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Muchas gracias, Josep [Borell, Foreign Minister of Spain],
Ayman [Safadi, Foreign Minister of Jordan], Nasser [Kamel, Secretary General of the Union for Mediterranean], dear friends,
thank you all, first of all, for being here and thank you for welcoming us in this beautiful land again.
Allow me to start by reaffirming our common, strongest condemnation of any form of antisemitism, and any form of hate and violence against any religion in a day like today. The terrible attack against a Synagogue that happened yesterday in Germany concerns obviously first and foremost us Europeans, as we have to be much more effective in preventing and contrasting antisemitism, as we also have to do against islamophobia.
But this work does not only concern us Europeans. It concerns us all, across the region, as we host a diversity of identities in each of our countries. And as we have diverse societies, where everyone needs to feel safe and respected - no matter if Jew, Muslim, Christian, or non-believer, we have this common responsibility of making every one of our citizens safe.
One of the reasons why we gather here, together, is exactly because we know that we are all facing challenges that require bridges to be built, forces to be joined. We all know that what unites us, beyond every difference, is much stronger, and far more important than any of this distance that we can measure.
We are one around the Mediterranean as a community. I think we share some common challenges and also some common answers that can be found.
So I am really glad for this opportunity to be with you today. And I am glad to be here again, as one of the final commitments of my mandate, and to be here with Josep [Borell], who today obviously hosts us here as the Spanish Foreign Minister, but also as the one that in exactly three weeks from now will take over the responsibility and the pleasure of being the High Representative of the European Union.
And personally let me say that with him, not only the European Foreign and Security policy, but also this Forum, will be in excellent hands. So I want to thank him twice. First of all, as our gracious host in his land - Barcelona, Cataluña, Spain -, but also as the one that, as I said, will have the pleasure and the responsibility to succeed me in this wonderful job that I have had the pleasure of sharing with you.
I am sure that the good work we have done in the Forum will continue and will be something on which you can build. I remember very well that when I became High Representative, exactly five years ago, this Forum had not met for six years. It was a huge paradox to me, as European and not only as a Mediterranean, that in times when we all faced similar challenges, regional cooperation was simply not on the agenda around this sea that unites and divides at the same time.
We can all see that our common region today is still facing many of the challenges it was facing five years ago. Too many crises are still open. Syria is facing yet another escalation of violence, with consequences that we believe will be extremely negative for us all - and this is why we ask for this military intervention in North East Syria to immediately stop. In Libya, the political process has been halted once again by this year's new military offensive. And the two-state solution continues to be eroded on the ground.
But many things have also improved – from the economic situation to the territorial defeat of Daesh, from the Balkans' progress towards the European Union to the sharp reduction in the number of people who die in the Mediterranean - even if one [life] is too much still.
So, the work of these years, I believe, has not been in vain. In fact, the reasons for investing in the Union of the Mediterranean are even stronger today. And I am proud that in these five years we have truly revitalised this format; meeting four times at our level and with continuous meetings at a technical level that have prepared the ground for practical work to be carried out.
The first reason is that we share many of the same interests, beyond all political, ethnic or religious divides. Earlier today you have met to discuss climate change – and this is a perfect example. We all realise that the impact of global warming and pollution on our region is real, and we can only tackle it together – working across borders on a regional level. The same is true when we look at the aspirations of our people, on both shores of the sea.
There is an immense human and economic potential in our region, and cross border cooperation can very often unleash this potential.
A new route to export our traditional products. A new opportunity to study abroad. An international research programme to put together the best experts in a specific field. We have over 50 projects operating under the UfM label, ranging from environment to transport, from energy to water. We recently had a very successful meeting of senior officials heading civil protection agencies, for instance, while in a few weeks there will be a similar meeting on research and innovation.
We are currently working to prepare Ministerial meetings in three crucial sectors – such as the blue economy, trade and the environment. These are very tangible examples of what results this Union can deliver.
But there is also a second reason why we decided to revitalise the Union for the Mediterranean in times of regional turmoil. While crises can build up and escalate very quickly, building trust and understanding requires time. It requires regular opportunities to meet and to exchange, but also to cooperate on issues of common interest.
In a moment of regional confrontation like ours - and not only regional, unfortunately-, it is even more important to explore new channels for dialogue, and to build the space for cooperation, even if only on limited specific issues.
Of course, this is not the only format and the only investment we have made in regional cooperation. You know that during these years, we also gathered for the first ever Summit of the Arab League and the European Union - something I am very proud of and I want to acknowledge and commend the work we have done together with the Arab League.
We have worked with the Arab League and the African Union, always in the framework provided with the United Nations. We have invested in Quartets and contact groups. We have always tried to create a multilateral framework where there was confrontation and mistrust. We did not always succeed, but we always tried. And we always created better conditions than the ones existing before.
At the same time, the Union for the Mediterranean is quite unique. No other format brings us all together. No other format allows for a discussion on practical issues, beyond all ideological divides. This is my last ministerial meeting in this format of the Union for the Mediterranean, but my hope and my advice is for this Forum to continue and that you make good use of it. That is an instrument that is not going to solve all the problems of this region of the world, but giving it up would be a waste. We have a roadmap that has given us guidance for the past years and the coming one, but which will need to be updated as the world around us changes.
As I said, I know that I leave you in very good hands – and let me also here thank Jordan and the [UfM] Secretariat for the excellent cooperation we have had in these years and also for the friendship we have built.
And as you have said in the European Parliament a few days ago, Josep [Borell]: We cannot be multilateral alone. The only way to do it, is to invest in partnerships and friendships and most importantly to invest in the strength of your friends, of your neighbours, of your partners. I believe this is exactly what we are doing here. The Union for the Mediterranean is an investment in multilateralism and regional cooperation. It is an open channel among governments that may not always share the same views - and I understand this is quite an understatement -, but share the same region - and if there is one thing you cannot change it is geography - and many of the same interests. It is a space for dialogue, in times when unilateralism too often prevails.
So I believe that today we need spaces and channels like this one more than ever. The need for the Union for the Mediterranean has never been stronger and I am sure we will make the most out of it.
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