Union for the Mediterranean: Opening speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the Regional Forum

EEAS Press Team

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Gracias a España y al Ministro [de Asuntos Exteriores, Unión Europea y Cooperación, José Manuel] Albares por la hospitalidad que nos ofrecen, y por su organización de esta conferencia. Gracias, también, al Secretario General de la Unión por el Mediterraneo (UpM), Nasser Kamel. 

And thank you to my friend, Foreign Minister [of Jordan], [Ayman] Safadi, for our excellent cooperation as co-Chairs of these intense years of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).  

It is very important that from time to time, we meet in person as Union for the Mediterranean members. Our relations are fundamental. We are neighbours, but not just neighbours. We are a community. We share hopes, challenges – a lot of challenges - concerns and also some opportunities that we could use better together.  

It is clear that, logically, the invasion of Ukraine has been on all our minds, and so have been the consequences: on energy and food security. We had to respond to it. Thank you to all of you for voting [in favour of] the latest United Nations General Assembly Resolution. It is another way to show that we stand together.  

Yes, certainly, at the European Union, we have been looking East. But our focus on Ukraine does not come at the expense of our commitment to our partners in the South, in the Mediterranean.  

We are fully aware of the negative consequences of this war, especially on the price of energy and food, that our people are facing. Here nobody is responsible for this war, but all of us need to deal with its consequences.  

We are doing our best to minimise these consequences. We have worked hard with the United Nations and with Turkey to maintain the supply of grain from Ukraine. I want to express a particular thanks to Turkey, and to Deputy Minister [of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Sedat] Önal who is with us here today, for securing the extension of the agreement. 

But all of us are completely convinced that we must do more and that we must do it together.  

Above all, we need to step up our efforts to “close the gap” along the two shores of the Mediterranean. Now I can repeat what I said last year: it is one of the most unequal borders in the world. To close the gap - we have often spoken about this, but the gap continues to grow, so let’s try to act more. 

Already last year, I stressed that this economic gap is widening rather than closing. The per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the countries of the European Union’s Southern Neighbourhood is on average – if I am not wrong - 6 times less than that of the European Union. The Southern Mediterranean remains, as I said, one of the least economically integrated regions in the world, leaving a lot of potential untapped.  

The way to tackle this is by strengthening our regional integration – difficult but needed. We need more connectivity, both from the infrastructures [side] and also from the regulatory side.  

Allow me to give you some concrete examples of things that have to be [done] and for which we must be concrete: almost 10 years ago, the Union for Mediterranean Transports Ministers committed to establish the Mediterranean Transport Network.  

Such a network is crucial, with a direct impact on the lives of the people in terms of investment, job creation, mobility, trade, and education.  

However, we have experienced a lot of delays, especially on the bilateral agreements. Certainly, we should, and we can, and we must do better. 

Look at the digital field - everybody is talking about the digital revolution. In the digital field - at least there - there is more progress. The “MEDUSA” programme, which will be launched here today, will build a submarine cable system in the western Mediterranean connecting five European countries with four north African countries.  

Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Spain, Jose Manuel] Albares talked about the youth. In our efforts, the youth should be our biggest asset. The Euro-Mediterranean region has one of the youngest populations in the world - more in the south than in the north. Over half of the population in the Middle East and North Africa is under 24 years old, and a quarter of young people in the labour force are unemployed and many lack education and training. 

We must offer the young people a common vision of human mobility, to drive innovation and growth, and we need to multiply people-to-people projects. 

And for that, the UfM develops meaningful solutions. By 2025, 7,000 students will have registered at the Euromed University of Fes, which educates a new generation with a unique Euro-Mediterranean vision. I think that we to exploit this asset – the Euromed University of Fes should very much be at the front of our common work. [I am] happy to know that this University is doing everyday better, and I hope I will be able to visit it soon. 

The UfM Grant Scheme, launched as reaction to the post-COVID employment crisis: this has benefitted 18,000 individuals in 7 [UfM] Member States.  

Let’s make the best use of the convening power of the UfM. Talk to the UfM Secretary General [Nasser Kamel] or the UfM Co-Presidency if you have any specific ideas in mind. This is the moment to do so. 

Over the last months, our Ministers of Employment and Labour agreed on joint actions for a better integration of social and labour markets in the region.  

Our Ministers in charge of Research and Innovation committed to strengthening scientific cooperation around the priorities of Health, Climate Change and Renewable Energy.  

In Madrid, last month, our Ministers agreed to improve women’s access to leadership in public life and decision-making, to raise women´s participation in economic life, and combat and prevent violence against women and girls.  

As you see, the Union for the Mediterranean delivers in many areas. But our people, our youth, do not care about commitments. They [have] heard a lot of commitments and they are a little bit tired of hearing commitments. What they want to hear: they want to be heard too, they want to be heard. They want to be involved and they care about concrete action on the ground.  

Let’s say to each other, with the best spirit of cooperation, that we are often too slow, and the clock is ticking.  

We need more real impact of the UfM’s activities on the ground. Recent agreements with a results-based-management perspective go in the right direction. I think that all of us are convinced that we need to do more.  

I hope that we can use today to develop concrete ideas on improving our work and delivering on the concrete goals set in the roadmap to the benefit of our youth, our population, our countries, our friendship, our work together.  

Thank you, Ministers. 

Let’s go to work. 

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-233512

Peter Stano
Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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Gioia Franchellucci
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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