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I would like to start on a personal note: this is the second time I participate to a 5 + 5 Ministerial meeting, but this is, I believe, the first time ever a High Representative participates to such a ministerial meeting. And I believe this is not by chance. I believe this is because it is very clear now to all European Union Member States and to all European Union institutions that what happens around the Mediterranean and in the Mediterranean matters to the whole of Europe and not just to the countries that are around the coasts of our common sea.
It is not just about migration – it made itself evident that we need to come together to manage the phenomenon -, it is also about security; about economic development; about climate change: it is about all the issues that our young leaders presented to us during our working breakfast.
So these are vital interests for our entire continent, for Europe. And I believe there is now a new awareness of the fact that only through working together across the two shores of the Mediterranean we can aspire to solve some of the challenges we have in front of us. So it is only normal for me to be here representing the European Union as such.
Experience tells us that all the issues we have on the table can only be tackled in cooperation between the two shores of our sea and among the countries on each shore. This is the European experience; we managed to overcome some of our historic challenges only when we came together and it is still the case. This is, I would say, the DNA of our engagement also in the region and more broadly.
In this moment in time, cooperation among us is more urgent and more needed than ever. Our region has gone through a difficult decade. We come from a difficult time and we are still living in difficult times. Inequalities have grown between social groups, between cities and peripheries, and, most importantly, between generations. And this is something we have in common on the two shores of the Mediterranean.
Some of us have experienced war inside their countries or at their borders and we have all seen how difficult a transition can be - be it a transition from war to an inclusive peaceful reconciliation and the building of state institutions or be it from a war economy to a solid peace economy. These trends have fostered migration from our countries, through our countries and towards our countries. We all acknowledge that we have across this table countries that are at the same time countries of origin, of destination and of transit. So we share a challenge and we can only solve and address this phenomenon if we take a cooperative approach based on partnership among equals.
This is the European Union approach and let me say that some of the positive steps we have managed to take, in particular when it comes to our cooperation with Libya, are based exactly on this partnership: cooperative approach that we finally managed to establish. We are in this together and we can address this only together.
Here in Malta, I believe it is very easy to realise that the distinction between the two shores of the Mediterranean – North and South - is somehow artificial. Because we are in Europe, we are in the European Union, in a country that has held the European Union Presidency not long ago and yet we are south of Tunis and Algiers. So, we may speak different languages, we may have different cultures or different religions but we are close in terms of the faces we have, the attitudes we have and most importantly the interests we have converge completely.
Regional cooperation holds the answer to many of the challenges we face. In these years and months I have seen, as I was saying in the beginning, a new interest across Europe - from North to South, from West to East - in investing in Mediterranean cooperation. This is new and I think we have to make the most out of this interest.
The bilateral cooperation between the European Union and each of the non-European countries around this table has improved, increased and deepened enormously in these last years. We have also taken some important steps forward on regional cooperation on practical issues. We all care about, for instance, water management or the fight against radicalisation and we work together on this - either directly or through different fora in which we are together like the Union for the Mediterranean or the work we have been doing with the Anna Lindh Foundation on and with the younger generations.
I would like to close on one point: in Europe, I believe and I often say, we have to remind ourselves constantly about the cost of 'non-Europe', the cost of not-proceeding towards further European integration. It is an economic cost; it is a security cost; it is a cost that our citizens would face if we did not take important decisions in the past decades. There is a clear cost of the lack of European integration in certain fields.
I believe there is also a cost of 'non-Maghreb' that the region has to acknowledge and this has nothing to do with the big issues that might be on the table. There is a cost in having high tariffs; there is a cost in having insufficient connections between your countries - to fly from one capital to the other on the Southern shore of the Mediterranean, most of you go through Paris, Rome or Madrid-, not to mention the very low level of trade and economic exchanges across the Southern part of the region.
I believe that it is high-time today to try to find and open new avenues of cooperation across the Southern shore of the Mediterranean, in particular in the Maghreb, as a win-win exercise, starting on practical matters. Leaving aside the more controversial issues, our European experience is this: we started with steel and coal - something not evoking passion, but very concrete - and then we ended up with a political union that is the most advanced in the world. I believe that cooperation on practical matters can be the starting point also for a closer cooperation on more delicate issues, starting with regional security.
Let me conclude by saying that I believe the European Union not only can but also deeply wants to support and accompany this potential process. We have different tools and means to do so that derive from our experience but also from the close partnership, the close relations we have with each and every of the countries around this table. We are the first partner for everybody in all the different fields and we can put at the disposal of our entire region this potential, and that, I believe, would benefit us all.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I166264