Conflict Prevention, Peace building and Mediation

UfM: Opening remarks by HR/VP Josep Borrell at the 5th Regional Forum

Barcelona, 27/11/2020 - 10:22, UNIQUE ID: 201204_14

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Good morning to everybody and thank you to all of you for participating in the Union for the Mediterranean Regional Forum.

I was there 25 years ago, when the Barcelona Declaration launched the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership with very ambitious objectives.

We wanted to create an area of peace, shared prosperity and human and cultural exchanges.

25 years later - I remember it very well because I was there and 25 years is a lot - we still have these objectives at heart. But we must recognise that challenges have multiplied. They are much more difficult to be solved and our answers have not always kept pace with the problems.

For millennia, the Mediterranean has been an integrated region where travelers spoke a common language made up of all their different languages and dialects. The Mediterranean is a signal of cosmopolitanism, exchanges and unity in diversity. But we have to recognise that the Mediterranean has also been the scenario of a lot of bitter and tough fighting.

Today, the Mediterranean region is fragmented, torn apart by conflicts - we will talk about these conflicts, we will mention all of them - and by growing inequalities within and between countries. Inequalities have not been reduced, they have increased.

We need to launch a new dynamic to overcome these gaps - it will not happen by itself. Dynamics are not going to be changed unless we do a lot for it.

We also need political unity to address the many crises in this region. The Palestinian question remains unsolved – 25 years later the situation might be worse. Other conflicts and crises call for our action: Syria, Libya and others. And we must address new security threats: cybersecurity, the spread of disinformation or - as our host, the Spanish Minister has mentioned - the security impact of the climate change.

Let us face reality. Economically, this region remains one of the least integrated in the world. We talk about the Mediterranean and from the economic point of view, it is one of the less integrated regions in the world. The share of intraregional trade was less than 5% of Maghreb countries’ total trade in 2018. They are neighbours, but not from the point of view of trade.

Several studies show that trade between the Maghreb countries has the potential to be 4 times higher than it is today. And free trade proposed by Europe to the Southern partners has not produced the anticipated results. Trade balances are too often negative for the Southern countries. And the already significant wealth gap across the Mediterranean is widening, not reducing but widening, at a worrying pace. 

In the Southern Mediterranean, the wealth generated by each member of the population is today 13 times lower than in Europe. 13 times lower – I do not think there is a bigger gap, a bigger difference on the wealth per person along our natural divide, be it the sea, a mountain, a desert. It is difficult to imagine a gap of 13 times difference. 

And the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated further the situation, this does not help. The economies of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa are projected to contract by 5.2% this year. We need to act quickly to reverse this trend.

We owe it to our young generation, the ones who were not born yet 25 years ago, they were not in Barcelona 25 years ago. And these people make up a significant part of our societies. 25% of the Tunisian population are under 15, and one third of the population in Egypt and Jordan need real change to have hope about their future.

The migration control starts at home, offering possibilities and capabilities to young people to build their own lives in their own countries. We should be together to take up this common challenge, not just to give speeches - we will give a lot of speeches today, mine is maybe too long - but to work together towards common objectives.

I think that the Union for the Mediterranean – and I am looking at the Secretary General [Nasser Kamel] - is the right vehicle to boost cooperation among all of us. But, let us try to concentrate on a reduced number of priorities. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. We have to concentrate our efforts and work together on those transactional challenges, working closely and adding value on behalf of the people.

We selected five of them. First, climate action: the Mediterranean [region] is warming 20% faster than the rest of the world as revealed by the scientific report on climate and environmental change in the Mediterranean that was presented last year. Second, inclusive sustainable development. We need job creation. We know how crucial jobs are in our countries, especially for the youth. In this context, the blue economy has great potential to strengthen economic resilience in the region. Third, social inclusiveness and equality, that is a key element of the social cohesion in the region. Fourth, digital transformation, and, finally, civil protection, where a cooperative approach is vital for a region with clear challenges in disaster risk management. Let us only concentrate on these five objectives, we will really be very busy.

In the framework of the Union for the Mediterranean, we have identified 60 projects by consensus. But we need to put in the necessary resources and efforts. We have to put our money where our mouth is. So far, only two-thirds of these 60 projects have been launched. And the organisation lacks financial resources.

[I am] sorry to say that only 23 countries have contributed this year to the Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean, either in financial terms or in human resources. This means that 19 - almost half of us - did not. I think that we need to honour our commitments. It is not affordable that almost half of the [UfM] member states do not contribute financially to the development of the organisation that links all of us together.

Allow me to finish with an historical approach. Our history in Europe is a history of overcoming deep divisions. We cooperate a lot not because we agreed, or because we were close, but because we choose to do it. For years, we chose to fight and suddenly one day, after almost committing suicide among us, we decided to cooperate, building close ties among us. But these ties are the consequence - not the cause - of our cooperation. We did not cooperate because we had ties, we have ties because we decided to cooperate. Maybe this approach - starting with the will - may inspire some of us in this group of people.

I am convinced that our Mediterranean future will be shaped by the collective choices that we make. The future has to be built and we should decide it together around a key word: cooperation. Honest, frank cooperation.

Thank you very much.

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