The first Informal Ministerial Meeting of the Rhodes Security and Stability Conference provided the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and High Officials of Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Slovakia -in her capacity as President of the Council of the European Union-, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates with the opportunity to exchange views on a wide range of issues pertaining to security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond.
At a time of multiple and severe challenges to the security of the Eastern Mediterranean, participants recognized the need for enhanced constructive dialogue, constant cooperation and coordination among the countries of the broader region, including through the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Union for the Mediterranean, on issues such as border security, trafficking, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, water and food security, energy and climate, interconnectivity, infrastructure and disaster management. At the same time, the participants highlighted the importance of formats, such as the Rhodes Security and Stability Conference, in fostering dialogue, thus complementing and buttressing the aforementioned institutionalized forms of cooperation.
The region is faced with challenges that are largely but not exclusively related to the ongoing conflicts in the region, namely in Syria, Libya and Iraq, as well as to the fight against Da’esh in Iraq/Syria and the risk of the spread of terrorism to various parts of the Mediterranean. The common denominator of the positions expressed was that peace, security and stability in the region will only be accomplished through collective cooperation among the countries concerned, as well as through coordinated action in the international and regional organizations, such as the UN, the EU, the Arab League and the GCC in full respect of International Law and the UN Charter and that the Middle East process should resume the soonest possible and lead finally to a just solution. This is why regional cooperation is now more essential than ever.
The field of education was acknowledged as a top priority sector. Participants agreed that enhanced cooperation, especially between universities and research centres should be sought, establishing a network of exchanging views and ideas and promoting contacts between youth and academia.
On Migration, the participants agreed that the current dramatic and unprecedented migration and refugee crisis calls for far-reaching measures. Therefore, cross-border cooperation on migration management coordination between the competent Authorities as well as implementation of joint projects and proposals will alleviate the countries and peoples in need. The participants also stressed the importance of adopting a comprehensive approach to deal with the grassroots of the migration issue and supporting the efforts to improve the living conditions in the South Mediterranean countries.
The participants have commended the courageous decisions of Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan to provide shelter to a huge number of refugees from Syria and Iraq and they reiterated their call to the International community to provide these countries with the needed funds enabling them to cope with this disproportionate in comparison to their economic potential challenge.
On Environmental Security, the participants recognised that climate change is one of the greatest challenges and requires to be urgently addressed by all states, as per the principles and provisions of UN framework convention on climate change. The Mediterranean is a large closed area and immediate action should be taken in order to preserve and protect the marine environment. In this regard, they agreed to develop common research projects and actions in the field of green technologies. They also underlined the need to strengthen their cooperation in the field of energy generation and transportation of conventional energy.
As regards Maritime Security, participants stressed the role of the Mediterranean Sea as a strategic maritime route for international navigation and trade Taking into consideration that the economies of the region are heavily reliant on seaborne trade and maritime transport of goods and services, as well as the existential threats such as piracy in the Horn of Africa, terrorism, illegal trafficking that could impede freedom of navigation in the Mediterranean, the participants underlined the need for a holistic approach, aimed at broadening the concept of maritime security and in this regard participants welcomed the positive impact of the adoption in 2014, of the EU Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS). The participants stressed the important impact of deepening and developing the Suez Canal as a major contribution to facilitate world trade and maritime security.
On the fight against terrorism, participants recognised that the current unprecedented terrorist threat, associated with the use of new technologies, demonstrates the pressing need for a more coordinated and decisive response. The exchange of information in a reliable and timely manner, as well as the development of mechanisms which provide the possibility of an in depth analysis of data, may, inter alia, improve the level of national and regional interaction. Close cooperation between the Intelligence Services and the competent law enforcement agencies is of paramount importance. The freedom of speech should not be misused to hinder fighting against incitement to terrorism.
With regard to countering radicalization, participants acknowledged that although security-oriented measures are necessary to prevent terrorist attacks and exert pressure on terrorist organizations, at the same time they cannot solve the problem at its root. The participants, also acknowledging that in order to combat terrorism, focus should be given not only to security issues but to the encountering of radicalization, extremism and religious bigotry, have decided to establish a committee, which shall consist of representatives of the participant countries, to explore and implement projects, aiming to counter extremism in the Middle East North Africa and Europe, promoting peaceful coexistence tolerance, mutual understanding and cooperation among groups of different religions. This committee, hereinafter to be referred as “The Rhodes Committee”, will encourage cooperation and joint projects promoting the values and principles of cultural and religious pluralism and mutual respect and will pursue as its first tasks the following:
– Recording all existing initiatives and centres in the countries of our region, promoting tolerance, peaceful coexistence and interaction between different religions such as the Centre for Religious Pluralism in the Middle East in Athens, the Jordanian Initiative “Aqaba Process”, the Al – Azhar Center in Cairo, the Hedayah Center of Excellency in Abu Dhabi, the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center etc, and pursuing their networking in order to promote exchange of information and best practices among them.
– Promoting the creation of a network of media of the region, with a view to providing visibility to positive examples of tolerance and peaceful coexistence between different communities.
– Studying ways to promote common cultural values and components of our civilization in order to give prominence to the values bringing together the peoples of the region, regardless of religious or ethnic origin. A body could be created to coordinate cultural exchanges among our countries.
– Undertaking joint initiatives targeting primarily groups of young people who are vulnerable to the preaching of hatred and extremism.
Finally, the participants, acknowledging the added value of a follow-up mechanism to the Rhodes Security and Stability Conference, agreed that the next meeting will convene in Rhodes, in September 2017.