Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour for me to be participating at the OSCE Mediterranean Conference for the first time as Foreign Minister of the Republic of Malta, and I would like to thank the Swedish Chairmanship of the Mediterranean Partners for Co-operation for organising this Conference and for the work carried out this year.
Since the very beginning of the negotiations, which eventually culminated in the adoption of the Helsinki Final Act, Malta had been the leading proponent of the so called ‘Mediterranean Chapter’, on the argument that, and I quote, “Security in Europe without security in the Mediterranean is nothing but an illusion”. At that time, such a proposal may have been met with scepticism, but today, its relevance is clearer than ever, as the region continues to face significant security challenges, which have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the Mediterranean, the rapid spread of the virus has unleashed more instability to an already vulnerable region, as it faces economic downturn, heightened unemployment – particularly among youth – increased wealth disparities, and further fuelling of ongoing civil and regional strife. This has left the region in an unbearable situation, and as a consequence, many desperate people are putting their life in danger by embarking on perilous journeys in hope of a better future.
On this latter point, allow me, Excellencies, to raise an issue which is of grave concern for my country and other Mediterranean states, which are at the frontline of the illegal migration and human smuggling routes. The number of arrivals on Maltese and Italian shores from the Central Mediterranean route has more than doubled this year, compared to that in the same period last year. Criminal smuggling networks are now profiting more than ever from the situation that has arisen from the pandemic as demand for their services has increased. As a result of the intensification of border patrols and restrictions at entry points, smugglers are increasingly resorting to more dangerous sea routes. Consequentially, migrants find themselves exposed to exploitation, abuse and violence. This challenge cannot be tackled by frontline countries alone, and every effort should be made to disrupt the business model of human smugglers.
As the COVID-19 pandemic pushes us in a “new normality”, we need to ask ourselves how we, as participating States and Mediterranean Partners for Co-operation, can emerge from this global crisis as more resilient than ever before. As rightly identified in the theme of this Conference, within the context of the pandemic, sustainable development and economic growth are two crucial areas, which could pave the way for peace and security in the region. On this line, I would like to present a few recommendations.
Firstly, a well-nourished society means a more resilient society. Sustainable food production is key in preventing food import reliance and ensures food security.
Secondly, we cannot have sustainable development and economic growth without proper education and technology. As the pandemic has led to closure of schools worldwide, providing the necessary resources, particulary technology, is essential for educators and students, especially those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Furthermore, twinning projects among universities in the field of science and technology, in the OSCE region and the Mediterranean, should be invigorated to allow students and academia to benefit from co-operation and joint projects with their regional counterparts.
Investing in local business is essential to strengthen our economies. Unfortunately, several micro, small and medium enterprises are being hit harder as a result of the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, it is necessary to assist and support these enterprises in adapting to the current extraordinary circumstances, by for instance, applying digital solutions, and offering innovative schemes and technical assistance to encourage them with their resumption of operations.
Although there are no shortcuts in addressing the current difficulties, it is critical to keep in mind that a society cannot develop and advance if its people are not empowered. Suffice it to say that the role of women and youth merits more attention, and we should encourage this by providing them with all the necessary means to reach their full potential.
The current crisis has brought home again the importance of partnerships with all societal actors; from government to private sector and non-governmental organisations, from grassroot to international institutions, each have a role to play in the sharing of information and expertise with a view to enhance sustainable policy development for the benefit of our citizens.
On numerous occasions, the OSCE has proven to be an ideal platform to bring states and other stakeholders around the table to discuss matters of mutual concern. We are convinced that despite our differences, through co-operation, trust building and genuine commitments, unity, peace and prosperity are likely to prevail across the Mediterranean region.
Once again, I would like to extend my sincere congratulations to the Swedish Chairmanship for its successful endeavours, while warmly welcoming the upcoming Polish Chairmanship of the Mediterranean Partners for Co-operation Group for 2021. Malta reaffirms its long-standing support and co-operation in the enhancement of the Euro-Mediterranean dimension within the OSCE to make the region, once again, a bridge that unites nations and cultures.