Mr Kwesi QUARTEY, Vice President of the Commission of the African Union,
Mrs Amani ABOU-ZEID, Commissioner of the African Union,
Ministers and Representatives of the United Nations and of the International Organisations,
I bid you a cordial welcome on behalf of the Italian Republic here at the second Italy-Africa Ministerial Conference which takes place with great significance in the year when the entire world celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of an outstanding and unforgettable African leader, Nelson Mandela .
Just over two years ago we held our first Ministerial Conference and today, just as back then, the presence of such a vast number of qualified interlocutors proves our interest in each other, Africa and Italy, as we engage in dialogue.
This is age-old dialogue among peoples and cultures on the two sides of the Mediterranean and far beyond.
This encounter, with its ever-changing facets over the millennia, has laid the foundations for new dynamics, which include opportunities and unknowns.
As for the latter, we are referring to an imperfect globalisation process, which has entailed non-inclusive benefits; to economic growth that has often been disassociated from environmental sustainability; to epoch-making changes prompted by technological advancement; to evolving international relations characterised by the risk of a weakened regulatory framework that was established multilaterally.
Furthermore, we should not neglect the increase in risk factors for our society, such as violent extremism, transnational organised crime, illicit trafficking, including human trafficking.
On every and each of these issues, our countries have long ago initiated a well-established process of dialogue.
The works of this Conference will therefore develop as a telling sign of our continued commitment, which has remarkably grown in recent years.
Today, new and closer synergies and collaborations exist between us, characterised by equal and far-reaching partnerships, that are the result of our evolving and maturing relations.
Our relations with Africa represent a priority in the building of our foreign policies.
I am referring to political discussions, cultural and economic exchanges, to the many and qualified fora that, at various levels, we host and promote and that discuss agriculture, energy, cooperation, the role of diasporas and ethnography. All such fora involve the participation of Governments and civil society.
I have taken note of how, since the first Conference, the dialogue between our countries has increased in intensity and importance.
I pleasantly recall my visits to Ethiopia, Cameroon and the African Union in the first half of 2016, which I hope will be followed by further missions on the African continent in 2019.
Likewise, throughout these years, the visits of African leaders have increased in intensity and frequency. Such is the case of that which we witnessed during the Italian presidency of the G7, where the Outreach Session of the Taormina summit focused on African topics.
Tangible growth in our economic and financial commitments accompanied those dynamics, following an approach that brought the initiatives of Italian Cooperation to fourth place among G7 contributors.
We may add to these the numerous and remarkable experiences of cooperation delegated to Italy by the European Union.
The impetus of our country towards Africa has led to greater interest from our businesses in the continent, whereby we may consider ourselves among the main investors in Africa and among those countries that have increased capital flows to African states to a higher degree than others.
There is no geographical area that is undergoing such deep changes as Africa.
The African continent presents the highest rate of demographic growth and the highest percentage of young inhabitants. Its population may redouble by 2050, reaching 2.5 billion people, namely a quarter of all humanity.
Such figures, in addition to bringing about an immediate impact on the world, necessarily require the benefits of strong and long-lasting growth that supports the development and strengthening of the social fabric. As these consolidate growth, they must also prevent inequality from taking hold, as it halts harmonious progress across society.
The historical processes, growth strategies and the ambitions of the countries you represent portray the different paths that were undertaken.
Our dialogue must respect and value those differences and pursue shared solutions that must be appropriate in each and every political and socio-economic context.
In this sense, Italy can contribute through its wide articulated presence, through the sound participation of civil society, through non-governmental organisations, through associations, volunteers, through local authority networks, through production. It can additionally count upon fruitful relations with African regional organisations and with the African Union.
While it is true that Italy plays a major role in international relations with Africa, it is also true that the commitment of our country is necessarily complemented by that of its G7, G20 and above all, European Union partners.
As a matter of fact, the importance of Africa implies making a collective effort by pulling together all existing resources, experiences and visions.
The recent and most vivid affirmation of the new concept of a global strategic partnership between Africa and Europe came into being last November on the occasion of the Abidjan African Union-European Union Summit which marked a turning point, as pointed out by its very name, in the relations between the two organisations.
It was a productive debate on the role of younger generations and of African women, on resilience and on inclusive sustainable growth, on combating illicit trafficking and terrorism by means of interventions targeting human capital and governance. Such debate proved to be a moment of fruitful recapitulation and comprehension of our respective needs and of our common aspirations.
If dialogue between the African Union and the European Union continues to consolidate, this is also due to the increased importance of African continental and regional integration processes, which Italy has always supported with firm conviction.
In this respect, we highly value the attention that the African Union has been paying to the creation of a continental free trade area - an indispensable basis to favour the growth in interafrican trade -, and to the creation of an African single market for air transport, which will connect countries and peoples.
Given this positive atmosphere - and I will take this opportunity to offer my best wishes to Egypt in its work next year, when it will be in charge of the annual Presidency of the Organisation, I am strongly convinced that the collaboration between the African Union and the European Union will have an ever-growing space for working productively together, with the objective of providing appropriate answers to the great challenges of our time.
In recent years, our continents have been affected by terrorist attacks, in Paris as in Mogadishu, in Nigeria as in Germany, in Spain as in the Sahel.
Africa and Europe have also been repeatedly struck by the harmful consequences of climate change and drought, and of health emergencies.
However, positive dynamics of undeniable significance have also emerged. Italy supports and promotes them, and I would like to briefly recall them.
The developments underway in East Africa are characterised by a surprising and positively quick pace. Within a few months, in such a remarkable area from a strategic point of view, a historical change has taken place. The Peace Agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, with the involvement of Djibouti and Somalia, offers us the chance to speak about shared and inclusive economic regional development for the first time after twenty years, and is also thanks to the action of IGAD, the Organisation of the countries from the Horn of Africa with which Italy maintains sound, deep and constructive relations.
Italy appreciates this change with admiration, which shows how the noble objective of “silencing the guns” by 2020, that is promoted by the African Union, is not merely utopian but realistically achievable.
I would like to give my most sincere and vivid congratulations to the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Eritrea and Ethiopia for the courage shown by their countries in setting aside misunderstandings and tensions to achieve a future of peace, stability and prosperity for their peoples and the peoples of their whole region.
We hope that that very foresight and sense of responsibility will prevail and take hold in those areas where conflicts and tensions are still ongoing. The end of those would indeed contribute to strengthening the positive trends which the African continent has been experiencing.
These recent years have also marked a positive consolidation of the various regional integration processes; for instance, among others, the East African Community, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa, the Southern African Development Community, the Economic Community of West African States, and IGAD.
The economic growth of the continent and the consolidation of the relations among states within the framework of regional Organisations have led to an ever-greater spread of dynamic entrepreneurship, which has increased growth potential in several areas while also encouraging the birth of realities of exceptional technological value.
Our works belong to a framework of relations with single African states and with the organisations that reunite them which is durable, consolidated and future-oriented.
It is a commitment that goes beyond institutional talks and which embraces businesses, foundations, non-governmental organisations and the world of volunteering.
The varied and manifold structure of these actions goes hand in hand with the contribution of the Institutions and with productive investments, thus representing a most valuable asset.
The demographic dynamic, the environmental and climate crises and conflicts have caused an unprecedented displacement of people in Africa.
It is a ceaseless humanitarian catastrophe about which Italy, being aware of its global and non-occasional nature, has shown to be sensitive, also by welcoming, since 2015, about 475,000 migrants with an integrated multi-level approach that is founded on the principles of shared responsibility and partnership among the countries of origin, of transit and of destination of such flows.
At a bilateral level, and together with our European partners, we actively support cooperation policies with African countries that aim at tackling the causes which force people to abandon their countries, and that aim at managing migratory phenomena, while fighting against human traffickers and protecting human rights, in close cooperation with the High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration.
Our main future objective depends precisely on our ability to work together to go beyond emergency-based approaches while handling the phenomenon and removing its root causes.
Beside physiological political dialectics and heated debate on such noteworthy topics regarding our future - migration, economic growth, political integration, security and combating terrorism - you will always find that Italy, dear Ministers, is the most attentive and sensitive of interlocutors.
What unites us is the idea of a common destiny with ancient roots and that is fundamental to encourage stability, prosperity and security in our continents.
Our mutual commitment, including in the various multilateral fora where we are called to operate, will give an even greater impetus to our efforts; and, at the same time, I hope, renewed attention from your side to the expertise that our country is able to develop for the sake of a future of peace and prosperity.
Thank you and good luck with your work.