European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani, Opening the Fourth Summit of the Presidents of Parliaments - Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean
European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani, opened the fourth summit of the Presidents of Parliaments of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean asserting that stability in Europe is underpinned by stability in the Mediterranean. Political, economic and parliamentary dialogue must be reinforced between our partners in the region.
There are many challenges that must be resolved from migration, security to fostering social and economic progress, but there is also enormous potential that is untapped.
The President’s speech (check against delivery):
President of the Senate,
President of the Chamber of Deputies,
I should like first of all to thank the Italian Presidency for the work it has done over recent months. My special thanks go to Co-Presidents Boldrini and Grasso, who are hosting this fourth summit of the Presidents of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean.
Two weeks ago, the European Parliament published the findings of its latest Eurobarometer survey. For the first time since the crisis of 2008, people are starting to take a more favourable view of the European Union again. According to the survey, most Europeans want a strong Europe that can fight terrorism and fundamentalism, manage migration and counteract climate change. I am confident that people living on the other side of the Mediterranean agree that we need to act together in addressing these challenges.
Key importance of the Mediterranean area
The Mediterranean area is at the top of the EU’s list of priorities. Our Euro-Mediterranean policy is of key importance in our efforts to address many of the concerns voiced by our citizens. This is self-evident to someone who, like me, comes from a country that has deep and unbreakable ties with what the Romans called Mare Nostrum.
Our history, civilisation and identity are rooted in the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. It was the Mediterranean that drove us to look outside ourselves, to engage in exchanges of all kinds that have resulted in a blending of philosophies, cultures, scientific knowledge, artistic traditions and religions. And it is still driving us closer together today. While it was right to look to the East in order to enlarge the Union and forge closer ties with some of our neighbours, we cannot allow this to loosen the unique and special bond between Europe and the Mediterranean. We are currently facing a number of daunting challenges. Our common sea is plagued with terrorism, IS insurgency, instability and war from Syria to Libya, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drags on. Human rights, freedom of expression and human dignity are increasingly coming under attack, while migration, which is also partly fuelled by population growth, unemployment and climate change, is on the rise.
Alongside this, however, there are major opportunities for growth, cooperation and market integration. We have everything to gain by working together; and everything to lose by standing apart. We must do all we can to strengthen our partnership and work together to find the answers our citizens are looking for, in particular as regards combating terrorism, managing migration, upholding human rights, lifting barriers to trade, transferring technologies and industrial knowhow, and training and intercultural and interfaith dialogue.
An unprecedented migration crisis has developed over recent years. Unless we take a practical, far-sighted approach to this problem, it will be impossible to build a genuine partnership in the Mediterranean. We cannot leave it up to people traffickers, be they criminals or terrorists, to manage migration. There is no easy way out. We cannot simply deal with each new emergency as it arises. We need to go to the roots of the problem; to create growth, jobs, stability and rights in Africa and the Middle East.
The right of asylum is one of the fundamental values underpinning our Union and one which, like solidarity among the Member States, we must protect at all costs. The European Parliament is working to make the asylum system more effective by overhauling the Dublin Regulation. We must be just as rigorous in taking in people who qualify for asylum as we are in countering illegal immigration. Parliament is also working on the harmonisation of return travel documents and on the Smart Borders initiative, which will speed up the process of recording details of persons crossing the external borders of the Schengen Area.
We need more investment throughout Africa and a stronger focus on the major opportunities for growth on that continent. We cannot leave Africa to China. We need to look at Africa through African eyes. The President of the Commission of the African Union, the Secretary General of the United Nations and the President of Côte d’Ivoire have all been invited to speak to the European Parliament between May and June this year.
In the run-up to the European Council meeting on 22 June focusing on migration, I have arranged for a day’s discussions on the subjects of immigration, security and stability: this event will take place at the European Parliament, and the leaders of the EU institutions will speak at it. In October, we will be holding an Africa Day, which will focus on economic diplomacy in various strategic sectors.
Industrial policy and economic diplomacy
Parliament is about to approve a new Fund for sustainable development in Africa which can mobilise tens of billions. In the next EU budget, we ought to increase these resources.
The EU and the Member States are already spending more than EUR 20 billion per annum in Africa. But there is a problem with the quality and impact of this expenditure. We should concentrate on actions that bring about genuine development of the industrial base, that create opportunities for young people, and that facilitate the development of a new African entrepreneurship and job creation. Technology transfers are needed, particularly to promote the efficient and sustainable use of resources. We should work to enhance training and lawful mobility, with quotas for Mediterranean students, researchers and workers. High-quality infrastructure is needed. We need robust economic diplomacy.
Youth unemployment remains high in the Euro-Mediterranean area.
We must promote vocational training and university exchanges to create jobs and help to establish skilled leadership. The Erasmus+ and Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programmes should be used in this way. We need to generate sustainable growth and employment, the subjects of today’s summit. And SMEs and entrepreneurs are central to this ambition.
European industrial policy can therefore play a decisive role in promoting economic development throughout the area, creating and promoting partnerships and trade.
Some EU programmes to promote growth and innovation are already open to other countries around the Mediterranean. In the next EU budget we should be even more ambitious and allow those countries that wish to forge closer relations with the EU to have access to structural funding.
Role of interfaith dialogue
The violence of terrorism has afflicted all of us. By improving understanding between cultures, the Euro-Mediterranean political dialogue can drain the swamp of terrorism and radicalisation.
The EU’s neighbourhood policy can also help to democratise the political and legal systems of third countries. By means of education and well-considered communication we can go to the very root of the issue. But the problem is more serious in the case of people who have already been radicalised. That is the message that I gave to the Grand Mufti of Egypt, whom I met in Brussels a few weeks ago. The recent visit to Egypt by Pope Francis conveyed a similar message. I am convinced that, to enable the Mediterranean to contribute to international geopolitical stability, it is necessary to emphasise the importance of religions, which for centuries have united peoples and countries with different identities and cultures.
We need to promote interfaith dialogue by means of practical initiatives and projects, and to protect religious minorities. Religions are not the cause of wars; religions are a source of peaceful solutions.
I should like to conclude, for the benefit of our francophone friends, in French, the official language of this assembly. Without stability in the Mediterranean, there will be no stability in Europe. We are united by cultural, historical and trade links. We must work together to resolve our problems. I believe that the Mediterranean ought to become even more integrated. Because integration leads to peace and prosperity. I might add that I am a fervent believer in parliamentary diplomacy. Our assemblies have a fundamental role to play in promoting the interests of our citizens. We must therefore do everything possible to use forums such as this one to make practical proposals. That is why I welcome the declaration that we shall be adopting this morning, because it puts forward these arguments.
You can count on my commitment. Thank you for your attention.”
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