The hopes raised by the Arab revolutions now risk being snuffed out by the squeeze of the international crisis. So runs the thesis that emerges from today's conference held by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE): The New Context for Cooperation in the Mediterranean, held at the Italian Foreign Ministry on an initiative by foreign policy studies organizations IPALMO and IAI.
The alarm comes from Tunisia: Chekib Nouira, the chair of a think-tank of Arab entrepreneurs, stressed how unemployment is providing the most fertile ground for the spread of violence and of the new Salafi fundamentalist extremism. A similar warning comes from Morocco, spoken by the country's Ambassador to Rome, Hassan Abouyoub. Between them, the countries of the northern and southern Mediterranean shores require tens of millions of new jobs, the Ambassador told the conference: just the costs for the infrastructure needed to tackle the rapid urbanisation of the coastal cities would amount to 200 million euros.
But while concerns in the West centre on the rise of political Islam in the wake of the Arab revolutions, ''we do not need to fear it: not as long as parliamentary sharing of powers is adhered to''.
But a pessimist riposte comes from Israeli analyst Tommy Steiner, in whose view ''the Arab Spring could not have come at a worse time for the United States of Europe,'' where the economic crisis renders ''resources for development'' insufficient.
This is the context in which Europe's diplomats are seeking ways to base their relations with North Africa and the Middle East on new foundations, noted Gianni De Michelis, Chair of IPALMO.
These relations should be ''not bilateral, but multilateral,'' but the deal underpinning such cooperation, he added, should be an economic one, with the opportunity to participate in ''a European economic space''.
The Italian Foreign Ministry's Special Envoy for the Mediterranean and the Arab Spring, Maurizio Massari, outlined two models for multilateral Euro-Mediterranean integration. One would accompany the EU's neighbourhood policy with a further involvement by countries on the Southern Shore on a partnership level, but with conditions written in such as respect for human rights. The other model sees a network being created between the EU, NATO and organisations such as the OCSE on the one hand, and the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Maghreb Union on the other. ''We sense a need to strengthen relations between the two Mediterranean shores on the basis of relationships that are authentic, equitable and for the long-term,'' the Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said. The OCSE, ''can contribute by putting this long-term approach into practice''. This, Mr Terzi continued, it could do through ''developing human capital, sustaining electoral cycles, democratic control of the armed forces and police, capacity-building activities in the judiciary, safeguarding religious minorities and involving civil society in political choices'' and in the trade in human beings.
The latter is a theme, Mr Terzi announced, that will be the focus of a conference in Rome this autumn. The target remains that of ''building a shared Euro-Mediterranean home''. (ANSAmed).