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Rome aims to reactivate the Italian-Libyan Friendship Treaty

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini introduces "A Mission to Libya to revitalise Italy's role":

Tomorrow I will be visiting the “new” Tripoli, liberated by the Libyan people. A mission that I’d like to use as the basis for some considerations on our policy towards Libya and, more in general, towards the Mediterranean. A focus on the Mediterranean has been, and continues to be, one of the three principle lines followed by Italian foreign policy, along with our focus on Europe and the Atlantic. And it could not be otherwise: it is in the Mediterranean that our political, economic and cultural presence has its roots; it is to the Mediterranean that our civilisation has for centuries been linked.

Italy’s focus on this part of the world has grown even more in recent years, as a consequence of two factors. The first concerns the end of the East-West contraposition and the globalisation that has shifted our principle security challenges to the south: illegal immigration, terrorism, piracy. The second, more recent factor, is linked to the Arab revolutions that have re-drawn the underlying structure of the region and forced all of us, the entire western world, to reconsider our policies so that we can ensure that our positions are “on the right side of history”. We have cast aside those “agreements of convenience” with the dictatorships of the region which for decades had ensured stability and opportunities for our businesses.

The transition in these countries is still on-going and the outcome is by no means certain. We realise that we will need to rebuild our relationship with them on new and more diverse foundations. This will give rise to “agreements of co-existence” not just with their governments but also with the societies that have freed themselves. The Italian Government is equally aware that the fluid nature of the geopolitical framework has opened up new spaces for political and economic competition and brought our “country-system” face-to-face with new and more difficult challenges.

What concrete steps is Italy taking to defend its interests, its values, its role in the Mediterranean? I think we can say that in Libya, by virtue of our past and recent history, we were more exposed than others to the uncertainties raised by regime change. Yet I believe we have managed to stay in the front line, in both diplomatic and military terms, in the international coalition and to position ourselves for a “leading player” role in the post-Gaddafi era.

We were one of the first countries to recognise the new representatives of the Libyan people, to install a diplomatic presence in Benghazi and to send an Ambassador to the new Tripoli. With the new Libyan leadership we have created a joint Coordination Committee which will soon be meeting in Tripoli at the highest political level. The aim is to reactivate the Italian-Libyan Friendship Treaty: an instrument that underscores and preserves Italy’s unique position in the country. And in the meantime, ENI has resumed its operations there.

Anyone who is concerned that, because of some alleged previous failure to visit Libya, Italy has lost focus and is losing ground to the advantage of our competitors is not taking into account all the diplomatic and collaborative initiatives put in place. And, most notably, they are failing to take into account the features peculiar to the Italian position. Given the ‘baggage’ of our history, we could not adopt a lead role that would have attracted the media spotlights. Our obligation and interest was to operate with greater discretion and with full respect for the Libyan people. Our discretion, however, did not limit ­– but rather strengthened – the effectiveness of our actions. We intend to continue to focus primarily on our soft power and on our friendship with the Libyan people.

Our action vis-à-vis the other countries of the Arab Spring was again inspired by a precise goal: to help the transitions and to act according to our values and interests. We did so in the conviction that the democratic institutions in those countries, once they have become firmly established, will in a more profound and lasting way also ensure our own security and provide opportunities for our “Country-System”. That is the case with Egypt, where Italy’s presence and interests are strongly and deeply rooted (suffice to say that we are Egypt’s leading European commercial partner).

In recent months, Italy has stood side-by-side with the Egyptian transition with aid designed to foster economic recovery in the key sectors of tourism and small and medium-sized enterprises. I have received the Egyptian foreign minister here in Rome. On that occasion, I involved representatives of the main Italian companies operating in Egypt, to help ensure that their activity there could continue.

We await the outcome of the forthcoming elections to agree on a bilateral summit with the new government in the framework of the strategic bilateral partnership that we intend to further consolidate. We have an interest in safeguarding the relationship between Israel and Egypt and ensuring that the latter regains a central political role in the peace process.

We were in the front line in Tunisia too, a country that I visited in person on more than once occasion. We showed the Tunisians our concrete solidarity for their democratic transition by granting them a generous aid package and involving the local authorities in controlling migration flows.

But over and above our relations with individual countries, we have sought to actively promote our regional and multilateral vision of the Mediterranean region. A vision that is based on two principles: economic development and regional cooperation. We have defended the idea of a Marshall Plan for the Arab Spring countries, to prevent frustrations and a shift towards extremism in the people of the region, who voiced their desire for ‘bread and democracy’. This idea took concrete form with the Deauville Partnership which, by bringing together the resources of the G8 countries, the international institutions and the Gulf countries, will mobilise tens of billions of dollars over the next two years.

On 28 November I will be chairing a meeting of the 5+5 (the five southern European and five Maghreb countries) that will be the first concrete attempt to revitalise regional cooperation with and between the countries of North Africa after the Arab revolutions.

A further initiative that we are taking forward concerns the definition of a confidence-building model among the countries of the region, along CSCE lines. An ‘enlarged’ Mediterranean, a Mediterranean that is prosperous and stable, requires, in addition to our actions, a strong and cohesive European presence. This should start with the peace process, where Italy is actively supporting the European Union’s efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the difficult context created by the Palestinian application for UN recognition.

A pre-condition of a strong presence on Europe’s part is a rejection of any desire by individual nations to monopolise the stage ­– an attitude that could cause our continent to disappear in today’s multi-polar world. I hope that this appeal for unity is heard in the other European capitals.

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