Minister Kostas Fotakis,
Honorable Member Sofia Sakorafa
Ladies and gentlemen.
It has been quite a journey to get here. I am proud to stand here on this stage. And to celebrate the start of something magnificent.
After months of intensive work, the PRIMA act came into force on August 7th. For this, I must take a moment to warmly thank MEP Sofia Sakorafa and Professor Riccaboni.
Your efforts have been inspirational. Sofia Sakorafa, your work to get PRIMA through the negotiations were crucial for the creation of this initiative. And Angelo Riccaboni, we can all hear how much PRIMA means to you when you speak about it. You have a vision for what you want PRIMA to achieve. I admire this.
I hope that you will both continue to give PRIMA your support.
Ladies and gentlemen.
We are in the final preparations and negotiations. And PRIMA will officially launch in January 2018. When these final negotiations are finished, we hope to have 19 countries committed.
PRIMA is the greatest achievement in Euro-Mediterranean cooperation in research and innovation. But we should never forget why we did it.
I’m certain that many of us here have never once worried where our water will come from. But for 180 million people in the Mediterranean this is the main challenge for their future and for their children.
The Mediterranean is one of the most historic, beautiful, and culturally rich regions on earth.
Still today Mediterranean countries represent 10% of the world’s GDP. But if we do not act, water crises will severely damage the future of all countries in the region.
Not long ago I met the CEO of Suez Jean-Louis Chaussade. He gave me a number that describes so well the problem. In the 1900's there were 20.000 m3 of resources of water per year and inhabitant. In 2050 we will have less than 3.000 m3.
The World Bank has reported we could see a decline of the growth rates in some regions by as much as a 6% loss in GDP by 2050. So PRIMA could not come at a more important time for the Mediterranean.
Now that the work is ready to begin, I want to speak to you about three matters:
- The first: PRIMA must work for the end user, for the people.
- The second is that the problems we face can not be dealt by one country alone. These problems have no borders.
- And thirdly, I want PRIMA to be the future of international cooperation in science. The benchmark for how to do Science Diplomacy.
So firstly, we must focus PRIMA on the end user. Who do I mean by this?
I mean the farmer in Algeria whose crop yields are lower each year.
The family in Spain who wonder if the land can support them anymore.
And the community in Egypt who have seen their incomes dwindle.
This is who must be served by PRIMA.
I am excited about the initiative. I think that it can do great things. But I want us to understand that our main objective should not be interesting findings for scientific journals. Neither are we looking for expensive, high tech, complex solutions that would never be implemented on the ground. Or results that are only for one single member country.
I want to give you an example of what I mean. The EU is funding a water project in East Africa – another region with high water stress.
The project is about the amount of water that people cannot use. This is because of toxic levels of fluoride. This also influences the quality of the food that is produced in the area. So the project is looking at low cost water filtration methods to remove fluoride and testing changes to the soil. For example, by adding clay or organic fertilisers to the soil, the flow of fluoride in the food chain can be limited. This will have a positive impact on human and animal health.
What is crucial is that they are doing this in the local communities. The soil is different in every place. Adding clay on one area may work and improve food production. But it may have no effect in another area.
So, the project is taking into account local needs, people's experiences, people's needs. This way, the solutions are practical and useful for local people.
Too often implementation is forgotten. Too often great ideas are left on the shelf because they are simply not made for the end user.
I am a firm believer in the power of research and innovation to make people’s lives better. But this will not happen if we do not focus on people’s needs.
The causes of water and food shortages are global. But the solutions must be local. They must be developed by and for the people that will use them.
PRIMA has the power to do this.
This brings me to my second point.
PRIMA must have local solutions in mind. But the problems that we are aiming to solve are fundamentally international.
All Mediterranean countries suffer droughts. All face challenges with food production. From Portugal to Greece, to Israel and Tunisia. These challenges do not care where one country ends and the next begins.
I was recently inspired by Princess Sumaya of Jordan, when she said:
A bird with avian flu does not know whether there is a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan, it just flies across the border.
Princess Sumaya was not speaking about climate change, but her message is just as relevant here. We must be in this together. And to show solidarity.
One of the biggest crises to strike the EU has been the refugee crisis. The reasons for this wave of migration are multi-faceted. And they are complex. But we cannot talk about food and water insecurity without talking about migration. If people do not have their basic needs fulfilled they will seek them elsewhere.
There are certainly other reasons why people leave their homes. But one thing is for certain. Having sustainable ways of managing water and food supply will improve the lives of people across the Mediterranean.
This is what we mean by tackling the root causes of migration. It is not building a wall. Or a fence. It is working together. In equal partnership. To give opportunities to all our people.
Opportunities to be self-sufficient. To establish businesses. To trade. To live their lives as they want to.
Migration is a complex problem. But these opportunities will help people prosper across the Mediterranean. And to feel secure about the future.
To succeed we must do this together. Across the Mediterranean.
This brings me to my final point – the future. And specifically the future of research cooperation.
PRIMA will achieve great things. I have no doubt. It is a momentous achievement that we have brought together so many countries in PRIMA.
This is a perfect example of science diplomacy. All of us are different. But we are neighbours. And we are facing a problem that we all face together. In any neighbourhood in the world, this is the fundamental basis for good relations.
This is the basis of the EU itself. “United in diversity”.
The challenge, is that this relationship must be fair. And equal. PRIMA has both EU and non-EU participating states. And it will be crucially important that everyone feels equally involved. And that we all want and need results from this project that can change the life of people.
I said that PRIMA is the way that science should be done in the future. And it must show leadership by showing what true partnership can achieve.
Where EU and non-EU countries have an equal say in priority-setting. Where all countries are on an equal level, regardless of size or GDP.
Myself, I am from a small town in the South of Portugal called Beja. And Beja is closer to Tangiers in Morocco than it is to Madrid in Spain!
We are united by geography but divided by borders. I want science to re-unite us. And I want PRIMA to show us how.
This is the greatest achievement in Euro-Med cooperation in research and innovation. I want it to be a model for the future of all cross-border science.
Ladies and gentlemen,
PRIMA is an ambitious initiative. It reminds me of the words on John F. Kennedy in 1962. He said that we face a challenge
not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
It might be hard to do what we are doing. Ensuring good management of water and food production around the mediterrenean is by no means an easy thing. But we do this to support peace. To grow prosperity. And to help people live in stability across the Mediterranean.
Plutarch, the great Greek thinker, once said:
Water and our necessary food are the only things that wise men must fight for.
I am glad then that PRIMA will be under strong leadership. And that it will be steered by the very capable hands of Octavi Quintana Trias. Thank you Octavi, for taking on this challenge. We have all supported PRIMA to get to this point.
I hope that I can count on you to continue to fight for this with me.
I will hand over now to Octavi, to tell us more about the first actions of PRIMA.