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Welcome and thank you.
I am particularly impressed and pleased to see how well attended this meeting is. You [Josep Borrell, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain and host of the Forum] mentioned this, it is the third ministerial Forum [of the Union for the Mediterranean] we have.
I remember very well when, together with the Jordanian co-presidency and the Secretariat [of the Union for the Mediterranean], we decided to invest in this ministerial format to make things that already happen, work better. I think the presence of today confirms us the growing interest for the Union [for the Mediterranean] and most of all, the unique opportunity it represents.
Because in no other format, do we have the same chance to discuss practical cooperation on issues that matter to our citizens' daily lives – beyond all sorts of political, cultural or religious divides.
And we all know that discussing practical, concrete cooperation is never enough, but it is the starting point that can also allow us to build more understanding on other issues.
I would also like to start by thanking the outgoing Secretary General [of the Union for the Mediterranean] Fathallah Sijilmassi for his excellent work, and by welcoming his successor, Ambassador Nasser Kemal. We already had the opportunity to meet, just after you took office and I am sure you will bring new dynamism and strong commitment to the Secretariat and to the whole organisation. I think we are seeing this already in these first weeks of work.
And finally a special thanks to our host, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain [Josep Borrell] and the government of Spain. I know how much work you have personally done all through your career to strengthen Euro-Mediterranean cooperation, in different positions and I think we could not have a better host for our Forum today.
It is a pleasure to be back in Barcelona, where the Euro-Mediterranean Process was launched in 1995.
Today, our region is going through a long and difficult transition that seems endless and hopeless from time to time.
Just to mention three main crises we have constantly on our agenda: the war in Syria that is not over yet, Libya still torn by violence and instability, and the perspective of a two-State solution for Israel and Palestine that continues to be dismantled piece by piece.
Too often, confrontation and militarisation are prevailing over the search for win-win solutions. Regional cooperation – let alone integration – certainly does not seem to be high on the agenda.
We see these dynamics, and yet we think that this is not inevitable, that this is the result of political choices. It would be probably easier, under these circumstances, to give in to scepticism about regional cooperation and integration.
But I believe that, now more than ever, there is a need to move beyond a mind-set based on competition and on spheres of influence, towards a more cooperative dynamic. You mentioned the numbers which are impressive. There is a lack of potential, including economic potential, that the region cannot afford having any longer.
There is also no other way to put an end to the current conflicts but also it is a vital instrument to create jobs and sustainable growth for our people.
There is more than ever a strong need for more effective regional mechanisms and regional institutions that can be able to prevent, manage, and solve crises and this why, instead of inventing other platforms or fora, it is the Union for the Mediterranean that we recognise as the precious policy platform that we all share.
It has proven to be the only regional forum that creates space for dialogue and cooperation among actors, who otherwise would not talk to one another. They not only talk in this forum but they also cooperate on projects. This is why we in the European Union have invested so much in these projects and will continue to do so in the years ahead. In these years, together we have consolidated a new governance mechanism and created policy platforms in areas such as water management, environmental protection, and energy.
In all these fields the impact on the daily lives of our citizens is self-evident. I want to stress this point because we too often see on both shores of the Mediterranean that people have the feeling that the institutions do not serve them, that democracies do not deliver. This is why I believe that when we manage to make a positive difference in their lives, it is not only a proof that this forum is functioning well but it is also a service to the quality of our democracies all around the Mediterranean. This is precisely what the Union for the Mediterranean has done, mainly engaging with young people, focusing on women empowerment, working with the different active forces in the civil society. I think this is invaluable.
Think of the two Euro-Mediterranean Universities, one in Slovenia and one in Morocco. They are promoting exchanges and student mobility across our region in a sort of Mediterranean Erasmus. By doing so, they are also forging a new generation of young people with a unique Euro-Mediterranean vision, that will be also an investment for the political dynamics of the region in the future. Think about "Med 4Jobs" [Mediterranean Initiative for Jobs] that has trained over 200,000 young people from our region, helping them learn foreign languages, improve their computer skills, scale-up their small enterprises.
These are already well-established realities but we are also working to expand our cooperation to new projects and new fields. Here I want to mention the fact that we are closer than ever to turning the desalination plant for Gaza into reality, after a successful donors conference last March. This is not only a highly symbolic project but an action with life-changing impact for literally millions of people.
We have also launched a new initiative for the next ten years, to address water scarcity all across our region through innovative technologies. It is called the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean, PRIMA.
Through the centuries, we know very well, in all our different countries, how the people of the Mediterranean and beyond have always found new ways to cultivate lands that seemed too dry or too impervious. We invented the most fantastic and creative ways for overcoming this.
Today, this challenge has become much more urgent and much more difficult to face due to climate change and desertification. But we also have the most advanced technologies on our side; and with this project we want to mobilise now our best scientists and engineers, for a shared interest of all Mediterranean people, also because water scarcity can be at the basis of many conflicts and tensions in the region. It is not only a practical project, it has also a political value that we see clearly.
Ten years after we began, the Union for the Mediterranean is now more alive and crucial than ever. It is true that we have a more complex and conflictual regional environment; it is true that we could find new obstacles on our way and we probably find them on a daily basis. But, I believe that if we keep focusing on our common interests, we can overcome these sorts of political obstacles. Even more cooperation – I will never stop saying this - on practical projects can create the space for political dialogue on other issues that are not part of this Forum, but that can be tackled in a cooperative manner.
We need the Union for the Mediterranean more than ever, to replace competition with cooperation, and conflict with integration. I am sure that my colleague, Commissioner [for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement Policy, Johannes] Hahn will explain in more concrete terms during his intervention later on, how the European Union is translating this political commitment to the Union for the Mediterranean into operational cooperation, including some of the budgetary issues that I know are very close to the hearts of some.
But to conclude I want to stress very strongly this point: There can be no doubt – and we have no doubt – about the fact that the European Union is committed not only to the Union for the Mediterranean, as a functioning and key forum, but also to the Mediterranean as such. It is our region, it is our sea, it is our shared sea, it is our interest to have a Mediterranean that develops in a positive direction.
I believe that today it will be important to work together on how we can use the full potential of the Union for the Mediterranean, provide political guidance so that we can use it even more in the next years and try to start building a better future for our region. This is really the place to work for practical solutions for today, but also to plant the seeds for a better understanding for tomorrow as well.
Thank you very much.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I161382