“The Mediterranean Reborn” by Javier Solana

The Mediterranean Reborn

MADRID – The Mediterranean is undergoing a monumental political transformation. Protests on its southern shores have now begun the process of bringing democracy to this region. Less visibly, perhaps, the Mediterranean is also undergoing another revival, equally important in terms of geo-economics.

The changes in the world’s balance of power from the West to the East, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, is making both the United States and Europe apprehensive. Their loss of geopolitical and economic power is evident. Although the future geopolitical behavior of the rising new powers – Brazil, China, and India – remains uncertain, this shift may nonetheless provide an opportunity for the Mediterranean.

With the world focused on the West, the Atlantic region dominated the last three centuries. In a world focused on the East, however, the main linkages are the Pacific and Indian Oceans and, given today’s close relationship between Asia and Europe, the Mediterranean Sea.

Indeed, the container traffic between the Far East and Europe now totals 18 million TEUs (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units) per year, compared to 20 million TEUs of annual Trans-Pacific traffic and just 4.4 million TEUs of Trans-Atlantic flows between Europe and America. The container flow between the Far East and Europe uses the Mediterranean route via the Suez Canal – far faster than passing through the Panama Canal, circumnavigating Africa, or even taking the hypothetical (for now) ice-free Arctic route.

Despite the supremacy of the Mediterranean route for container traffic between Europe and the Far East, 72% of goods entering the European Union do so via northern European ports (for example, Le Havre, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Bremen, and Hamburg), whereas only 28% enter via southern European ports such as Barcelona, Marseille, Valencia, and Genoa. More than half the containers bound for Milan from the Far East are unloaded in northern European ports.

In other words, most ships from the Far East enter the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal and sail straight past Genoa, Marseille, Barcelona, and Valencia, adding three days to the trip to reach Rotterdam or Hamburg. Unloading at an Atlantic port instead of a southern European port thus entails substantial additional financial and environmental costs, eroding Europe’s competitiveness.

Indeed, according to one study of the Port of Barcelona, the optimal distribution of container flow in economic and environmental terms would be 37% to the northern European ports and 63% to those in Southern Europe, given the final destination and origin of imported and exported goods. Based partly on the European Environment Agency’s methodology, the study concludes that a redirection of port traffic to the southern European ports would reduce the CO2 emissions by almost 50%.

Of course, such a rebalancing is unthinkable today, for both political and economic reasons. After all, the current imbalance in container traffic reflects northern Europe’s economic dynamism, the efficiency of its ports, excellent road and rail infrastructure to connect those ports to virtually all of Europe, and the economies of scale generated by the volume of goods that passes through them. But, given that container traffic is expected to increase by 164% before 2020, southern European ports should be able to increase their share in flows between Europe and the Far East by 40-50%.

To achieve this rebalancing, southern European ports need improved support infrastructure, specifically rail links connecting them to the main European rail network. The Trans-European Transport (TEN-T) policy, which the EU is currently revising, is fundamental in this respect, because it is the master plan that will guide the development of the basic European infrastructures.

Although this infrastructure is financed mainly by individual EU member states using their own funds, the TEN-T is binding and marks out the priority projects for each member. Thus, it is absolutely essential for TEN-T to reflect the importance of rail connections for the southern European ports.

In order to ensure this, policymakers must give priority to the efficiency criterion and bear in mind the environmental costs of both land and sea transport. If Europe and its companies are to remain competitive and attain the strategic objective of “Europe 2020” – a Europe that uses its resources efficiently – the Mediterranean rail transport infrastructure is vital.

Obviously, there is another, geopolitical condition that must be met to achieve this re-balancing: the Suez Canal must continue to be a safe and reliable shipping route. Any threat to the canal’s normal operations would shift the Far East-Europe route to the southern tip of Africa, marginalizing the Mediterranean (and sending costs soaring).

The Mediterranean played a crucial role in the first Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, was the sea of the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans, and was the center of the world first for the Arabs and Barbarians, and later for the Ottomans and the Spanish. Today, having faded as a result of advances that opened up the Americas and the East to European trade, the Mediterranean has a great opportunity to recover its lost prestige.

Javier Solana, formerly the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, and a former Secretary General of NATO, is President of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics (ESADEgeo). Angel Saz is Coordinator of ESADEgeo.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

Comment by Wickus:

JS seems active in the Middle East. The following was Tweeted by him:

Comment By Adamantine:

I would like at add a few comments on the front page with this article.

If we were to write a novel and have our protagonist write articles to fulfill our concept of what the future rising star in Europe should be writing this would be it.( It is important to point out that even should he NOT someday PROVE to be the prophetic personality he once appeared to be he is/was the closest fit in this last two decades and maybe in all world history,)

One must congratulate JS as it is apparent that his time in the world of economics is bearing fruit. It is such that his writings attend to the economic underpinnings of society now which expands on his other expertise of foreign affairs, defense and diplomacy. When Julius Caesar came to power remember that he undertook economic reform as well as military and government. He was assassinated just prior to his leaving to undertake a war with the Parthians and once and for all make the Mediterranean a European lake. Kafaffi who in 2008 complained that the world had put away those maps of the the Mediterranean as a European lake and refused to applaud the Union of the Mediterranean is barely hanging on and will likely be gone. One more obstacle to a unified Roman Empire control of the Mediterranean on the way out. Many other Christians see this but they do not see JS. In retrospect if he is the character we should be concerned about we will look at articles such as this and say …of course he was practically proclaiming it in these types of articles.

The article might as well be entitled ” The Roman Empire Reborn.”

@javiersolana Javier Solana
Importan “@irenegarciag: Article of Abbas in the NYT requesting international recognition of the State of Palestina nyti.ms/mtqeiy
Some more Tweets just in. The Reuters, FT and CNN Tweets has been retweeted by Solana:
@javiersolana Javier Solana
Thusday Obama will speak on Middle east and arab world.Let us hope for specifics not onli geral principles.
@javiersolana Javier Solana
@javiersolana@Reuters Obama mideaest peace needed more than ever.
@Reuters Reuters Top News
Obama: Mideast peace bid needed more than ever reut.rs/iZ8BzE
@FT Financial Times
EU looks at ‘soft’ restructuring of Greek debt: Finance ministers are moving towards a ‘soft’ restructuring o… http://on.ft.com/mma1wv
@cnnbrk CNN Breaking News
Egyptian named #alQaeda interim leader, source says http://on.cnn.com/kU1DoA

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