5th annual MedThink 5+5 Forum kicks off

Casa Árabe brings together experts and politicians to address the challenges and future of the Mediterranean region
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The European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed) and the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) opened the 5th Annual Forum of the MedThink 5+5 network at the Casa Árabe in Madrid under the theme "What are the prospects for the 5+5 Dialogue Forum in a changing Mediterranean? Adapting together to post-Covid-19 realities".

This two-day event follows previous meetings in Barcelona, Lisbon, Algiers and Malta. It is also the first time such a meeting has been held since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the key topic on the speakers' agenda. However, the experts will also address other topical issues such as digitalisation and sustainable development.

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The Dialogue 5+5 forum was created in 1995 with the aim of fostering cooperation and collaboration between the ten countries of the Western Mediterranean: five from the North (Spain, France, Italy, Malta and Portugal) and five from the South (Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia).

The MedThink 5+5 network, meanwhile, was established in 2016 with the support of more than 30 institutions from the 5+5 Dialogue countries. "The network seeks to meet the needs at the heart of the 5+5 Dialogue system by working to enable dialogue through conferences, seminars and colloquia with key actors in the region," explains the MedThink 5+5 website.

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Cristina Juarranz, Deputy Director of Casa Árabe, and Senén Florensa, diplomat and Executive President of the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed) opened the Forum on Mediterranean Dialogue. Juarranz advocated 'cooperation between the countries of the Mediterranean', while Florensa called for 'recovering face-to-face contact'.

In addition to the pandemic, the president of the IEMed pointed to other issues affecting the entire region, such as sustainable development and digitalisation. Regarding the challenges facing the member countries, Florensa said that these challenges "can be turned into opportunities". "The need for cooperation is stronger than ever," he said.

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Senén Florensa, Diplomat and Executive President of the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed)

Afterwards, it was the turn of Ángeles Moreno Bau, Secretary of State for Foreign and Global Affairs of the Spanish Government; Taïeb Baccouche, Secretary General of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) and former Tunisian minister; and Nasser Kamel, Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and former Egyptian ambassador.

Moreno Bau began his speech by stressing that this event "is more necessary than ever". She also assured that the European Union and Spain are committed to the development of the area. The Secretary of State highlighted several key themes of the 5+5 dialogue: the economy, recovery after the pandemic, digitalisation and sustainability.

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Ángeles Moreno Bau, Secretary of State for Foreign and Global Affairs, Spanish Government

Within digitalisation, Moreno Bau called for "more competitive industries" and said that this can establish closer relations between governments and citizens. On the other hand, he described climate change as "the greatest challenge of our time". "Our region is ideal for developing renewable energies," he added.

Taïeb Baccouche, like the other speakers, referred to the global pandemic, although the former minister emphasised the region's vaccination process. Baccouche stressed the North-South collaboration in the area of agriculture and food, but also called for stronger coordination between the two shores of the Mediterranean "to achieve fair solutions through objective approaches that take into account the needs of the population".

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Taïeb Baccouche, Secretary-General of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) and former Tunisian minister

Baccouche concluded his speech by referring to the future of the region during the post-pandemic recovery process. "The prospects for cooperation after the COVID-19 crisis continue to have an impact in the face of the refugee crisis, political instability and weak social protection systems," he said.

The opening was closed by Nasser Kamel. "The fact that this event is being held in Madrid demonstrates Spain's willingness and support for the 5+5 Dialogue, but also Spain's support for cooperation between the southern and northern shores of the Mediterranean," he explained. In Kamel's words, Spain "is one of the pillars of this cooperation".

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Nasser Kamel, Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and former Egyptian ambassador to Egypt

On the coronavirus, the former ambassador highlighted the increase in inequalities. "The crisis has highlighted the fragilities and inequalities not only within countries, but also between countries. The pandemic affected southern states more than northern ones. "The economic and social impact of this crisis, as we all know, has affected the most disadvantaged areas," he revealed.

Kamel presented three pillars on which COVID's recovery should be based. Firstly, there would be regional integration. "This situation has reopened the debate on reforming the economic model and relocating production closer to home. With this relocation, we will increase our mutual dependence," explained the secretary general of the Union for the Mediterranean.

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The second element would be inclusive development. Young people, women, low-skilled workers and artists were the most affected by the pandemic, Kamel said.

Finally, this recovery should be based on ecological transition. "Sustainability means facing and building a better future, taking into account the climatic challenges that exist in these regions, because we live in places recognised for their natural and cultural richness.

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This was followed by a round table discussion on "The 5+5 dialogue in the post-COVID-19 context: ways forward to maintain and strengthen cooperation in the Western Mediterranean". The second day will address sustainability with a focus on water security and digital transformation for sustainable development.