On 22 June 2020 Mondodem and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung will stream a discussion on tensions in the Mediterranean (Register here). In preparation for the event we offer you four short reflections on the state of affairs in the region and the relevant Italian policy options.

On an economic-energy basis, it no longer makes sense for Europe and Italy to invest in new gas infrastructure, such as pipelines or re-gasification plants. Already before COVID the existing ones were used at 50% of their capacity and the new TAP pipeline will contribute to this excess. Diversification of sources and security of supply are already guaranteed as assessed by the European Commission. The drop in demand for gas in Italy (minus 13%) and Europe has been structural since 2010. Post COVID this trend will be accentuated through the Green Deal. In the first five months of 2020, demand for gas in Europe plummeted by 7%, the sharpest drop recorded worldwide. The International Energy Agency estimates that gas demand in Europe will never again return to pre-COVID levels due to the advance of renewables. If we add the effect of energy efficiency in reducing gas consumption for heating (just think of the “ecobonus”) and within the industry, this trend will only increase. The Mediterranean gas thus loses the overly extolled strategic value, with the national interest changing towards securing a Green Deal also for the Mediterranean countries that will be most affected by climate change. Italy must therefore rethink its foreign policy in this perspective and use its diplomacy and alliances in a strategic way to influence the choices of others towards new cooperation objectives that shift from fossil to clean energy. – Luca Bergamaschi

A dangerous rearmament has been going on in the Mediterranean for some years now, accompanied by a return to power politics and a serious retreat of multilateralism. Not only does arming Cairo not protect our national interest, but it threatens our own strategic objectives: al-Sisi’s Egypt is on the side of Haftar in Libya, therefore on a path contrary to Rome’s interests.
It is not, therefore, an operation, as has been said and written in its defence, which strengthens peace and security in the Mediterranean. Rather, it contributes to strengthening what is defined in international relations as the security dilemma: that situation which is triggered in the international system when the instruments used by a State to increase its security (such as the purchase of weapons systems) provoke a reduction in the security of other States, thus triggering a spiral of mutual insecurity which inevitably leads to conflict. If the objective, by arming Egypt, is to rebalance the relations of force towards a Turkey perceived as too aggressive, the final result may not be as hoped.
The assumption that Egypt is an indispensable partner for the stabilization of the MENA region is also false: we have all too often made the mistake in recent years of confusing authoritarianism with stability, but until individuals are guaranteed individual security and civil rights, any stability will only be a facade.
It is therefore not by militarily strengthening a military dictatorship that the foundations for stability and security in the region will be laid. – Annalisa Perteghella

For Italy, supplying armaments to Mediterranean countries is not simply a commercial or labour policy (issues whose importance I do not underestimate). In the Mediterranean, Italy has always tried to bring the contenders into contact and to promote peace and stability. At the moment, two camps are facing each other in the Mediterranean, one led by Turkey, the other by Egypt. In this context, given which we should strengthen our naval presence in the Mediterranean, instead of controlling the arms embargo in Libya and reduce tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, we do something totally different: we take away two ships that were commissioned by our navy and sell them to Egypt. Could we have done something different to pursue our strategic interests? I think so: we could have raised the issue of arms supply at the EU level, promoting a European initiative with Germany for a moratorium on arms sales (many of which end up being used in Libya, where we, on the other hand, are loudly demand parties to comply with the embargo). Italy has already raised the issue of arms sales to Egypt: Emma Bonino did so after the Al Sisi coup in 2013. Once the frigates are sold, how can we tell other European countries that we must promote peace instead of arming troops on the ground? Let’s not be mistaken: Al Sisi’s Egypt is not Mubarak’s Egypt. During Mubarak’s era, Western countries hypocritically closed their eyes to internal repression, in exchange for the protection that Mubarak gave to Western interests in the Mediterranean. Now this is no longer the case: Al Sisi employs a very heavy internal repression and at the same time “set himself up on his own” at international level, unscrupulously pursuing his own interests on the international chessboard. Finally, we no longer call Egypt an “ally” since it did not want to provide us with real assistance and cooperation in the judicial field on the Giulio Regeni affair. To the Regeni issue has been added the unwillingness to cooperate also for the fate of Patrick Zaky. This is a matter of national interest: for Italy (irrespective of government) it is necessary to get to the truth about the murder and torture suffered by the young Italian researcher in Cairo in 2016. The prestige of our nation is at stake, and it cannot accept incomplete and convenient explanations. Such a heinous act, carried out by the security forces of a country as important as Egypt, cannot remain without an attribution of responsibility certified by an impartial process. – Lia Quartapelle

Although many observers continue to use the contrast between Iran and Saudi Arabia as the main filter for understanding the Middle East, since 2011 this dividing line has become less and less meaningful. For Europeans who wish to understand the southern shore of the Mediterranean, it is now appropriate to look at another much more important fault line of political division, namely the one that contrasts some nations such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – which have become engines of the restoration of the authoritarian status quo in the Middle East after the shock of the Arab Spring – with emerging protagonists such as Turkey and Qatar, which since 2011 have become supporters of political Islam in various Middle Eastern contexts with the aim of overturning the balance of power in the region. Both these factions flirt with the West – Turkey is a NATO member while the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar have close relations with the US and the EU – but neither is in itself aligned with Western political goals and interests. The West, and especially Europe, today continue to be divided, with individual countries playing the game of squeezing one of the two factions, supporting it in the hope of making economic and/or political gains (as does France, which has been close to the UAE for years and is increasingly advocating an anti-Turkish policy), or to play on the side, trying to keep channels open with both factions in the hope, also in this case, to be able to draw contingent benefits (as do, albeit in different ways, both Italy and the USA of Trump). Both the first and the second strategy have shown all their limits in recent years in dossiers as vital for energy security and EU policy as Syria and Libya. The time has come for Europe to rediscover the great Mediterranean power that is – much more influential than the medium-small powers that are the individual European Mediterranean countries taken individually – by developing its own strategy modelled on its values and interests. – Eugenio Dacrema

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