Malta’s strategic relevance in the central Mediterranean has led the country to pursue a comprehensive and proactive foreign policy in the Euro-Mediterranean region. The importance that Malta attaches to international security issues is highlighted by the prominent role that Malta has consistently played in security institutions such as the United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP).
As a member of the United Nations, Malta inspired the concept of the common heritage of mankind in so far as the Law of the Sea is concerned. In 1990, as holder of the presidency of the UN General Assembly, Malta advocated the need to revitalise the concept of collective security under the auspices of the United Nations, a theme that has resonated throughout the first two decades of the post-Cold War world.
This foreign policy agenda is best regarded as a continuation of the constant support Malta has given to a succession of trans-Mediterranean security initiatives over the years. As an advocate of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in the Mediterranean (CSCM), a proponent of a Council of the Mediterranean and a member of the Mediterranean Forum and 5 + 5 West Mediterranean Forum, Malta has certified its continued effort to stabilise relations in the Mediterranean.
EU membership has served as a new incentive to adapt to the rapidly changing international system with Malta extending its political stability and economic influence across the Mediterranean. Malta’s active participation in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership offers it another opportunity to further peace, security, and stability across the Euro-Mediterranean geo-strategic region.
As a European country with a Mediterranean personality, Malta is ideally located to assist in realising the overriding objectives of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership: Union for the Mediterranean (EMP: UfM), namely that of increasing stability and promoting prosperity in the region. Malta’s social, economic and cultural Euro-Mediterranean characteristics also help to explain its specific commonality of interests with the other Euro-Mediterranean partners.
Strengthening practical policy dialogue mechanisms will add momentum to the current Euro-Med Partnership Five Year Work Programme (2006-2010) that is being implemented and which seeks to integrate our Mediterranean partners closer into the fabric of European society.
The Union for the Mediterranean projects presently being planned will boost the visibility of the ongoing Euro-Mediterranean Partnership work programme by strengthening cooperation through a multitude of projects in specific sectors.
De-pollution of the Mediterranean is essential if we and future generations are to be able to sustain our way of life in this region of the world. We must be determined to build upon the Horizon 2020 programme of activities so that the quality of marine activity is safeguarded.
Another sector that requires our attention is that of maritime and land highways. The Mediterranean has been a strategic sea-line of communications for centuries. If the people to people dimension of Euro-Mediterranean relations is to be further enhanced we must focus our attention on developing further motorways of the seas, including the connection of ports and the modernisation of the trans-Maghreb train route. Maritime security and safety are also sectors that need to be improved so that transhipment activity across the Mediterranean does not risk the livelihood of coastal populations.
The time has also come for us to develop a comprehensive Mediterranean civil protection system that can protect the millions of people living along the basin should a man-made or natural disaster emerge. The negative impact that climate change is already having on global weather patterns is already apparent. We therefore need to provide a civil protection programme that includes prevention, preparation and response to disaster mechanisms.
The Union for the Mediterranean plan of action will also concentrate its attention to spurring alternative energies research and development. A specific focus will take place on assessing the extent to which a Mediterranean Solar Plan can be implemented. The volatility of energy markets in contemporary international relations dictates that we explore the possibility of developing alternative sources of energy.
The Euro-Med Partnership: Union for the Mediterranean is also focusing on the launching of a substantial scholarships scheme for university students from Euro-Mediterranean Partner countries and an increase of mobility grants for Higher Education staff.
The educational field is a sector where more effort needs to be dedicated. The European Commission together with its member states needs to trigger both public and private stakeholders to work hand in hand with a long-term perspective to attract a larger number of Arab students to European shores. This will of course require an updating of procedures for visas, making them more user friendly for such a category of professionals.
Future Euro-Med programmes need to ensure that people to people interaction is at the forefront, especially young people. It is essential that a much larger number of students from the Arab world are given the opportunity to study at EU universities. The Bologna process must be made functional to them. The same goes for joint EU Arab research projects. The EU must introduce a package of programmes that seeks to tap into the wealth of intelligence in the Euro-Med region via scholarships, seminars, and other initiatives. The Euro-Med Education Ministerial that took place in Cairo in June 2007 has started to serve as a catalyst in this regard.
In the course of the implementation of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership the necessity for shaping culture of dialogue and co-operation among European Union member states and its Mediterranean partners has continually been emphasised. One of the main results to emerge from such a policy is that the EU Commission entrusted the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, (MEDAC) (which is part of the University of Malta, one of the oldest institutions of its kind having been established in the sixteenth century), in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign affairs of Malta to organise the Euro-Med Information and Training Seminars for diplomats twice yearly since October 1996.
In fact MEDAC was already organising these type of seminars since 1990 and was subsequently approached by the European Commission to adopt these seminars as a confidence building measure of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.
When it comes to diplomatic training Malta has already established itself as a regional centre of excellence in the Mediterranean through its educational and training institution, the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies (MEDAC) at the University of Malta, where over 500 graduates from 41 countries have been trained in the last eighteen years. Since 1996, MEDAC together with the European Commission and the Maltese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also been responsible for coordinating the Euro-Mediterranean Information and Training Seminars, or as they have become more commonly known, the Malta Seminars, which are an official confidence building mechanism of the Barcelona Process where more than 1000 diplomats have had the opportunity to interact and discuss openly Euro-Mediterranean issues.
Since 1997 the Malta Seminars have been identified as an official confidence building measure of the Partnership. The Seminars are the only such exercise to be held regularly in the Mediterranean, thus contributing to improving visibility and co-ownership of the Barcelona Process. In addition, the fact that the Seminars have been held in Malta has allowed the Seminars to draw on specific perspectives Malta has gone through in recent times as a Euro-Mediterranean partner country, EU accession state and now a EU member state.
Malta is fully committed to ensuring implementation of the above projects to help trigger a more rapid pace of inter-regional development across the Mediterranean.
The Euro-Med Partnership: Union for the Mediterranean offers Europe and the international community an opportunity to carry out a strategic reassessment that will allow for more political attention and economic resources to be directed towards upgrading stability and opportunities across the Mediterranean.
The proposal to establish a Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) must be welcomed in as it has again helped focus international attention on a very important geo-strategic crossroads of different civilisations and a crucial post-Cold War theatre of operations. The EMP: UfM should not be perceived as a fixed concept but a work in progress – the objective is to create a ‘Barcelona Plus’ situation where Euro-Mediterranean relations are truly re-launched on a more solid footing.
The decision to set up a European Union - League of Arab States focal point to further promote dialogue in Malta should also be regarded as another foreign policy priority that Malta has been consistently championing. Under the stewardship of Malta’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the first EU-Arab League Foreign Ministers meeting was held in Malta last February. The result of the discussions that took place and subsequent follow up talks was the clear understanding of the necessity to establish a more enhanced structured dialogue between the European Union and the League of Arab States and its member states to foster ever closer Euro-Arab relations in the age of global instantaneous information.
Malta will continue to work relentlessly to ensure that a better structured EU/Arab political dialogue is nurtured, a dialogue that will focus on further building confidence and trust between Europe and the Arab world through numerous mechanisms including advanced technology to transmit positive messages of peace and prosperity. The longer-term objective of such an enhanced political dialogue between the EU and the Arab world will be to foster a more conducive political environment within which dialogue aims towards a convergence of civilisations across the Mediterranean.
Malta’s active participation in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is perhaps best described as an extension of its co-operative security philosophy. It should also be regarded as a tangible contribution to creating a Euro-Mediterranean region based upon the attributes of positive diplomacy.
The main factor that should move European and Mediterranean states closer together in future are the mutual security interests they share: Euro-Med political, economic and cultural cooperation must be strengthened if stability is to be secured in future.
The key reason to support the Union for the Mediterranean initiative is that it is in both the EU and the Mediterranean states’ interests for the UfM to succeed given the indivisibility of security between Europe and the Mediterranean. Across the Mediterranean geopolitical and geo-economic indicators are not as positive as they can be. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is lacking, intra-Mediterranean trade remains limited, north-south economic disparity is resulting in a permanent poverty curtain across the Mediterranean. Moreover, the demographic time-bomb continues to escalate, unemployment continues to increase, illegal migration has reached alarming levels, illiteracy remains at very high levels, and an escalation of ongoing conflicts remains a serious concern.
When it comes to addressing Euro-Mediterranean security challenges the list of threats and risks is a daunting one. The plethora of the security challenges associated with the North-South debate includes illegal migration, terrorism, religious intolerance and the lack of human rights.
Given the indivisibility of security in Europe and the Mediterranean, the EU must continue to adopt a more proactive stance when it comes to influencing and managing the international relations of the Mediterranean area.
At the start of the twenty-first century, the Mediterranean must avoid becoming a permanent fault-line between the prosperous North and an impoverished South. The key development to watch in the Mediterranean in the next decade will be to see whether the phase of co-operative competition that has dominated post-Cold War relations to date is eventually superseded by an era of conflictual competition. If this scenario of socio-economic indifference does take hold, disorder will dominate Mediterranean relations. Such a scenario of instability and uncertainty will stifle the economic growth that is necessary to improve the standard of living of all peoples across the Mediterranean.
All those who are in favour of a harmonious neighbourhood in the south should welcome the Union for the Mediterranean plan of action! The task is so huge! The success or failure of the Union for the Mediterranean will determine whether Euro-Med relations in 2020 will become more co-operative dominant. As we have done throughout, including through the Euro-Mediterranean Information and Training Seminars celebrating their 25th anniversary today, Malta looks forward to playing an active role in the implementation of Union for the Mediterranean projects that will ensure that all of us live in a more peaceful and prosperous region in future.