The Malta Independent 3 December 2021, Friday

Shores moving apart

Evarist Bartolo Tuesday, 19 October 2021, 11:45 Last update: about 2 months ago

The best road to take for a resilient post-pandemic recovery and security in Europe and the Mediterranean region would be to call a conference on security and co-operation in the Mediterranean. We need to revive the spirit of Helsinki, not only for Europe itself but also for the Mediterranean.

Issues such as peace and security in the Mediterranean, together with the climate emergency, Covid-19 and other pandemics, migration, contested ownership of energy reserves, organized crime, artificial intelligence and automation, trade and development … cannot be tackled effectively by any single country or a small cluster of countries.


The more our common challenges need multilateral cooperation, the more we have weakened our ability to form common responses. How can complex issues such as those in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Western Balkans, Cyprus, the Middle East, Libya … be solved if they continue to be lived as zero-sum games? Such conflicts and the armaments industry continue to feed on each other as tensions and hostility among neighbours drive the arms trade while diplomacy plays only second fiddle. The arms trade continued to thrive even during Covid-19, with some badly hit countries finding money to buy arms but not enough funds to support their health systems and vaccine programmes.

We need to overcome our Eurocentrism and all colonial hangovers with our partners on the other shore of the Mediterranean, building equal relationships with them. We must learn to think, talk and behave differently with them. There is very little regional economic integration between both shores of the Mediterranean. Out of 500 million people living in the region, more than 25 million are unemployed, of whom 8 million are aged 15-24. The number of young people not in education or training has continued to increase. Economic growth and inclusive politics are necessary if social unrest and failed states are not to spread across the region.

Will Covid-19 make Europe look at its southern neighbours to invest as part of the new global value chain to replace more distant suppliers and buyers? Should the Mediterranean try to recover its 400 million pre-Covid international tourist arrivals over the next four years or leapfrog to a new digital and sustainable tourism that safeguards the region’s biodiversity, cultural values, that is sensitive to local communities, better paid and skilled jobs? When will the OSCE put the blue economy on its agenda and seek the contribution of the Mediterranean partners living in a region with 600 ports and terminals and one fourth of the global maritime traffic?

The Mediterranean is warming up faster than the rest of the planet. Unless we address this emergency as soon as possible, this soft security issue will become a hard security threat compounding the region’s geopolitical challenges with natural disasters, water and food shortages, rising sea levels, uninhabitable areas and human migration. One third of fossil fuels in the world come from this region. Their transition to renewable and clean energy will become a geopolitical crisis if such countries collapse and fail to provide a viable, alternative economic model for their people.

The Mediterranean’s death and decline have been often greatly exaggerated. We are now told that the Indo-Pacific is where the destiny of our planet is being played in this 21st century. But Europe cannot afford to neglect the Mediterranean and Africa. This will also be Africa’s century on the basis of its population and economic growth, that will converge with those of Asia by the end of the century. In a few decades we will live in a world where there will be 500 million, mostly middle aged and old people in Europe and 2.5 billion mostly children and young people in Africa.

The European and African continents, with the Mediterranean in the middle, are geologically moving apart, four centimetres a year. Politically and economically they will move apart faster if we do not reverse the trend and work together to address our common challenges.

Eliminating nuclear weapons

In two days’ time the European Mayors for Peace and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) will hold an event to continue working towards nuclear disarmament by supporting and promoting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). This Treaty is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal being their total elimination.

For those nations that are party to it, the treaty prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance and encouragement to the prohibited activities. This means that our country cannot be used in any way by nuclear powers.

Malta signed the TPNW on August 24 and ratified it on September 21, 2021, thereby becoming one of the first 50 ratifications bringing the treaty into force. Despite that some nuclear powers lobbied us not to sign this Treaty, we went ahead and stood by our long-standing foreign policy principle to strive for nuclear non-proliferation and global nuclear disarmament.

Our commitment to the TPNW is driven by the understanding that no state, big or small, possessing nuclear capabilities or not, is immune from the terrible humanitarian consequences if these weapons were to be deployed again. No state is immune to the mass slaughter, climate disruption, economic collapse, mass human displacement, cancer, other diseases and famine that would inevitably follow.

Today there are over 13,000 nuclear warheads worldwide. They are much more powerful than those used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki which killed over 340,000 people within five years. Other hundreds of thousands have since then been killed or contracted cancer and other diseases due to nuclear production, accidents and testing. The exact number of casualties is a closely guarded secret.

Last year during Covid-19, the nine countries that currently possess nuclear weapons collectively spent $72.6 billion in 2020 on modernising their nuclear arsenals. But the world leaders did not find the required $50 billion to bring the pandemic to an end faster in the developing world, where only 2% of the population has been vaccinated.

Evarist Bartolo, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs

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