Let's Not Wait Until the Fall Comes

There is no easy path to democracy and prosperity. As for the Mediterranean region, no doubt the Arab Spring has radically changed the landscape of the Mediterranean. But after decades of dictatorship and ultraconservative governments this path seems even tougher and almost impracticable at times. Overcoming the severe political and economic stresses that still gravely weighs on the region is crucial in answering the demands that brought millions of people, mostly young, to the Arab squares. The start of a democratic process and the transition towards political stability may sound like good news for us. In fact these are not enough to fulfill people's aspirations for a better life. Supporting the long-term commitment to political reform and promoting inclusive growth are the challenges which lie ahead.

If Arab leaders fail to provide education, job creation, and better life conditions for all, they will inevitably lose credibility and literally trash the results achieved so far. Their failure will be our failure. As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently wrote in the Post, "The revolution will have to be judged by its destination, not its origin; its outcome, not its proclamations." Kissinger was referring to a new U.S. doctrine of intervention. Europe, even more than our American friends, needs to shape its own new doctrine of intervention in the Mediterranean. It must be based on the scenario that clearly emerged from the revolution: A new Mediterranean needs a new paradigm of governance based on shared vision and combined efforts. Democratic ideas and practices are perfectly consistent with moderate Islam; their advancement will mostly depend on our effectiveness -- Europe's effectiveness.

It is Europe's primary responsibility not to let the Arab Spring slip into a chilly winter. We need, now not later, to build a "Euro-Mediterranean house" and create a solid framework for peace and security in a region which is rapidly turning from an area of influence into an almost "domestic" one. In the years to come, the security of people living in Rome, Berlin, London, will also depend on our ability to consolidate democracy, dialogue, and cooperation in this area.

Italy and others in Europe have been pushing for a stronger focus and commitment to the region within the framework of the EU security strategy. The EU Commission has proposed to increase to 18.1 billion euro the funds of the European Neighbourhood Instrument for the period 2014-2020. We also need the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to be able to operate in the Middle East and Northern Africa. We hope all EBRD member countries will soon follow Italy and ratify the amendments to its statute allowing investments in that Region.

There is so much work ahead. A big "wealth gap" divides the two shores of the Mediterranean and the difference in per-capita GDP is still huge. The interchange between the EU and the southern shore of the Mediterranean is less than 5 percent of the EU import/export total, and it needs to be increased. Regional integration is still very low. According to the World Bank, trade among Arab League member states is approximately 11 percent, compared to an intra-regional ratio of 65 percent for NAFTA and of 16 percent for MERCOSUR in the Western Hemisphere. Continent-to-continent trade, interchange of human capital, and comprehensive economic cooperation are possible only if peace and security are achieved. And it is in Europe's interest to help prosperity so as to unite the two shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This was the main focus of the meeting held last February in Rome where, for the first time after the Arab Spring started, 10 countries from both sides of Mare Nostrum, as the Romans called it, met in the "5+5" forum.

In such a Euro-Mediterranean house the stability of the neighborhood is also crucial. For any major geopolitical change to happen in the enlarged Mediterranean two conditions are to be met. First, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, "A regional awakening based on the ideals of freedom, dignity and non-violence cannot be complete without a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict". A true democracy since its foundation, Israel has upheld these values. Its security remains a pre-condition for both the stability of the Mediterranean and to encourage democratic societies to flourish throughout the entire region. At the same time we cannot let the Palestinian cause fall into the hands of extremists and we should therefore commit to a comprehensive plan to improve life conditions in the territories. The Middle East peace process must regain momentum, and we look forward to the upcoming Quartet meeting in Washington. Secondly, a stronger and direct involvement of Turkey is also of paramount importance. One of the pillars of the "Euro-Mediterranean house" is the prospect of Turkey's accession to the EU. Ankara is solidly anchored to the West and actively working with us on a common agenda. As a European, Mediterranean and Asian country all at the same time, Turkey's influence in the Islamic world can help the Arab Spring evolve into a democratic renaissance. Turkey's natural place is in Europe as much as Europe's natural place is in the Mediterranean.