The future of the southern Mediterranean countries is the great challenge of our times. For historical reasons, we are anxious to maintain the links formed over the centuries through civilisation after civilisation. It is also close to our hearts because of the Mediterranean being a sea that both divides and, most importantly, unites us, and is thus a key in this region to ensuring stability, peace and security in Europe.
As such, there is the need to sustain economic and political development across the entire region, it being imperative for the European Union to establish a relevant, credible policy that will make a real contribution to peace and transition in north Africa and the Middle East.
The EU was able, for example, to play a major role in Libya and ensure appropriate follow-ups at the Rome conference in March 2014, to sustain and complement a genuine, inclusive process of dialogue for the sustainable stabilisation of Libya, the premise for the reconstruction of the Libyan state and for Libya's political, social and economic development being the reconciliation of the nation we continue to insist on.
"It is time to review and reframe the EU's regional and multilateral strategies, which will be a real test of the effective ability of the EU to be a global player"
The resolution of the crisis in Syria, with a civil war that has escalated and dragged on now for more than three years, the jihadist threat and the real danger of the fragmentation of Iraq, remains crucial to the stability of those countries along the Mediterranean coastline. During the Italian presidency, we shall be working to redouble the EU's efforts, in cooperation with the United States and the United Nations, to establish a new balance in the region. Moreover, there is an even greater imperative to support Lebanon and Jordan - those countries most exposed to the humanitarian crisis in the region. However, the rise of the Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant is a threat not only to the existence of neighbouring countries but also to the whole of the Middle East and Europe.
In addition, the recent historical changes in the Mediterranean region have been confirmation, if any were needed, of the need for tangible progress in the Middle East peace process. In a context where fostering dialogue and cooperation remains difficult, the EU should have no hesitation in supporting a fair, viable, lasting, two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The suspension of negotiations and the new spiral of violence have highlighted the highly familiar fragility of conditions on the ground and the need to review the framework of the peace process and attempt to build an agreement based on new foundations.
A regional approach is required in addition to interventions in individual countries. The EU's ability to take action in cooperation with its partners in the southern Mediterranean region needs to find a new centrality and, perhaps, even new tools. It is time to review and reframe the EU's regional and multilateral strategies, which will be a real test of the effective ability of the EU to be a global player.
The presidency will, at the same time, encourage greater cooperation between the EU and the countries in the Mediterranean basin as being the appropriate forum for addressing regional issues, launching new cooperation programmes, and promoting strategic coordination of the region's main activities in terms of investment to promote private sector development and the creation of a business-friendly environment.
"A policy of integration is a key instrument for promoting peace, democracy and security in Europe, and we shall continue to support negotiations with the western Balkans and an accelerated rapprochement with Turkey"
Then there is the major issue of immigration. We must avoid a repetition of the tragedies that have marked the past few years where thousands of immigrants have lost their lives at sea. Italy is playing its part in the Mare Nostrum project, and now, with Italy assuming the EU presidency, it intends to encourage dialogue with countries of origin and transit of immigrants, and to use platforms for regional dialogue, such as the Rabat process ministerial conference taking place in Rome from 26 to 27 November. However, we will need to be able to respond to emergencies while we wait for these agreements to bear fruit, for which reason the Italian presidency will take steps to strengthen the European agency Frontex to protect the common European sea border.
Macro-regional strategies, such as the Adriatic-Ionian Sea strategy, to be implemented in conjunction with the action plan in the second half of the year, are stabilising and developmental factors in the Mediterranean region. A policy of integration is a key instrument for promoting peace, democracy and security in Europe, and we shall continue to support negotiations with the western Balkans and an accelerated rapprochement with Turkey, to ensure stability on our borders.
The Mediterranean region is thus pivotal to the future of Europe. We Italians are well aware of this. However, it is my conviction that the EU can only meet this challenge as a united force.