The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

Day of the Mediterranean 2021

Evarist Bartolo Sunday, 28 November 2021, 09:17 Last update: about 10 months ago

For the first time in history we are celebrating the Day of the Mediterranean: today 28th November. As the Union for the Mediterranean we want this day to show us that what unites is stronger than what divides us. We want this day to show us that although there are periods in our past that divide us, we can create a common future.

We want this day to be an opportunity “to celebrate achievements, embrace diversity, to strengthen ties between our two shores and to deepen our understanding of each other” and address our common regional and global challenges. There is not one single issue in the region, from Covid to climate change, to energy and water sources, decarbonisation, digitalisation, lack of economic growth, unemployment and brain drain, poor infrastructure, weak regional integration, immigration, organized crime, terrorism, religious intolerance, hating the “other” … which can be solved by one country alone. We are condemned to solve these problems together or not at all.


We are like the sculptures of Thomas Schutte called ‘United enemies’: two pairs of men, who hate each other and want to get away from each other but cannot, as they are bound to one another with rope. In our small world, and even smaller region, connectivity has made us each other’s neighbours. We stress our differences and find it very difficult to get on with each other. We know that disputes among neighbours can be worse than disputes with strangers. As neighbours we are bound to each other. However much we hate each other and want to kill each other we have to find ways of living together if we are to address adequately our regional and global challenges.

With eyes wide open I dream that the way forward for this region is to resurrect the Helsinki spirit and call a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean. Not many had high hopes for that conference in Europe nearly 50 years ago when it was held in the middle of the Cold War. But it proved to be a turning point in the easing of tensions between the West and the East. We need détente in the Mediterranean. Dialogue and negotiation are mostly needed with those with whom we least agree.

We have weakened multilateralism through division, polarisation and mutual distrust and then we blame it for being fragile and ineffective. We have deprived inclusive multilateral structures and processes of leadership, legitimacy and resources and then blame them for being dysfunctional. We set up alternative arrangements of fake multilateralism that often marginalise and exclude those we disagree with and withdraw into a bubble of “like-minded” countries and talk to ourselves.

Let us define and make workable at least the minimum cooperation we must have to address our common challenges. The alternative is catastrophe.


Evarist Bartolo, Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs


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