The Italian and European strategy for a renewed prominence of the Mediterranean in the world
Speech by the President of Med-Or Foundation Marco Minniti, released on Friday 13 May as part of the panel discussion "The Mediterranean scenario: today's opportunities and trajectories for the future", at the Forum "Towards the South: the European strategy for a new geopolitical, economic, and socio-cultural season in the Mediterranean", organised by The European House - Ambrosetti and the Ministry for the South and Territorial Cohesion.
I thank Minister Carfagna very much for organising this conference, which has a very challenging title and extensive programme, and I thank you all for your approach.
When thinking how we can put some order in this dramatically disordered world, we cannot overlook the Broader Mediterranean.
The Broader Mediterranean is not just an enclosed sea – it has been and still is a crucial crossroads for world history. Three major challenges, all of which are critical for the future and security of the planet are at stake in this area: food security, humanitarian crises and energy.
Whenever history comes to a dramatic turning point, such as the war in Ukraine, these three challenges become global crises.
In terms of food security, just think of what can happen in the countries of North Africa that depend on wheat imports from Ukraine or Russia, in some cases for more than 90 percent of the wheat they consume.
If cargo ships do not leave Ukrainian ports in the coming weeks, not in the coming years, we could be dealing with real famines that could trigger serious social tensions.
Recently, there has been a wave of arson attacks in Tunisia. President Saïed stressed that this could be a sign of increasing social tension. Let's remember what happened in 2011 – nobody should forget that.
That is why it is crucial to open food corridors today – not in six months from now, because it will be too late. And we must challenge all actors on this, without letting anyone off lightly.
The food security crisis brings the risk of a humanitarian crisis. As we speak, there are six million refugees who have moved from Ukraine to Europe. If social tensions were to start, together with a food crisis in North Africa, Europe would be caught in a dramatic humanitarian vice.
I am very glad that Europe held up in the first phase of the challenge and that solidarity prevailed, but will it continue to do so if the scenario we just described comes to pass? Let us think about it for a moment.
The third global challenge is the energy crisis. This does not only include the issue of gas and oil, which has already been widely discussed – President Draghi rightly spoke about it –, but also rare-earth metals, which are used not only in the electronics industry, such as the mobile phones one, but also in the renewable energy sector.
There is a very close connection between the most advanced levels of technology and the most backward areas of the world. Right now, China has by far the greatest quantity of rare-earth metals. For example, the United States, the world’s largest economy, ranks a distant second.
Is it clear what we are talking about? Is it clear what the Broader Mediterranean is? Is it clear what it means for the global strategy?
Finally, please let me conclude that if these three crises come together, we will face a new challenge to global security. A war in the heart of Europe weakens overall security and increases the risk of a resurgence of new terrorism.
Should anyone have any doubts about it, they need only to scroll through the news from Africa to change their mind. They would then understand how Africa is today the world’s main field of action. It is in Africa that the indigenous structures of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, never fully defeated, are located.
In this scenario, in the face of a challenge that is crucial for the stability of the planet, we cannot allow countries in the Broader Mediterranean to remain 'indifferent' to what is happening in Ukraine.
Europe is deeply involved, but the other shore of the Mediterranean feels removed and distant from what is happening in Ukraine.
I am sending out a warning signal. We must launch a diplomatic 'offensive' to convince these countries to play a more active role. You cannot push Russia to a ceasefire and negotiations if there is no international pressure, from North Central Africa to Turkey and the Arab countries. This implies shifting from indifference to leadership.
If this is the meaning of the challenge, the Broader Mediterranean cannot be just a market. In the new world balance, the Broader Mediterranean must be a geopolitical subject, indeed a political subject. Either we win this challenge, or we will not build a 'permanent peace outcome' after the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine has already changed the course of the world. To achieve lasting peace, we need to take three steps:
First and foremost, a ceasefire.
Then, a peace negotiation that acknowledge the heroic resistance of the Ukrainian people.
But then there is a third big issue: the Ukrainian conflict cannot be resolved unless a new world order is built. This means that we need to reopen a dialogue between the United States, Europe, China and India - which is a great demographic power. But I would also add that such dialogue among great powers should include the Broader Mediterranean as a major political subject.
This is why Europe must fully invest in the Mediterranean, beyond just thinking about migration flows. A traumatic global crisis like the one we are experiencing brings, as is always the case, dramatic risks and great opportunities.
However, we can win this challenge only if we know how to speak to the ruling classes and, above all, the people of the countries of the Mediterranean region. We need to offer them not only economic expediency, because others can do it better than we can, but also an idea – a vision.
We need to build up an autonomous vision of the Broader Mediterranean, a new strategic cooperation 'between different people'.
We will not win hearts if we only talk about economic transactions. We win hearts when we talk about a political role in the highest sense of the term. Just think of Turkey and the Arab countries, including the large countries of North Africa: you won't get anywhere with them unless you discuss their political role.
At history’s great turning points, the great challenges of civilisation reappear.
We could say, without exaggeration, that the theme of a great Mediterranean civilization recurs.
Fernand Braudel spoke and wrote widely about this. But this is not the same Mediterranean any longer. We will increasingly have to get used to a different world, crisscrossed by two great fault lines: one is the Pacific, which connects North America to Asia. The other is the Mediterranean, which connects Europe to Africa. We live within the Mediterranean with the awareness that if we do not 'rule' this part of the world, we do not rule the world.
This is our challenge: a challenge in which - I am quite sure - Italy can find its historical and political role. In doing so, we not only provide a perspective to the South, but we benefit contemporary civilisation, which has never been so challenged as it is now.