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Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,
Because this is a meeting of friends, thank you to all of you for being here. It is great that so many of us managed to meet in person in these difficult circumstances. This is a meeting with a record number of Ministerial attendance - that is good news.
The last time was in 2019 and I want to express my sincere thanks to Spain for hosting this event in such a splendid setting, a truly Mediterranean place. Thank you to the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs [José Manuel Albares], for his encouragement to continue working and his encouragement to continue showing solidarity and commitment.
As he said, yesterday we had the first ‘Day of the Mediterranean’ and on that ‘Day of the Mediterranean’, I sent a message saying that we are family. We are neighbours, we are partners, we are family. Inside a family there is love, but there is also from time to time a certain number of troubles, quarrels. And we also have it.
We have it because we share a common history. The history brings us together and the history brings us conflicts. The history joins us, but also separates us. In fact, the Mediterranean is a border. It is a border that separates two worlds with a lot of differences.
We have committed ourselves to overcome what separates us and to make the Mediterranean more than a border a meeting place that brings our world together- our worlds, let us say that in plural.
The Mediterranean should be a place for shared progress, but if we are honest with ourselves, we have to recognise that we have not been very much successful on that. And it is in our hands to continue working and engaging with each other to continue shaping our common history.
Our time brings us many challenges. We face conflicts and, on some of them, we have done very little progress. I am sorry to have to remember that. We face fragmentation, inequalities and lack of economic opportunities, especially for the many young people. We face migration pressure and disappointed dreams.
Look at the figures: since 1990, over the last 30 years, in the Maghreb –I know it is not all the Mediterranean but let us focus on Maghreb– the GDP per capita has doubled, but in the European Union it has tripled. So, the gap is increasing. The GDP per capita in the Maghreb went from $5,000 to $10,000 and at the [GDP per capita in the] European Union went from $15,000 to $45,000 - the gap is much bigger.
And we can say the same thing about demographics. The population has grown much quicker in the South than in the North. In the North it has grown 12% and in the South 45%.
These two gaps, the demographic gap and the wealth gap are unsustainable, and they are not decreasing, they are increasing.
Let us look at the reality in front of us. In spite of all our efforts, and in spite of so many conferences and meetings, that the Spanish Minister [for Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares] has reminded, we continue having a growing gap. Allow me to insist on this idea: this is unsustainable. We have to close this gap. And, in order to close this gap, we have to face some specific challenges.
Certainly, to promote sustainable and inclusive economic development, which means in the end, [to create] jobs and opportunities for the big number of young people in the South. And many of them will have to look for this opportunity in the North. We cannot close our borders to migration, but it has to be regulated.
Second, we have to fight against inequality and to build human and cultural links. Third, trade and investment, there is not enough trade among us. The North of Africa is one of the less integrated regions in the world and the number of economic exchanges between the North and the South is not increasing. And last, but not least, to fight climate change and improving living conditions.
Certainly, these challenges can only be solved successfully if we work together. I insist on the idea that we have to convert the Mediterranean not in a border that separates us, but in a meeting place. That is what the Union for the Mediterranean is for, and what the Union for the Mediterranean does by concrete steps, by practical cooperation, by delivering results. That is what the Union for the Mediterranean is.
Other international actors are appearing in the region. When I arrived to Brussels two years ago, there were no Russians in the North of Africa. Now there are a lot. When other actors come, it is important to continue increasing our engagement among us, among the Mediterraneans.
A good example of this solidarity is our common efforts to deal with the situation in Belarus, allow me to mention this, because it matters a lot for us Europeans. Many of you have shown solidarity - thank you - by limiting air traffic to Belarus, or to use the words of my fellow Commissioner [for promoting European Way of Life, Margaritis] Schinas: “This is the moment when the European Union is counting on our friends, and we are very happy to see that we have many”. And many of you have been very useful in stopping this flow of people that [have been] used as bullets against the European borders. They have been weaponised, and these kinds of things, we cannot afford to have them.
Another good example is how we have helped each other with the COVID-19 pandemic. This is work in progress, but we on our side have done our best, not enough, but our best to help all countries around the Mediterranean. And we will continue supporting them.
Yet another example is the Ministerial Declaration on Environment and Climate Action, adopted by the Union for the Mediterranean in Cairo last month, as the Spanish Minister [José Manuel Albares] remembered it. This agreement has to lead the region through a successful green transition. Because climate change and environment degradation come with serious challenges, but it is also a big opportunity for both of our economies, for job creation, for diversification of our economic structure.
There was a similar success last June when the Union for the Mediterranean Ministers confirmed their intention to set a new clean energy transition pathway for the region. They agreed on a masterplan for electricity interconnection among all countries and across the Mediterranean. I think we have to stress the importance of this masterplan.
Yes, the Union for the Mediterranean has proven its ability to go beyond the political divides and to focus instead on concrete cooperation leading to tangible results on the ground. That is why, allow me to thank the Union for the Mediterranean Secretariat and Secretary General, Nasser Kamel, for his leadership and dedication in such difficult circumstances.
Implementation will be key. Nice words are important, good actions are better. But apart from acting, we need to communicate. I think that there is a lack of communication from our side and our work is not well known or handled as it should be. I invite all of you to explain more and better, to demonstrate the value of cooperation across the Mediterranean. Our people need it. They need to know how we work together and that is why we are here.
Thank you for your attention. I will pass the floor to my co-Chair, Ayman Safadi, [Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan], thanking him for his excellent cooperation.
Link to the video (starts at 13’00’’): https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-214321