Time.news – “The Arab Springs? Unfortunately they are a closed chapter. Unfortunately. Internal contradictions prevailed everywhere: let’s take Egypt, where Morsi came to power democratically, with regular elections, but then he pretended to take it all ”. Now, he says Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo, it is time to give new impetus to the stability of the Mediterranean region, facilitating economic development and the affirmation of a middle class that strengthens the political framework by preventing dangerous escapes forward. But the bravest initiative, he specifies, must come from the North Shore.
President of the NATO Defense College Foundation, Minuto-Rizzo knows what Europe is, what the Mediterranean is and what Euro-Atlantic collaboration is. He was head of the external relations office of what was once the European Economic Community and today, after a slow transformation, it is a European Union struggling with vaccines and contradictions, but in any case an example of not only political success. He was diplomatic advisor to Beniamino Andreatta, Carlo Scognamiglio and Sergio Mattarella at the defense ministry. Until 2007 he held the position of Deputy Secretary General of NATO. He knows the picture of Euro-Atlantic relations thoroughly, and says: “We must be the ones who make the strategic moves, without falling into neo-colonial attitudes”.
This is also why he organized two days of reflection with NATO Defense College which, in Rome and via streaming, brought together the academic, political and business world of the Western Mediterranean. Central theme: energy. But since everything holds together and everything is connected, his assessments are broader.
“The Arab bourgeoisies have not been able to evolve, politics has turned into an occupation of power”, he almost sighs, “the process of economic, political and cultural modernization is proceeding but at too slow stages. A pity because we are talking about hundreds of millions of people, with a rich and intense humanity, an ancient and precious history. I am convinced that they deserve to be helped by extending a friendly hand to accompany them “.
Yet the expectations were quite different, at least in Europe. The idea was to be able to build a sort of unity of all the coastal peoples.
Let’s get rid of a cliché immediately. The Mediterranean is an incomplete narrative, from a historical and literary point of view. The reality is that its history is not one of integration, but of division and differentiation. More Pirenne than Braudel. The discovery of a possible harmony and collaboration is only something recent. Above all, the collaboration is not complete but largely imperfect.
Who should take responsibility for getting the game back in hand, especially now that we can think about the end of the paralysis dictated by the coronavirus?
There are indeed many forces that are attempting to revive a policy of strengthening ties, and these forces come from the North. The sad truth is that our Arab partners are dominated by an individualistic idea of their own role, and of everyone’s role within their own country. Result: the Maghreb Union, for one thing, is certainly not a union. In fact, the border between Morocco and Algeria, which should be one of its beating hearts, is closed. Sealed. Forms and agreements of regional cooperation would be desirable, and instead the Arab world remains fragmented.
For us, who are Europeans facing the Mediterranean, this is not a reassuring prospect.
Instead, we have every interest in ensuring that economic interconnection, development and stability are created. Of course, it is also a reasoning of convenience: let’s not hide it. Just think of what a scenario of collaboration, peace and development, in the management of migratory phenomena and in the fight against terrorism could mean.
Perhaps a little skepticism is explainable, if you look back.
The European Union, when it was still EEC, began with the launch of development programs that did not, however, have the success they deserved. It was the policy of the detached check, with our interlocutors asking us for funds for infrastructures that did not specify what they were, if not ex post. Instead, we asked that specific obligations be assumed in development projects that were certain. Now there are undeniable improvements, compared to then, but everything is going too slowly. We need a breakthrough.
Instead, now it is NATO that is registering a new interest in the Mediterranean area, especially on the western side of the region.
NATO was conceived as a revolt towards the east, a vocation that was strengthened with the entry of countries from the Baltic area and Central-Eastern Europe. Now we look south, partnerships and a more global Euro-Mediterranean dialogue are emerging. This is after the failure of the policy followed by some individual countries, such as France, which have shown that they cannot bear the weight of a solitary role in the area. Closer relationships are being created, and this is the way forward because the ongoing process is positive. But let’s be clear: this is just the beginning. And we need to speed up. Taking into account a difficulty.
The Arab peoples still see the West as something hostile, or at least as a world ready to take advantage of the situation. This narrative must be countered. For this purpose, economic and infrastructural interconnections, especially in the energy sector, are particularly important. If you have to manage an infrastructure like an oil pipeline together across two shores of the same sea, there is nothing you can do: in the end you collaborate and continue to do so. It is almost inevitable. What Eni, Terna and Tap do is something fundamental. But even here: development is slow, we need to accelerate.
So far we have talked about the EU and NATO. There is a country that used to be part of the EU, and is now only part of NATO. Aren’t you afraid that Brexit could have negative repercussions also in this context?
Undeniably, the UK has always pushed the continent’s policies northward. But it also has a long history and a long tradition of engagement in the Mediterranean. It is not possible to believe that a London disengagement from the South is a good thing. It is not just about Gibraltar or the interests that are still maintained in Cyprus. It is a conceptual approach: it is in any case a piece of Europe that must not turn the other way.
Aren’t terrorism and migration elements that risk compromising a serious commitment to the Mediterranean?
Of course. However, especially in the case of immigration, which is an independent variable, it is necessary to know how to separate the two dimensions. They are binaries that can intersect in an exchange, but not necessarily. Let’s look at the Libyan case: in Italy the migration problem, which in Libya is undoubtedly of primary importance, is confused with that of the war between factions. These are things that often touch but do not overlap. In Libya we must rebuild the country and not just manage the flows.
We also need to consider whether, not only in Libya, it will be possible to build a culture of development in the medium and long term.
That is why I repeat that we need to step up our efforts: so far we have had to deal with modest administrative structures in Arab countries that are unable to handle the situation. It is a problem that emerged at the moment when the Arab springs loomed ten years ago. There is no bourgeoisie that has turned out to be able, from a political and administrative point of view, to manage such a complex transition. And the Arab springs have faded. Unfortunately.