Last week, my dear friend and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, George Vella, told me the devastating news of the disappearance of my close colleague Alfred Zarb. I imagine Maltese society and the Foreign Ministry have already paid a deserved tribute to his extraordinary work and devotion to Maltese foreign policy and its relationship with the Mediterranean.
In my case, these lines are a testimony to his commitment and strong involvement to developing a Mediterranean policy of Europe with Africa and the Middle East. In western diplomacy there are several schools of specialised diplomats. Alfred was part of the school of Mediterraneanists. This informal grouping is formed of people like him, diplomats that have understood the centrality and importance of the region and its affairs.
I first met Alfred in 1998 when we were both trying to shape a European Mediterranean policy.
It was in Rome and at that time we were exploring the ways to define a multilateral framework in order to address the multiple challenges that were already present at that time.
There was a conviction among us for a political reform and the necessity to support these countries economically and financially.
These meetings, in which France, Italy and Spain took the leading role, were the basis for a new initiative: The “5+5”.
Malta was immediately included and Alfred became an active actor to represent the country at those encounters.
5+5 began to draw the main lines of this western Mediterranean architecture. But from this proposal other more ambitious projects were explored. From the CSCM, inspired in the OSCE to the Mediterranean Forum in Alexandria to conclude this process in the most successful proposal: “the Barcelona process”.
Alfred was a pro-active negotiator. He was in all meetings, formal and informal. Thanks to him we succeeded in eliminating obstacles and resilience from some Arab countries and his voice was always wise and convincing.
I was personally deeply grateful for his help and assistance. He also facilitated me to convince former minister George Vella to accept to have our second ministerial meeting of Barcelona Declaration in Valletta. In this meeting I could count on Alfred’s intervention to convince President Arafat to meet David Levy, the Israeli foreign minister at that time, for the first time.
When the Barcelona process was substituted by the Union for the Mediterranean, Alfred was there to maintain Malta’s determination to defend and develop a Euro-Med strategy.
We didn’t always have a common position.
There were some moments when the Maltese and the Spanish interests didn’t coincide. I remember a meeting in Marseille, where we were to decide the final candidacy to host the UFM secretariat. Barcelona was the city we, Spaniards, were proposing.
Malta also tried to get it.
On that occasion we had some difficult meetings but in all of them Alfred was correct and loyal to our friendship. At the end he helped me to convince then minister Tonio Borg to accept the “final package deal”.
Last time I met Alfred was a year ago when I visited Dr Vella, during the Malta presidency of the EU and I presented to them a new Mediterranean initiative: PEMACS.
He was, as always, receptive and ready to work together. We exchanged several phone calls afterwards and I intended to return to Valletta to pursue our common goal: to create a Mediterranean space for peace, security and prosperity.
Jean Monet used to say that “Men pass, and the institutions remain”, when defending the need to create the EEC. I would like to conclude by paraphrasing Monet: “Mediterranean institutions change… pass… Alfred Zarb the Mediterranean man remains”.
Yes, his legacy will be for sure a source of inspiration for all people in the region.