Speech by President von der Leyen at the International Conference on Development and Migration

Cara Giorgia,

Presidents, Prime Ministers, Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We gather here in Rome with one shared objective: We are all facing many challenges, but we want and we can turn our challenges into opportunities. We can do this by building strong and lasting partnerships. We all belong to one common region. We are connected by the Mediterranean. And we are connected by the ties of history, travel and trade. But we see that cooperation between North and South, East and West of the Mediterranean has not always been the norm. We want to change this and that is the reason why we gather here today.

Of course, we are meeting in very special times. We are all facing the dramatic reality of climate change. We all need to switch to clean energy and new farming techniques. We all need to train our workforce for the jobs of tomorrow. Of course, climate change is a challenge, but it also bears huge opportunities. At the same time, we have to stop the exploitation of human suffering by criminal networks. We have to prevent the tragic loss of life in the Mediterranean Sea.

All these factors require a new way of thinking and they require to develop new strategic and comprehensive partnerships across the shores of the Mediterranean. A new strategic partnership for economic and human development, for trade, investment, and migration management based on solidarity, sovereignty, and shared responsibilities.

The mutual advantages are clear. Think about climate and the clean energy transition. In Europe, as we have ended our dependency on Russian fossil fuels, we are massively investing in clean energy to power our industries of tomorrow. We will produce clean energy in Europe, but we will also need to import quite huge amounts of clean energy from abroad. Producing clean electricity in the European Union costs 10 cents per kilowatt hour at best. In Tunisia, it could cost as little as 2 cents. Tunisia has the necessary natural resources of wind and sun in abundance. It would have a huge competitive advantage. This is a classical win-win situation: Europe has an interest to invest in Tunisia and Tunisia has an interest to develop capacities for home-consumption and export. But there is more. We will also work with Tunisia to address the impacts of climate change, focusing on water management and sustainable agriculture. This is essential to adapt to a drier climate.

Distinguished guests,

We want our agreement with Tunisia to be a template, to be a blueprint for the future, for partnerships with other countries in the region. We want to take a pragmatic approach based on shared values and interests. We want to find solutions that are tailored to the local realities. The first potential field for cooperation is investment, especially in clean energy. This Mediterranean region has vast natural resources like sun, wind and immense landscapes in abundance. You have the potential and the ambition to be global energy powerhouses in a net-zero world. Europe is already supporting this ambition. We have, for example, our hydrogen partnerships with Egypt and Morocco. Or, on a broader scale, we have our Global Gateway investment plan, worth EUR 300 billion. Global Gateway has not only the size to make a difference, but it lays out a new approach to big infrastructure projects. European investment will come with a very strong focus on creating local value chains. Global Gateway is open to cooperation with business, with financial institutions, with public and private investors. We do not only want to build clean energy infrastructure, we also want to build bridges between the two shores of the Mediterranean.

This leads me to the second new opportunity for cooperation. It is about people and their perspective. It is about training the workforce that new and emerging economies need. We can build a more balanced system in which people move, learn, work. It is with this in mind that we have developed the Talent Partnerships. These Talent Partnerships aim precisely at developing new skills and creating new work and training opportunities, especially for young people. These young people want to live their dreams. And far too many of them put their lives in the hands of ruthless smugglers and traffickers. This has become a lucrative business model of organised crime.

But the reality is that criminals can never guarantee a new start. They trade on dreams and human life. We must break their cynical business model. Opening new legal pathways between our continents can create a real and safe alternative to the dangerous journeys across the sea. This is why, at the European level, we are working to promote resettlement and humanitarian admission. At the same time, we must crack down on smugglers and traffickers. We need to join forces to dismantle the cruel and illegal business model of criminals. And we need to work together on raising people’s awareness of the lies smugglers are spreading.

Distinguished guests,

We are ready to work with you. We are ready to set up operational arrangements that strengthen cooperation between our law enforcement and judicial authorities. Together we can cooperate on search and rescue and strengthening border management. Together we can – and should – manage migration better, by guaranteeing protection to those in need – be it in countries of transit or destination – taking a route-based approach, and by cooperating on the return of those who do not have a right to stay and supporting their reintegration back home. For that, we can rely on the invaluable support and expertise of international organisations and European agencies.

Distinguished guests,

Dear fellow leaders,

The Rome Process is an opportunity to team up. It is a new forum to better understand one another, to identify each other’s interests and needs, and to find mutually beneficial solutions.

Thank you very much.