Europe’s Strategic Options in the Mediterranean

04/07/2016, Rome
Europe’s Strategic Options in the Mediterranean

The Expert Seminar on “Europe’s Strategic Options in the Mediterranean”, organised by  IAI in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung - Italia, discussed the main security challenges in and around the Southern Mediterranean region and Europe’s strategic options in addressing them. It gathered experts and institutional representatives from different European member states. The discussions revolved around four main themes.

The first session was devoted to the analysis of the Libyan and the Syrian conflicts by highlighting the interplay between the domestic and the regional dynamics and players. In the case of Libya, there is a growing sense of stalemate in the implementation of the UN-sponsored agreement and further tensions between the West and the East of the country could arise due to the lack of inclusiveness and the deteriorating socio-economic situation. Libya is an overriding priority for Italy and it is mainly addressed along three lines of action: the political stabilization of the country, which would necessarily entail to tackle the economic malaise; the struggle against terrorism and migration management. When it comes to Syria, the speakers dwelled on the de-coupling between the US-Russia dialogue to re-launch the peace process, on the one hand, and the difficulties in including the regional actors (Saudi Arabia and Iran in primis), on the other, with a view to creating a sustainable regional framework.

The second session moved on to discuss the management of migration across the Mediterranean and the prevailing national policy responses. The speakers debated what is often portrayed as a dichotomy between the humanitarian and securitization aspects of migration from the Middle East and North Africa. The Italian and the German priorities and proposals were presented and discussed in light of the common need to externalize the management of migration and refugee flows in the short-to-medium term.

A word of caution preceded the third session aimed at debating extremism and terrorism in the Mediterranean region and in Europe. The phenomena that are often discussed under these labels are of a varied nature and warrant different sets of policy responses. Specific attention was devoted to the analysis of the “foreign fighters” issue that has sparked much attention in Europe. The debate continued delving into the relation between Islamophobia and terrorism in Europe and the risks linked to the overestimation of the terrorist threat.

Finally, the fourth session pulled all the strings together and provided some concrete inputs towards a more pro-active European engagement with the Mediterranean region in light of the challenges discussed in the previous session. The speakers assessed the response of the EU to the Arab uprisings outlining its strengths and weaknesses. In conclusion, the discussion addressed the extent to which the EU should seek greater coordination with NATO in its foreign and security actions towards the Southern Mediterranean region. The Tunisian and the Egyptian cases were also closely investigated as Europe considers them as pivotal states in different respects. What specific actions should be undertaken towards them was the object of debate among the participants.

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