member of the Quint (including France, Germany, Spain and the UK), and especially as, a country which speaks to the Palestinians and the Israelis with the same sense of friendship, has been hard at work in trying to foster dialogue and negotiations. We were also for decades until its termination in 2019, one of the six countries ensuring participation in the Temporary International Presence in the city of Hebron (TIPH), as a testament to our commitment and to our credibility on both sides. To this day, we continue to urge the parties to undertake negotiations, in good will, which is the only path to a bilateral agreement acceptable by both sides and capable of putting an end to the conflict.
Italy is also one of the major providers of training and capacity building for defense and police forces in the greater region, always combining technical know-how and expertise with a strong focus on the respect for human rights, rules of engagement and accountability.
In this framework, and drawing on the renowned capacity of our troops to engage with their counterparts on an equal footing and with empathy, we have important contingents serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are very complex and delicate theaters. Other international missions, which also have a strong impact on the security and stability of the Mediterranean, receive substantial Italian support in Mali, Niger, the Horn of Africa and the Central African Republic.
Italy is also very active in a number of observation and monitoring missions, such as UNIFIL in Lebanon, where the Italian contingent is the second largest (and the largest of any EU Member State), the MFO (Multinational Force and Observers) in Egypt and MINURSO in Western Sahara. In the context of counter-terrorism, Italy is again on the front line. As a member of the Global Coalition against Daesh, we have supported combat actions against ISIS and provided training, intelligence and exchange of information with our partners. We will also host this year’s meeting of the Ministers of the full Global Coalition in Rome, which will bring together more than 80 partners of the Coalition. There, we will continue to address delicate issues such as how to readapt and continue our fight against ISIS in the wake of its territorial defeat (and of the killing of its leader, Al-Baghdadi, in October of last year), or how to address the issue of Foreign Terrorist Fighters, some of whom are EU citizens.
Of course, I must make a special mention of our engagement in Libya, which is one of the absolute priorities of Italy’s foreign policy today. The threats currently facing the country are very serious, and, while already causing widespread harm and suffering to the Libyan population, they also have the potential to jeopardize the overarching objective of our action in Libya: preserving the country’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Italy has long been engaged in bringing the multiple Libyan actors together in the search for a Libyan-owned and Libya-led political solution, in constant collaboration with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salameh, whose action we continue to support to the fullest.
Ours is the only European Embassy operating in Tripoli, and we continue to have regular contacts not only with the Government of National Accord led by President Serraj and the Libyan National Army led by General Haftar, but also with key stakeholders in Misurata and in the Fezzan, in Southern Libya. We have also created important collaborations with and between Libyan municipalities, as well as with the Libyan Coast Guard, which is benefiting from Italian training and equipment in order to improve its capacity to save lives and contrast criminal activities. One of the important results of these efforts was the Palermo Conference in 2018, which, despite the vast challenges it posed, brought many of the relevant Libyan actors closer to the launch of a constructive political process. A process which, unfortunately, turned sour with the offensive launched on the 4th of April of 2019 and the subsequent intensification not only of in-fighting between Libyans, but also of foreign interference, which caused a rapid scaling-up in the intensity of the armed conflict.
With the launch of the Berlin Process, Italy’s strategic aims with regards to third-party interference, fully aligned with those of SR Salameh and of the German government, were given a new platform, which engaged all of the major actors – with the notable exception, to say the truth, of most of Libya’s neighboring countries. This exercise brought assertive players such as Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey to agree, on paper at the very least, to common objectives and common denominators, thus generating a minimum baseline from which to move forward.
Despite the mixed signals, which we are witnessing on the ground, a common understanding was reached that fueling an escalation of the armed conflict – through weapons, innovative technologies and mercenaries – is in nobody’s interest.
The Conclusions of the Berlin Conference on the 19th of January lay out three broad objectives: 1) avoiding escalation and bringing the parties to a cease-fire; 2) reactivating an inclusive political process, with the collaboration of the UN; 3) improving cohesion within the international community in support of SR Salameh and of a lasting political solution.
While many relevant regional actors were not initially involved, Italy made an active effort to keep these countries on board through broad, high-level outreach to them. We did it at bilateral level, but also in the margins of the 2019 Med Dialogues, when Rome hosted a Ministerial meeting with Libya’s neighboring countries, with the aim of channeling their thoughts, ideas and concerns to the Berlin Process.
While this may not be the focus of the news, which understandably are more interested in the actions of the major players – and potential spoilers – Italy remains convinced that this involvement will be crucial to any sustainable solution within Libya.
Ensuring stabilization and security in Libya and in the Mediterranean as a whole, therefore, clearly means addressing not only the problems arising in the region itself, but also those external factors, which, much like foreign military interference, are contributing to its instability.
One of these factors is the lack of options and opportunities for many young sub-Saharans and their families, compounded by political instability, absence of effective State and police structures in large areas, the impacts of climate change and increasing water scarcity, all of which are extremely difficult challenges to address properly.
A direct consequence of these problems is the emergence of a number of negative feedback mechanisms, from exploitation to growing extremism and criminality, to smuggling and trafficking in weapons, drugs and, unfortunately, even human beings. This in turn generates intolerable human suffering within the region, which we are committed to combating, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but also destabilizing effects through illegal migrations, international terrorism and the proliferation of armed militias and mercenaries.
In this context, Italy’s traditional development cooperation is still very much engaged in Sub-Saharan Africa, which, with contributions amounting to approximately 280 million euros in 2018, remains the major recipient of our public aid to development. An innovative tool established in 2017 is the Italian Fund for Africa.
The Fund aims specifically at countering human trafficking and irregular migration, and invests in local capacity development, institution-building and increased collaboration in handling voluntary returns, as well as financing campaigns to highlight the risks linked to illegal migration, in cooperation with IOM and UNHCR.
Italy is also working, through bilateral agreements, on the development of regular migration channels, which are another important tool in preventing illegal migration and the lethal risks it involves for the migrants, alongside the political impacts it has in our own countries.
Italy, for example, has been grappling with the migratory crisis since well before 2015, which is when the crisis really came to light in Germany. Only then, and perhaps only in the last few years, did it become clear that the phenomenon can have concrete implications for security within the EU, but also that it is capable of having very substantial political repercussions within most EU Member States.
In this respect, Italy’s role has been to try tirelessly to promote the development of an EU migration policy, with the aim of truly seeing the Mediterranean as the Union’s common Southern borders, not just the borders of Italy, Spain and a handful of others.
All that exists at the moment is in an integrated asylum policy, which addresses a negligible fraction of the problem; it applies, on average, to 7-8 percent of overall migratory flows through the Mediterranean. This is not sufficient, in the context of a constantly increasing integration between its Northern and Southern shores.
It is also very far from addressing a common problem, which is the underlying reality that most migrants are not crossing the sea to come to Italy. They are doing so to come to Europe, more often than not with the aim of reaching Germany or the Nordic countries. The corollary of the free flow of people within the Schengen area is a common approach to migration, with common rights and responsibilities.
In light of all of these complex issues, I believe that Italy’s engagement in protecting and promoting security and stability in the Mediterranean becomes a natural and evident priority, which is very close to our heart and determined many of our strategic choices.
Our approach, however, is not only defensive, aimed at reducing risks and minimizing threats. The Mediterranean also presents extraordinary opportunities, and developing a positive agenda with regards to its Southern shores is likely to be just as relevant – if not more so – than all of our other efforts to promote its stabilization.
As Minister Di Maio highlighted during the opening ceremony of the 2019 Med Dialogues, the Mediterranean is home to 500 million consumers, and 20 % of global maritime trade flows pass through the Mediterranean, which hosts as many as 450 ports and terminals. It is a natural partner for Italy, of course, but also for the rest of the EU, and our objective is to contribute to boosting its vitality as a connectivity platform between Europe, Africa and Asia.
Many new actors, in particular from the Asian continent, are looking at the Mediterranean with an increasing interest, which, again, represents both a competitive risk and an opportunity in terms of growth and development.
Despite the widespread turmoil in the region, and the financial crisis, Italy currently has more than 1200 businesses active in the greater Mediterranean, and Italian investments have increased by more than 20 % in North Africa and more than 40 % in the Middle East over the last decade. We are both an exporter to and an importer from the Southern shore, and while the MENA region accounts for about 30 % of our national exports, more than two thirds of our oil and 50 % of our natural gas provisions flow through the Mediterranean.
Energy, it turns out, is not only a binding force of the present between the two shores of the Mediterranean, but also an important factor of our future collaboration, if properly nurtured. Collaboration on climate change mitigation and renewable energies offers a very broad range of opportunities, especially in solar and wind power, as it is suggested in the new European “Green Deal” recently announced by the European Commission.
This is where we see the future of the Mediterranean Sea, along with a broader and more effective engagement with the Mediterranean youth, which is a source of innovation and creativity that still needs to be grasped fully. To that aim, we foster – on a national basis and within the EU – the strengthening of all programs allowing students from the Mediterranean countries to come to Italy and Europe to complete their formation and to improve their professional skills.
Finally, this brings me to the question of culture. Italy’s “cultural diplomacy” has been a trademark of our international engagement for as long as I can remember. It reflects the deep attachment to our own cultural heritage and traditions, as well as a profound acknowledgment of the role of creativity – be it in the fine arts, literature, music, theater or architecture – in shaping or finding a common ground between very different individuals, cultures and societies. It helps to foster dialogue, mutual understanding, and, sometimes, to discover unexpected commonalities.
It is also a tool which is still very much under-used, and which we are striving to bring to the forefront: an effort that Germany certainly shares, given the role that culture played also in your history and your identity.