By Romano Prodi
Former Italy Prime Minsiter
President of the European Commission
Remarks at the seminar "A strategic nexus: the Euro-Mediterranean Region and China"
May 24 2021
Thank you so much for the invitation. I enjoyed it. My task is to give a framework on the political picture of the Mediterranean with China and in terms of Chinese relations in five minutes, but mainly on what is happening in the Mediterranean or will be in the future. First of all, my starting point is that we must take a great consideration of the American policy. Till 15 years ago, the engagement in the Mediterranean was total, and there was a full, let’s say, I don’t say domination, but a really full, deep American interest in the Mediterranean. And step by step, we are assisted to realize area this engagement, not the real order, Mediterranean this engagement. And the American policy of the Mediterranean is only because of Israel and is only related to Israel.
We all will be left with an empty space in theory with a great route to Europe and a question mark to new local powers. It was unexpected that step by step that the empty space has been filled, first of all by Turkey and by Russia. This is what I repeat as “unexpected.” From the global point of view, Turkey has a throughout project for the Mediterranean - Cyprus, Syria, Libya, and not only that, including the Green Belt of Balkans. but Bulgaria has an increasing interest in those areas. This is the first great change in terms of power. In the last period of time, we had the interest mainly focused on Syria and Libya. And we shall talk about Russia later, who is not like Turkey.
The second is a hidden war – migration. In Spain the migration is driven by Morocco, and in Italy it is driven by Libya and Tunisia. I call it a “hybrid war.” It is absolutely not the appropriate definition but gives you the idea of how all the local powers are pushing against the European countries. They use the migration as a military instrument. At least the fact is that the European GDP is ten times bigger or more than Russia or Turkey. It is an incredible situation, but this is the real situation.
Now, the situation, even for Israel, is different compared to 2 months ago. Turkey is clearly improving, even if there is upside down. But Iran, even Qatar went back to a situation of instability, and Israel over the Abraham Agreements has widened agreements with the neighboring areas. Israel needs to set the problems with 2 million Palestinians. And I don’t see how this could be done. The situation is complicated.
I will end with a political question mark. If the America would come back to have a role, not only a role limited to Israel, the aid to the Palestinians is just a signal of this new orientation. China has an enormous economic influence in the Mediterranean area, but less political influence than economic. There are really a lot of activities in Morocco and everywhere. If you think of Libya, there were 35-36 thousands Chinese delegates and workers in Libya who were in 4 days transferred back to China and they never came back.
In this situation, the Chinese policy and the south Mediterranean are in a waiting mode. But a lot of activities in the Balknas and Turkey are not only to seek the road but also consolidate what is called “17+1.” In my opinion, “17+1” is debatable, because China is perfectly right to do business and makes the “17+1” as an institution. But it’s uneasy for the most important European countries. I don’t think there has been a political step.
I do hope that we must in some way change the situation. It was easier a few months ago through the signature of the treaty CAI (EU – China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment). But now everything is frozen. Honestly, I don’t understand why the members of the parliament put increasing numbers of sanctions to stop all the agreements with China. I don’t think I agree with that.
But it is not my task. My task was to give a picture and my minutes are over. It is clear that we must change some attitudes or more sights if we want to reopen the relation, because in this moment it is formally impossible to do anything, like the “17+1,” then the sanction and the attention that it brings with Turkey. But now the strong sanction is against members of European Parliament and everything is frozen. I do hope that we understand it on both side that something must be defrozen. Thank you.