ROME, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) -- The Mediterranean region must transform from an arc of crisis to an arc of opportunity, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the fourth annual Mediterranean Dialogues (MED) conference that ended here Saturday.
"The challenges for the Mediterranean have grown to include terrorism, migration flows, illegal trafficking and arms proliferation, spreading well beyond its shores to embrace the entire Middle East, the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, and Africa -- a vast arc of crisis, which we hope can soon return to fulfilling its historic function as a place where different cultures meet, mutually enriching each other," he said.
The region is "a priority in the European and international policy agenda," said Conte, adding he is "proud" of the "structured dialogue on the Mediterranean" he recently started with the United States during a visit to Washington in July. The PM also said it is Italy's merit if "NATO today also looks with increased attention on the challenges that come from the Mediterranean quadrant."
"It is in Europe's interests...to offer the wider Mediterranean area its heritage of stability, socio-economic development, and capacity for mediation," he said. "Europe has a specific responsibility, because what is at stake is not only the future of the region but also the future, the stability and the security of the Old Continent (Europe)."
If it really aspires to playing a role as a global actor, Europe must continue to work to define "a new regional order" that places cooperation and shared responsibility center stage, said Conte.
This is the premise on which his government organized a conference on Libya that was recently held in the Sicilian city of Palermo, which was preceded by visits to Tunisia and Algeria, he explained.
"The choice of Palermo was symbolic because it is at the center of the Mediterranean, which today is rife with destabilizing dynamics and unexpressed potential," said the head of Italian government.
The southern shore of the Mediterranean is also a bridge between Europe and Africa -- a continent that is constantly transforming and whose population is growing fast, Conte said.
During a recent trip to Eritrea and Ethiopia, he said he found "two peoples and two leaderships who have overcome two decades of misunderstandings, resentment and conflict to build peace, allowing us to imagine a path to sustainable development in the region."
The stability and prosperity of the Mediterranean depends on the stability and prosperity of Africa as a whole, and "Italy is willing to commit to a long-term partnership" with that continent, as shown by the second Italy-Africa Conference held in Rome on Oct. 25 that drew leaders from 52 African countries and 20 international organizations, Conte said.
Like the center-left government that preceded him, Conte reiterated the call for a "coordinated, concrete, and efficient EU response" to migration, berated Europe's lack of action, and called for "across-the-board cooperation between the two shores of the Mediterranean (in order to) improve the living conditions in migrant countries of origin and transit".
"We realize (migration) is a long-term challenge, requiring a structured, strategic, multi-level response," said Conte. "Reducing arrivals means dismantling the human trafficking network, making the flows more manageable, and reducing deaths at sea."
Speaking before Conte, Italian oil and gas giant ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi focused on what he said is the "unexpressed potential" of the southern Mediterranean region -- where his company has invested "10 billion euros in energy exploration and production over the past four years" -- due to persistent economic disparities between the European and the African sides of the sea.
"The gross domestic product (GDP) of the southern Mediterranean (region) is seven times lower than that of the northern Mediterranean," Descalzi explained. "Together, we represent about seven percent of the global population and produce 10 percent of world GDP."
"If we managed to critical mass between South and North, we could reach 15 or even 20 percent of (global) GDP," he said. "The catalyzing factor that could trigger this union is obviously energy: the two sides are very highly complementary, because the North does not have domestic energy supplies and must import 95 percent of its gas, and the South has far more (gas deposits) than it needs."
Speakers at the MED conference have included NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan De Mistura, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Undersecretary of State David Hale, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, plus political representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Malta, Oman, and Palestine.
Founded by Italy's former center-left prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, MED is built around four broad themes: shared prosperity, shared security, migration, and civil society and culture.