The geopolitical, commercial and infrastructure changes that have occurred in recent years, with globalisation and the organisation of world trade which have preferred maritime routes, are the main reason for the renewed international relevance of the Mediterranean basin. In particular, the economic performance of the Far East and the emerging North African countries has caused a significant increase in trade by sea on the commercial routes to and from Europe and between the two shores of the Mediterranean.
So the Mediterranean is progressively regaining a key role internationally as a result of globalisation and the methods of trade, in particular through maritime transport. So expansion projects for ports and logistics platforms are being created. In recent years, the increase in the capacity of the Suez Canal has favoured new regular routes between the Mediterranean and Red Sea ports. In addition, the leading role the Persian Gulf area is acquiring in the international economic scenario encourages commercial relations with the Middle and Far East on one hand and the Mediterranean on the other.
In this new scenario, the need for institutional, technical and financial co-ordination to promote ordered development that responds to the needs of the populations overlooking the Mediterranean has never been so urgent. Since 2010, the Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean has been the institution dealing with this delicate challenge. The aim of the Union is to promote the co-operation and integration of the area through ‘regional’ discussion and the creation of projects and real initiatives with a tangible impact on it, substantially changing the social-economic fabric and favouring its progress.
From 2011 to 2016, I was a Project Manager for the institute for some ‘structuring’ projects in the transport sector including the trans-Maghreb motorway and rail network, a networked logistics platforms project adopting international best practices, the rail network project in Jordan, a ‘buffer’ state in a strategic position in the Middle East arena to guarantee economic relations between Europe and the Far East, and some Motorways of the Sea projects, set up with the aim of connecting European Mediterranean ports, and those of southern Italy in particular, with the southern and eastern banks of the Mediterranean. The institute is the technical body, based in Barcelona, of a partnership of 43 countries – the 28 in the EU and the partner countries of the Balkans and south-eastern Mediterranean, from Morocco to Jordan.
The transport projects were included in a networked multi-modal system, the Trans-Mediterranean Network on Transport, connected to the ‘TEN-T’ through the Motorways of the Sea, which form the maritime section of a system of essential logistics chains for the development of partner countries. This network contains all the strategic infrastructure for the southern Mediterranean and was built through the co-operation of the partner countries, which indicated the ports, airports, road and railway routes, passenger ‘hubs’ and logistics platforms of most interest, consistent with the structure plans of each of the countries and, therefore, respecting national strategies but with a perspective of integration that was considered a true ‘added value’ of this systemic approach. The network, which obviously includes the ‘structuring’ projects whose implementation I worked on, was also ‘modelled’, showing all the network infrastructures in a graph and developing tools and algorithms able to predict the impact of individual projects on the growth of the flows and the social-economic development of the individual countries, also establishing an order of priority necessary to direct the required financial resources wisely.
All this is in close co-ordination with the colleagues of the other structures of the Secretariat concerned with cleaning up the sea, urban development, civil defence, graduate training, alternative energy and economic development initiatives, with the aim of favouring the wide-ranging nature and synergies that accelerate the processes and development projects. There is also close contact with an extended network of banks and international financial institutes which share the loan programmes with the Secretariat for both the progress of the projects and the construction of the financial framework for their fulfilment.
The subject of financing is the most delicate part. The revision of the European Union policies on ‘TEN-T’ formally introduced the possibility of financing maritime connections with the areas and partner countries, and the revision of the ‘European Neighbouring Policy’ of November 2015 introduced the option of a flexible financial instrument that can respond with greater effectiveness to the needs of the partner countries, ensuring the necessary transition and stability and exploiting the experience of the existing tools, including those created to support member states in the Union in recent years.
Italy has developed intense commercial relations with countries on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean and is their main commercial partner by sea, and can, in this framework, consolidate its role as strategic centre for traffic within the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, the improvement in the efficiency of the logistics-port system is essential so that the current conditioning of the infrastructure system, not yet sufficient to support a significant increase in traffic, can be eliminated, and suitable connections to the land transport system, both rail and road, can be created.