The Mediterranean: death sea or common sea?

As any Mediterranean citizen, I have followed closely with horror and dread the recent events occurred in our “Mare Nostrum” sea. Unquestionably, we all agree that we cannot carry on as before and wait for the weather to improve and the migratory storm to pass and stop leaving on our coasts thousands of dead and disappeared. I agree with the statement of the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and the calling of the Italian Prime Minister Renzi for an Extraordinary European Council meeting to deal with the migratory issue. It was about time. Former Italian prime Minister Enrico Letta already proposed this last year, but European leaders and the Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso preferred to look the other way and put off such a meeting. Now it is no longer possible to put off the urgent adoption of a European migration policy, and the holding of this Extraordinary European Council meeting is very convenient. However, this horror and dread are followed by surprise and dissatisfaction when we see that the measures and the approach put forward by European leaders do not include wider diplomatic measures to eradicate this very serious challenge.

In all statements and announcements made, including the 10 points of the EU action plan approved last Monday by the Foreign Affairs Ministers, only defensive and interior measures are considered. All proposals focus on extending control measures, strengthening surveillance missions, increasing maritime resources, multiplying humanitarian care measures, reinforcing the FRONTEX mission: all of them are necessary measures but, in my opinion, they are wholly insufficient. I have not yet seen diplomatic measures being considered, when it is precisely diplomacy that can mitigate and change this dramatic situation.

This calling for diplomacy is not new. It was already made during the tenure of former President Rodríguez Zapatero. At that time, in 2006 and 2008, our country went through situations very similar to those taking place in Italy now.

Back then, in addition to border and maritime space surveillance and control measures, a diplomatic action was implemented, aimed at the countries of origin and transit from which all these illegal immigrants were coming. Only through the understanding of the reasons why this flood of people is landing on our coasts will we be able to grasp the origin of this challenge and adopt measures with the required effectiveness. Not one EU Foreign Affairs Minister has made a tour in the “South” to negotiate with the authorities of those countries and demand their joint responsibility on this common challenge. It seems that Europe does not want to understand the origin of these waves of people seeking to get away from a despaired situation. It is true that this crisis is breaking out on our borders, but the root of the problem lies in the depths of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. This is why the EU diplomatic effort should focus on this two-fold direction; on the one hand, stabilising that key area for Europe which is the Middle East, through firm peace initiatives, and, on the other hand, designing a major Development Aid Plan for the African continent. Both Spain and Morocco and Spain and Senegal proved that we could act in a jointly responsible way by calling the first Euro-African Conference on Migration and Development in Rabat in July 2006, where, in addition to approving border control measures, a series of proposals aimed at development and cooperation were explored. Unfortunately, many of the initiatives approved in the Moroccan capital did not have the appropriate tracking. It would be advisable to call today a similar conference again.

Full responsibility and management of the crisis is currently being assigned to Interior Ministers, but they will not be able to deal alone with the various challenges arising. They need their foreign affairs colleagues to get on the move, but not only through formal meetings in European cities, but getting on the spot and engaging with the true representatives. Negotiation must be made elsewhere, and that is where European foreign representatives should go to identify the issues and put forward short- and middle-term solutions. For such purpose, the need to expand and renew the solidarity effort, increasing official development assistance, cannot be ignored. This crisis also reveals the negative impact of ODA cutback on development aid policies. It seemed that cutting back development aid budgets would not have any consequence and most of the OECD countries irresponsibly made drastic cuts to their GDP contributions to development aid. Thus, the targeted 0.7% was not achieved and, very much to the contrary, the budget shamefully decreased from 0.5% to 0.1%. We are now facing the consequences. We are still increasing interior and defence budgets, but we keep on reducing our solidarity with the poorest ones. They will keep on getting to our coasts, jumping fences or dying in the Mediterranean cemetery, whereas we will keep on raising our walls, expanding our surveillance fleets and reinforcing Fortress Europe but the problem, far from diminishing, will only aggravate.

We still have time. We, Europeans, can decide our future. Do we want to turn our Mediterranean sea into a dead sea, a cemetery, or into a common sea of hope and peaceful coexistence?