By Franco Frattini

The Mediterranean poses dramatic new challenges for European security. Events in Libya may add a fresh wave of refugees to the 5,000 Tunisian migrants who have landed on the coast of Sicily last week alone. Human traffickers, criminals and terrorists stand ready to exploit chaos stemming from the collapse of the old order. Europe must act quickly, or this “arc of crisis” will lead to more illegal immigration, terrorism and Islamic radicalism.

Europe’s security depends on regional stability. Of course, the pace of democratic transition in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere must be determined by each country. But Europe, acting respectfully, can help shape a regional order through an ambitious new development and stability pact, based on three pillars: substantial (and visible) economic assistance; political partnership; social inclusion.

How do we develop this pact? First, Europe needs to step in to promote growth. This means improving the European Union’s Neighbourhood Policy. Resources for this must be increased in future EU budgets and made commensurate to the strategic value of this area. Existing resources should be better allocated to programmes that stimulate growth and create jobs. In Egypt, for example, EU money should be invested in tourism. Although damaged by the crisis, this remains a source of income and jobs.

Next, the Union for the Mediterranean, which first saw the light of day over two years ago, must accelerate the implementation of its planned projects. Too much time has been lost setting up the institutions of this new union, a 43-member body incorporating the 27 EU states and 16 Balkan, north African and Middle Eastern partners. Few people in the region even know of its existence.

But the current crisis can be a stimulus to redirect the UM towards the concrete tasks announced when it was launched. These include development projects ranging from new maritime and land highways to renewable energy schemes, the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises and creation of a “Euro-Mediterranean higher education, science and research area”.

That said, at this transformational moment in our history, we should go even further. A broader economic initiative is also needed. The EU, other world powers and international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, should urgently develop an equivalent of the Marshall Plan for Mediterranean economic stability. This plan must mobilise a critical mass of new European and international financial resources, in the order of billions of euros, to modernise the economies of the region and improve investment. The removal of trade and economic barriers between Mediterranean countries should also be a priority. The EU should work together on this strategy with the US, whose role remains crucial.

The EU, in the meantime, should deepen its relations with countries in the region by considering granting all of them “enhanced status” of association. This entails progressive integration into the EU’s internal market, participation in a number of EU programmes and regular summits between the EU and Mediterranean countries. It would lend substance to the principle of equal partnership, on which the new relationship between Europe and the Mediterranean countries must be based.

Foreign and security policy should be high on the EU agenda too, with the long-term aim of Mediterranean countries becoming producers rather than consumers of regional stability.

Last, personal contacts will be vital to developing civil society. Links in education, above all, will improve prospects, especially for young people and help forestall radicalisation. The launch of a massive new Euro-Mediterranean Erasmus programme in higher education could help spread hope among young people. Offering the opportunity to study and train in Europe would also be the best way to curb illegal immigration and trafficking.

Of course, there must be conditions. My proposed development and stability pact would include a commitment from each country to improve governance, meet international obligations and respect individual rights, including for women and religious minorities.

Change in the Mediterranean is a test for Europe. But it is also an opportunity for European and Mediterranean countries to work together in the interests of all.

The writer is minister of foreign affairs of Italy. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.