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Shaping Europe’s digital future

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I am a tech optimist. My belief in technology as a force for good comes from my experience as a medical student. I learnt and saw first-hand its ability to change fates, save lives and make mundane what once would have been a miracle.

We now take for granted that we can take an antibiotic when we have an infection or go for an x-ray or MRI scan when we get injured or sick. These are all miracles that have changed the course of humanity for the better.

Thanks to technology, these miracles are becoming more breathtaking and more regular by the day. They are helping to better detect cancer, support high-precision surgery or tailor treatment for the needs of each patient.

This is all happening right now, right here in Europe. But I want this to be only the start. And I want it to become the norm right across our society: from farming to finance, from culture to construction, from fighting climate change to combatting terrorism.

This is the vision behind the new digital strategy that the European Commission will present this week.

We believe that the digital transformation can power our economies and help us find European solutions to global challenges. We believe citizens should be empowered to make better decisions based on insights gleaned from non-personal data. And we want that data to be available to all – whether public or private, big or small, start-up or giant. This will help society as a whole to get the most out of innovation and competition and ensure that we all benefit from a digital dividend. This digital Europe should reflect the best of Europe – open, fair, diverse, democratic, and confident.

The breadth of our strategy reflects the scale and nature of the transition ahead of us. It covers everything from cybersecurity to critical infrastructures, digital education to skills, democracy to media. And it lives up to the ambition of the European Green Deal, for instance by promoting the climate neutrality of data centres by 2030.

But, as we will set out this week, the digital transformation cannot be left to chance. We must ensure that our rights, privacy and protections are the same online as they are off it. That we can each have control over our own lives and over what happens to our personal information. That we can trust technology with what we say and do. That new tech does not come with new values.

I fully understand that, for many, technology – and especially those who own it – have not yet earned that trust. I see how that can break down when big online platforms use their own customers’ data in ways they shouldn’t. Or when disinformation drives out responsible journalism and clickbait matters more than the truth.

So I get and respect why some people are tech sceptics, doubters or even pessimists. And this is why I believe we need a digital transition which is European by design and nature. One that rebuilds trust where it is eroded and strengthens it where it exists. As part of this, big commercial digital players must accept their responsibility, including by letting Europeans access the data they collect. Europe’s digital transition is not about the profits of the few but the insights and opportunities of the many. This may also require legislation where appropriate.

The point is that Europe’s digital transition must protect and empower citizens, businesses and society as a whole. It has to deliver for people so that they feel the benefits of technology in their lives. To make this happen, Europe needs to have its own digital capacities – be it quantum computing, 5G, cybersecurity or artificial intelligence (AI). These are some of the technologies we have identified as areas for strategic investment, for which EU funding can draw in national and private sector funds.

Making the most of digital and data is as important for big industries as it is for SMEs. Although the biggest ideas often come from the tiniest start-ups, scaling-up can be an uphill task for smaller European firms in the digital world. We want European start-uppers to enjoy the same opportunities as their counterparts in Silicon Valley to expand, grow and attract investment.

For this, we will need to overcome fragmentation in our single market that is often greater online than elsewhere. We need to join forces – now. Not by making us all the same, but by leveraging our scale as well as our diversity – both key factors of success for innovation.

And we will also need the resources to match ambition. This is why at this week’s European Council I will push for a modern and flexible EU budget that invests in our future – and in the research, innovation deployment and skills to bring it to life.

This will be needed if we want Europe to lead the way in the areas with the most potential, such as data and AI. This week, we will put forward our plans for both alongside our wider digital strategy.

The starting point on data will always be personal protection. Europe already has the strongest rules in the world and we will now give Europeans the tools they need to make sure they are even more in control.

But there is also another kind of data that is the uncovered, unused goldmine of the data-agile economy of the future. I am thinking of anonymised mobility data or meteorological data gathered by airliners, satellite images, but also industrial and commercial data on anything from engine performance to energy consumption.

These types of non-personal data can underpin the design and development of new, more efficient and more sustainable products and services. And they can be reproduced at virtually no cost. Yet today, 85% of the information we produce is left unused. This needs to change.

We will develop a legislative framework and operating standards for European data spaces. These will allow businesses, governments and researchers to store their data and access trusted data shared by others. This will all be done under secure conditions that create greater value for all and ensure a fair return for all.

These pools of data will in turn drive our work to promote excellence and trust in artificial intelligence in Europe. AI is already helping small companies reduce their energy bill, enabling greener, automated transport, and leading to more accurate medical diagnoses.

To help businesses big and small to harness the full potential of AI, we will invest in a network of local digital innovation hubs and in centres of excellence for advanced research and education.

At the same time, we will act to ensure that AI is fair and compliant with the high standards Europe has developed in all fields. Our commitment to safety, privacy, equal treatment in the workplace must be fully upheld in a world where algorithms influence decisions. We will focus our action on high-risk applications that can affect our physical or mental health, or that influence important decisions on employment or law enforcement.

The aim is not more regulation, but practical safeguards, accountability and the possibility of human intervention in case of danger or disputes. We successfully shaped other industries – from cars to food – and we will now apply the same logic and standards in the new data-agile economy.

I sum up all of what I have set out with the term ‘tech sovereignty’. This describes the capability that Europe must have to make its own choices, based on its own values, respecting its own rules. This is what will help make tech optimists of us all.

This article by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen was published on the occasion of presentation of Commission’s strategies for data and Artificial Intelligence.

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Significance of first EU-Bangladesh political dialogue

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Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen with Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service Enrique Mora. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh Oct. 2021

The European Union (EU) and Bangladesh held their first “political dialogue” on Thursday (November 24) in Dhaka to “elevate” their partnership by providing strategic direction and stepping up their cooperation on foreign and security policy.

Md. Shahriar Alam, state minister for foreign affairs of Bangladesh, leads the delegation there, while Enrique Mora, deputy secretary general of the European External Action Service (EEAS), represents the EU.

It was the first-ever political discussion in an effort to strengthen their ties at a time when Bangladesh’s influence is rising around the globe. All have an opportunity to discuss all sorts of political issues that they have shared concerns on.

When Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and the Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) met in Brussels in October 2021, the two parties decided to begin the political dialogue.

For the first time, a political dialogue between Bangladesh and the European Union (EU) has been held in the capital Dhaka which bears some significance message for Dhaka and Brussels both. Various issues were discussed in the dialogue. However, things like democracy, fundamental rights, rule of law and human rights have gained importance. Bangladesh and EU have pledged to work together on these issues.

Besides, both sides agreed to sign a Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in view of 50 years of relations between Bangladesh and the European Union. It is reported that the agreement will include issues such as connectivity, defense, cyber security framework and addressing the risks of climate change. And the basis of this new legal framework will be human rights.

There is no doubt that the economic and political alliance of 27 developed countries of Europe will bring benefits to Bangladesh in various fields if cooperative relations are developed with the European Union. Such relationships are also important in the current global context. So, we welcome this initiative. It has not yet been determined when the partnership agreement will be signed.

However, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam has expressed hope for its implementation in the context of 50 years of relations with the European Union. He said, ‘We have agreed to work on a partnership and cooperation agreement. It has a negotiation process. Taking into account the growing capacity, growth and journey of Bangladesh with the European Union, there is an opportunity to deepen and expand the relationship between the two sides.

One thing that has become clear through this dialogue is that the European Union’s interest in Bangladesh is gradually increasing. It was also understood in the speech of EU representative Enrique Mora at the end of the dialogue. He said, ‘We are reconsidering our relationship with Bangladesh for two reasons. One is the incredible growth and achievement of Bangladesh. That’s why we want to cooperate on various issues. The other is that we have important interests in the Indo-Pacific region. Our objective and strategy are to take a bigger position here. To achieve this goal, we want to increase the partnership with the countries of the region.

A country’s foreign policy is determined based on the country’s national interests. Just as the European Union has interests in strengthening relations with Bangladesh or countries in the region, Bangladesh also has interests in strengthening relations with the EU. Bangladesh’s policy makers have to adopt the strategy of how to make maximum use of this opportunity. There is an opportunity to expand the commercial relations of Bangladesh with the developed countries of Europe. Bangladesh needs the cooperation of those countries in the field of education, science and technology.

On issues like the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh can expect the support of the EU in various international forums, including the United Nations. Bangladesh can also ask for special benefits for tourism in EU countries. Therefore, the potential of mutual cooperation created through the Bangladesh-EU dialogue, the sooner it becomes a reality, the better.

The EU recognized Bangladesh’s renewed national confidence and growth momentum and expressed interest in working with Bangladesh to address issues of mutual interest, including by emphasizing the Indo-Pacific.

The fields of collaboration between Bangladesh and the EU are growing, and both nations have a variety of international and bilateral interests. While convening the first-ever “political dialogue” between the two sides in this location, Bangladesh and the European Union (EU) indicated a strong desire to take their current relationships to the next level.

State minister Alam and EU representative Mora announced at a joint news conference that they have expressed a willingness to sign a “partnership cooperation agreement” to improve Bangladesh’s relationship with the EU. Alam stated at the briefing that “They (EU) do have such a pact with main economies of ASEAN.”

The state minister reported that during the meeting they also discussed finding a political solution through the repatriation of the displaced people from Bangladesh to Myanmar and examined the Rohingya situation from a security viewpoint.

Additionally, both parties discussed a number of topics of shared interest, such as security cooperation, free and fair Indo-pacific, the Ukraine crisis, food security, trade facilities, and the issue of continuing duty-free access for Bangladeshi goods to the market after Dhaka graduates from the LDC status. Charles Whiteley, the ambassador of the EU to Bangladesh, was also present.

The EU will also have a scheme for duty-free benefits called “GSP Plus. But EU puts some conditions. Bangladesh has made significant economic and social advancements in recent years. The most significant achievement Bangladesh might make in the next years will be leaving the LDC category. But the issue still stands: Will Bangladesh’s commerce sector be equipped to handle the challenges when it leaves the Least Developed Country (LDC) category in 2024? The most difficult part of the journey to seamless graduation appears to be losing privileged market access in many export destinations.

The largest buyer of Bangladeshi goods has historically been the European Union (EU), which accounts for 64% of all clothing exports and 58% of all exports overall. As a least developed country (LDC), Bangladesh has benefited from the finest Generalized Scheme of Preferences of the European Union programs with zero tariffs. One of the nations to make use of the EU’s preferred market access is Bangladesh. Therefore, following LDC graduation, Bangladesh must maintain its tariff preference in all significant markets, but especially in the EU market. The country’s exports would increase if favorable tariffs were used to maintain export competitiveness. As a result, there would be more manufacturing, more export revenue, more employment opportunities for women, and ultimately less poverty.

 Both parties should prioritize the issue. As Bangladesh is on the way of development, EU should support Bangladesh to be a developed country.  Bangladesh has been included in a new EU initiative named “Talent Partnership’.

Bangladeshi migrants are increasingly choosing to go to Europe, particularly to Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. The EU insists on stopping unauthorized immigration, and both are working to do so.  Although there is still space for improvement, Bangladesh has achieved great strides in the area of labor, and the EU is pleased with it.

The EU has supported Bangladesh strongly on the Rohingya issue and this is discussed in the meeting. Bangladesh looks for financial aid for climate change adaptation as well as technology support for renewable energy. The discussion centers on the need for a free and open Indo-Pacific region and cooperation in counterterrorism initiatives.

After the loss of the duty-free and quota-free market access facility in the EU under the Everything but Arms (EBA) scheme in 2029, Bangladesh shall work to take advantage of the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) facility of the European Union (EU).

Bangladesh is going to sit in political dialogue with the European Union (EU) for the first time. The deepening and broadening of relations with the EU and the current complex geopolitical context necessitate a political dialogue.

In addition to discussing bilateral relations, political discussions were held on the three issues discussed in the Bangladesh-EU Joint Commission meeting since 2001 namely development cooperation, trade and good governance and additional issues of human rights. The purpose of this political dialogue is to give a strategic direction so that the stakeholders understand what they have to do.

Security issues was discussed on a large scale in this forum. The security agenda covers terrorism, cyber security, peacekeeping, food and energy security, climate change, international crime and more.

The two sides discussed about creating and expanding the cooperation relationship on the issues between the two sides. The EU has already announced its Indo-Pacific Strategy. Bangladesh’s position on the Indo-Pacific is being worked on. Besides, there are various mechanisms of cooperation between the countries of this region. The region’s importance was greater than ever as the world’s center of power shifted towards Asia. Regional cooperation is very important to the EU and they want to know how Bangladesh is positioned in the region – that is normal. Enrique Mora also said that Bangladesh has become an important state with excellent economic progress.

More important for Bangladesh is Rohingya repatriation. On the other hand, the situation in Myanmar is normal for the EU. EU countries have been supporting the solution of the Rohingya crisis since its inception. But after the military seized power in February last year, restoring democracy in Myanmar became paramount to them and the Rohingya issue took a back seat. The two sides must highlight their respective positions and discuss how to work to resolve the issue. It is not the only issue of Bangladesh. Again, this is not a bilateral issue between Bangladesh and Myanmar. He said, this is an international problem. The international community should be concerned about this. EU IS putting pressure on Myanmar’s military authorities by suspending various types of sanctions and development aid, including arms. The EU reiterated its gratitude for the continued generous role and actions of the Government and people of Bangladesh to temporarily shelter more than 1.1 million Rohingya forcibly displaced from Myanmar for more than five years.

However, to ensure mutual advantage, EU and Bangladesh can cooperate in a variety of fields and approaches. This initial political discussion may open the door to further fortifying the bonds.

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European Parliament Declares Russia as Sponsor of Terrorism: Implications and Future Developments

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European Union’s relations with Russia has taken a different complicated turn, this time declaring Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. What are the significance and implications the European parliament, arguing military strikes on Ukrainian civilian targets such as energy infrastructure, hospitals, schools and shelters, to classify and finally vote in favour of a resolution calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism? Why should the European parliament take this decisive legislative step at all giving this status to Russia?

The European parliament at a plenary meeting in Strasbourg on November 23 declared Russia as “a state sponsor of terrorism” around the world. The resolution passed by 494 votes, while 58 deputies voted against and 44 abstained. The document brings a number of accusations against Russia. The bloc has already imposed a series of unprecedented sanctions on Russia over its special military operation in Ukraine which began February 24. European lawmakers, in a largely symbolic move, now voted for this measure against Russia.

The Yermak-McFaul sanctions group, in a special project for independent newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, pointed to six main consequences of the potential U.S. designation of the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism:

1. Symbolic: recognition of Russia as one of the main global perpetrators of atrocities and terror, which the country carries out against civilian populations.

2. Diplomatic: reduction of formal ties and joint programs between the U.S. and Russia, along with increased diplomatic isolation of Russia.

3. Sanctions and restrictions on transactions: it will be illegal for American individuals and legal entities to participate in financial transactions with the Russian government, Russian state-owned banks and enterprises, and persons connected with the Russian government.

4. Secondary sanctions against entities that are connected, for example, by transactions with Russia and its institutions. This means that the U.S. and its allies can impose sanctions (usually financial or trade) on any country that continues to cooperate with the Russian Federation, prompting other countries to avoid such cooperation.

5. Blacklisting of the Russian Federation by The Financial Action Task Force (FATF):unlike the partial disconnection of Russian banks from SWIFT, this step would affect the banking system of the Russian Federation in its entirety, rather than in selective parts (this would mean the blocking of correspondent accounts of Russian banks around the world, including in China).

6. Enabling judicial, executive, and other actions against Russia directly by voiding Russia’s sovereign immunity, thereby allowing the real possibility of bringing Russia to justice in the courts of other countries. Normally, a court of one country cannot issue judgements against another country. However, a state sponsor of terrorism designation creates an exception to sovereign immunity in U.S. courts.

There have been several media reports. As the BBC has noted, there have been other attempts to designate Russia as a “terrorist” state. In the spring of 2018, after an assassination attempt by the Russian special services on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Robert Menendez, called for this step against Moscow. In December 2019, the Committee supported a bill introduced by Republican Senator Cory Gardner to recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism.

Despite these calls, Russia has still never been included on this list. However, the savage and brutal full-scale war that the Kremlin is waging against Ukraine has repeatedly strengthened both Kyiv’s calls for this step and the grounds for it.

On May 12, 2022, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Republican Joe Wilson and Democrat Ted Lieu introduced a bipartisan resolution proposing to recognize the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“By designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, the United States would be able to ban dual-use exports to Russia and take economic action against other countries that do business with Russia,” argued Rep. Lieu in a joint statement with his Republican colleague.

“What’s more, the U.S. could further inflict pain on Russia by freezing the country’s assets in the U.S., like real estate. We know that Russia provides sanctuary to a U.S.-designated terrorist group and has employed mercenaries with histories of human rights violations. A state sponsor of terrorism designation is a common-sense way to further aid Ukraine.”

They also recalled that in addition to war crimes in Ukraine and “the bloodbath that has already resulted in the death of unknown thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers.”

“However, Russia’s involvement in international terrorism is more expansive and has been well documented for years, whether through direct attacks or orchestrated through private military networks and hired thugs. Their reign of terror must be stopped,” they urged.

In a recent article, the news magazine Foreign Policy analyzed why the hypothetical decision to recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism has drawn skepticism.

“U.S. officials and experts familiar with the matter describe a debate within the National Security Council and State Department on the merits of the move, with some officials arguing that a [state sponsor of terrorism] designation would send a powerful signal of support to Kyiv and others arguing that it wouldn’t have much of a practical impact, given that Russia already faces one of the strictest sanctions regimes in the world,” the publication reports.

On the other hand, other experts argue that the recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism would have a significant reputational effect. The move would increase pressure on the Kremlin and make virtually any relationship with Russia impossible for U.S. citizens, writes Politico. According to Atlantic Council sanctions expert Edward Fishman, “Labeling Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism would be significant because it’s a blanket measure… [It] brings risk to any relation-ship with Russia.”

He also added that a congressional mandate to grant the Russian Federation such a status would make any secondary sanctions against Russia “far more effective.”

In addition above, the Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung’s columnist wrote that “Emotionally, this decision can be understood, but it entails no legal consequences. Moreover, it is politically meaningless,” columnist Daniel Steinvorth believes. In his opinion, the resolution adopted “looks powerful”, but in reality, it is such “only verbally.”

The author draws attention to the fact that the decision of the parliament “is not binding” for either the European Commission or the countries of the European Union. The European deputies’ demand for reducing official contacts with Russia to an “absolute minimum” has been “met long ago,” taking into account the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the EU countries after the start of a special military operation in Ukraine, the columnist noted.

Steinvorth recalls that the United States, unlike the EU, does not consider Russia a sponsor of terrorism, because it is well aware that “at some point the West will inevitably have to sit down again at the negotiating table with Russia,” while “terrorists are not to be negotiated with.” Strasbourg “prefers not want to wait for this moment and hurries to attach labels instead,” the observer laments.

On the other hand the widely circulated daily Russian newspapers have, during the week, attempted to offer some analysis behind the European parliament’s move to brand Russia a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ for its actions in Ukraine and interviewed for views from so many political experts. For example Izvestia

“This decision cannot have any legal consequences, because the European Parliament does not have any appropriate prerogatives. However, there are political implications, and the resolution may propel this issue legally,” Associate Professor of the Department of Integration Processes at MGIMO Alexander Tevdoy-Burmuli told Izvestia. The expert said the EU could later make decisions to facilitate the recognition of a third country as “a sponsor of terrorism”.

Director of the Center for European Information, Associate Professor at MGIMO Nikolay Topornin doubts the EU will soon be able to tweak its legislation for that. “This resolution would rather attract the attention of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and other regions,” he told Izvestia. And Tevdoy-Burmuli did not rule out that the EP could use this resolution to try and deprive Russia of its say at the United Nations Security Council, even though the procedure of stripping a permanent member of its right to veto is not envisaged in the organization’s documents.

What’s more, the resolution came as no surprise for Moscow. According to First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov, the European parliament is no longer playing a decisive role, and all it has been doing of late is inciting enmity between nations. The senator suggested Russia, in its turn, should approve a document recognizing all NATO countries as “sponsors of terrorism” for the massacre of civilians in Yugoslavia, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The European parliament at a plenary meeting in Strasbourg on November 23 declared Russia as “a state sponsor of terrorism” around the world. The resolution passed by 494 votes, while 58 deputies voted against and 44 abstained. The document brings a number of accusations against Russia. The European parliament further asked the Council of the European Union to broaden the list of sanctioned persons and called on “all EU candidate countries and potential candidates to align with the EU’s sanctions policy.”

The European parliament “calls on the Commission to come forward with a legislative proposal to amend the current EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime […] by extending its scope to include acts of corruption, to swiftly adopt targeted sanctions against individuals responsible for high-level corruption in Russia and Belarus, as well as their EU-based enablers and beneficiaries,” the resolution says.

It “asks the Commission and the Member States to consider possible measures against countries that try to help Russia circumvent the sanctions imposed; urges the Commission to ensure that national penalties for breaching EU sanctions are effective, proportionate and dissuasive.”

“European Parliament members have given the member states an idea of developing a European Union’s legal framework ‘for the designation of states as sponsors of terrorism and states which use means of terrorism’ and called on European capitals to put Russia on this blacklist so that no one has any doubt which state they mean. The absurdity of this idea is evident to all but European Parliament members who supported it,” the mission wrote on its Telegram channel.

According to the mission, “the task set by the European Parliament is simple – to whip up confrontation with Russia by all possible means.” It is being done at the expense of the wellbeing of people who are faced with the adverse impacts of the anti-Russian sanctions, it added. Brussels has is a framework definition of terrorism and a list of terrorist organizations, and the resolution will not have any judicial consequences for Russia. Although resolutions are not legally bunding and are recommendatory, they are widely used in the EU media and political environment to promote and disseminate specific political positions.

In addition, European deputies recommend “an immediate and full embargo on EU imports of Russian fossil fuels and uranium, and for the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines to be completely abandoned.”

Earlier, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly published a resolution, which recommends that Russia be designated “a terrorist regime.” A similar resolution was adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in October. The European Parliament resolution adopted is an advisory recommendation for consideration by the European Commission and the Council of the European Union.

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Italy-Gulf Bilateral Ties: More Room for Growth

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Due to historical and geographic factors, Italy has rarely figured as a protagonist in the dynamics of the Gulf region and it has mainly focused its foreign policy activism on its immediate neighborhood: the Mediterranean and North Africa.

However, Rome has signaled an interest in playing a more visible, active role in the GCC space and Italy-Gulf bilateral ties have registered exponential growth during the past decades. Three main areas of cooperation – security, economy, and energy – have significantly contributed to building a friendly diplomatic environment.

Security Cooperation

Italy came to play a more significant role in the Gulf area in the early 1990s by contributing to the US-led Operation Desert Storm against the backdrop of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.

Although Italian troops were rarely dispatched to the Arabian Peninsula since then, they visibly contributed to promoting security and stability in the GCC’s immediate neighborhood. Italy took an active role in the US-led Global War on Terrorism after 9/11 by participating in military missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Italian troops rarely engaged in combat operations when deployed to the Middle East. In most cases, Italy’s armed forces were tasked with non-combat duties. As a peacekeeper, an interposition force separating warring parties in combat zones, and head of training programs for local security forces, Italy’s army has consolidated a decades-long experience in deconfliction.

Italy has always been characterized by a strong maritime vocation and a long naval history. Still today, Italy markedly depends on sea transport lanes for its trade and energy supplies. Therefore, Italy is deeply committed to freedom of navigation and safe transit across chokepoints.

Through its naval assets, Italy is devoted to improving the security and stability of shipping lanes, providing mariners with a safe maritime environment, and intervening and protecting them from the malign activities of state- and non-state actors.

Italy has emerged as an active contributor to several maritime security platforms implemented in the waters off the Arabian Peninsula. From the US-backed Combined Maritime Forces to the counter-piracy EU NAVFOR Operation Atalanta and the French-led European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz mission, Italy has regularly dispatched its naval assets to protect shipping lanes in Middle East waters.

More recently, Italy’s armed forces will contribute to ensuring the defense and security of Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup. The Italian contingent will provide full-spectrum support to the Qatari security forces to ensure the safe and regular running of the sporting event, which is expected to gather thousands of football fans.

Economic Cooperation

As the second EU manufacturing powerhouse, Italy eyes the GCC market as a promising destination to export its commodities and services. Italy-GCC trade exchanges are still adjusting to the shocks brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, but data for the 2022’s first-semester signal a promising positive trend that, in most cases, markedly outweighs the same period in 2021.

While single cases display slightly different figures, precision mechanical products, chemical products, food products, pharmaceutical and medical products represent the bulk of Italian export to the Gulf region. Among the GCC member states, the UAE stands out as the biggest recipient of Italian export, with a value of roughly 3.8 billion euros between January and August 2022.

Some GCC countries have positioned themselves at the forefront of the freight and passenger transport industry. Many Gulf-based companies have consolidated sound expertise in offering logistics services as well as storage and distribution solutions.

Due to their capacity to develop more competitive and efficient logistics solutions that suit the increasingly demanding needs of constantly adjusting global markets, Gulf-based logistics companies have positioned themselves as trendsetters in the transport industry. Thanks to its unique geography, the Arabian Peninsula is set to become a critical transmission knot in global trade supplies and a vital logistics connector between East and West.

With a close interest in gaining a solid connection to global trade lanes to export its high-value-added commodities while securing stable access to supply chains to import energy products and raw materials to process at home, Italy eyes with growing attention the home-grown logistics solutions offered by the Gulf countries.

Energy Cooperation

With a solid industrial fabric and no direct access to domestic energy sources, Italy has traditionally satisfied a high-quantity demand for electric energy for industrial and residential use by heavily importing energy products. However, the shortcomings of energy supply chains that emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic, the growing concerns regarding the long-term implications of climate change, and the severe impacts of the Russia-Ukraine war on the global energy markets have driven Italy to double down its efforts in further diversifying the country’s energy mix and pivoting it towards green products.

While the GCC states still see the export of hydrocarbon products playing a prominent role in their economies, they all have set for themselves ambitious decarbonization targets and are investing massive financial resources in the development of state-of-the-art solutions to support the green transition. With the GCC countries eyeing growing attention to creative initiatives to pivot their economies away from an oil revenue-based model, Italy-Gulf ties might reach new heights through cooperation in renewable energies-driven joint initiatives. 

Future outlooks

With a new parliament taking office and a government swearing-in last October, Italy has recently entered a new phase of its political lifecycle. Still, Italy’s positioning in the international arena is unlikely to experience radical changes.

By nominating some veterans of Italian politics at the top of critical ministries, such as the then-President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani at Foreign Affairs and Guido Crosetto at the Defense, the government headed by PM Giorgia Meloni signals to international observers that Italy’s geopolitical and strategic posture will remain solidly anchored in the Atlantist and European camps.

PM Meloni’s pragmatic understanding of international affairs calls for the new Italian government to maintain a reassuring foreign policy posture. The Mediterranean and North Africa are bound to remain the priority areas where Italy will spend most of its diplomatic energies. Still, the need to cultivate more profound and meaningful ties with the Gulf countries is gradually becoming more relevant in Italy’s foreign policy compass.

Rome’s latest moves in the Gulf tell a story of growing resolve by Italy to contribute to upholding a secure maritime environment. The dispatching of troops and warships is a concrete display of Italy’s increasing interest and closer attention to the Gulf and its geopolitical undercurrents.

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