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ROME, Jul 18 2011 (IPS) - The latest events in the Mediterranean and Middle East are a call for adequate responses to the region’s need for economic and political stability, development, employment, and resolution of migration issues. Such responses should aim to optimise potential synergies, coordination, and mutual support for initiatives already under way and for new ones – essentially, a sort of coherent and broad-based Marshall Plan capable of gathering together all the key international actors to address the political, economic, cultural and social (migration) dimensions of the “Arab Spring”.

Italy, for years the region’s top European trade partner, is engaged in a considerable flow of investments to and from the region and has crucial energy interests there. In an effort to jumpstart economic and social growth, we recently launched an initiative to establish a “Mediterranean Partnership Fund” (MPF) to finance those projects deemed most significant through public, private, sovereign, and even extra-regional sources. The MPF would be a trust fund capable of acting as a catalyst mainly in the development of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises that could increase and stabilise employment levels. The MPF was introduced at an international workshop in Palermo on May 20. The Annual Assembly of the Union of Arab Banks (UAB), held from 23-24 June in Rome, dedicated a work session to it that confirmed the interest of Arab banks and the Association for Italian Businesses Operating Abroad (SIMEST).

The European Union, in turn, has been developing for decades a Mediterranean policy based essentially on privileged trade relations and financial protocols through a network of association agreements and Euro-Mediterranean dialogue. Despite recent revisions, the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy is clearly in need of further reinforcement if it is going to achieve a model founded on reciprocal rights and responsibilities, as well as of an adequate redistribution of resources. In this regard, Italy has stated its position in a request for a reinforcement of financial allocations for the countries of the region, particularly through the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and a reasonable and balanced willingness to further deregulate imports, especially in the agricultural sector. We have also asked for effective European immigration policies.

Moreover, despite its current difficulties, the experience of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) has led to opportunities for generating the best possible Euro-Mediterranean economic integration through the development of major common-interest projects with the countries of the region, particularly in infrastructure (the “Mediterranean Ring” project) and energy networks already equipped with their own financial plan (INFRAMED PROJECT, created by Italian, French, Egyptian, and Moroccan banking investors).

We are, therefore, closely following the possible strengthening of the UfM planning component, with a view to cooperation based on concrete actions already under way or under consideration as well as potential new synergies -in keeping with the Deauville Partnership and the G8’s recommendations on the MENA (The Middle East and North Africa countries) – with Italy’s MPF initiative and with what we foresee as the EBRD’s enlargement of operations to include the MENA region, as well as reinforcement of the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP) and the EIB mechanisms.

Next in line in terms of strategic content and progress status are the “Euro-Mediterranean Cooperation on Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises” project run by PROMOS (Special Agency for the Chamber of Commerce of Milan), for which a prestart-up phase is in the process of being launched and which has my full support and encouragement, and the “Mediterranean Solar Plan”, which is garnering the interest of all the principal Italian actors in the energy and environmental spheres. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Franco Frattini is the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

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