Let me start by thanking His Excellency President El Sisi for the invitation extended to me to address this Youth Forum.
The organisation of this wide-ranging event, placing youth at the centre of upcoming discussions is a breath of fresh air, in an otherwise bleak global scenario shaped by a Pandemic.
I see that you all come from different countries, fields of expertise and cultural backgrounds, and I find this to be an excellent example of how the global community should be addressing the several challenges affecting us all – through open and inclusive dialogue that embraces diversity.
The themes that you will be discussing during this Forum, ranging from the post-COVID recovery, to the role of women, global stability and peace, climate change, water security, energy and the future of technology are most timely and topical.
I am sure the outcome of your debates will contribute significantly to the broader international exchanges at the political level.
The past two years have led to an unprecedented global crisis which calls upon all of us to pause and reflect.
Not only on the severe health and economic consequences that Covid has brought on us all, but also on the deeply-rooted concatenated disruptions it has brought to our very own existence.
On today’s occasion, it is fitting that we focus in particular on the impact it had on the younger generations.
Millions of children have come face to face with the devastating effects of the Pandemic through the psychological impact suffered through loss or serious illness of a close relative.
Others were exposed to severe food shortages and hunger. Others to much needed medical equipment and shortages of medical drugs supplies.
For countless others the Pandemic brought with it physical and mental isolation.
For the more fortunate, who before the pandemic had access to regular schooling, there were considerable repercussions, mostly through disruptions, not only in the academic sphere, but most importantly in the loss of social interaction with dear ones and friends.
While online schooling, at all levels..primary, secondary, tertiary.. was a welcome solution to keep studies not being interrupted, it is a far cry from the ‘ in-class’ level of understanding and interaction with both the educators and fellow classmates.
Children, especially those too young to understand, have also been exposed to an unprecedented sense of fear – of losing a relative, of getting sick themselves, or of being stuck in a gloomy routine for months.
The same sense of helplessness was felt by our youth and young adults who at the height of energy and enthusiasm have had to suddenly pull the brakes on their normal, active lives.
The dramatic effects of lockdowns and restrictions on their mental health should not be underestimated.
We will need to keep these considerations clearly in view when we discuss a comprehensive post-Covid recovery and I am pleased to see that one of the Panel discussions is entirely dedicated to behavioral and psychological implications in a post-Pandemic world.
Let us be realistic.
The situation was already a precarious one for millions and millions around the globe suffering from poverty, struggling to survive against all odds.
The Pandemic made things worse for further millions of people. We simply cannot turn our backs on the poor, and on the more vulnerable around us.
The global family calls on us to identify a post-pandemic recovery plan based on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals as enshrined in the 2030 Agenda.
This will need to be based on a large-scale health response, including accelerating work towards availability of vaccines, diagnostics, and effective and efficient health care systems, that assure good quality treatment and medical attention to everyone, everywhere.
At the same time, we cannot ignore the adverse socioeconomic, humanitarian, and human rights effects of the pandemic and, lastly, we have to plan a recovery that builds back and sustains an international transportation system that protects and guarantees a regular and efficient delivery of goods and products worldwide. A system that can protect and deliver on essential products and materials.
Most importantly, trust, and not confrontational and unilateral decisions, will have to prevail in the manner international affairs are conducted.
Trust in each other’s intentions and capabilities, and trust in the benefits of multilateral solidarity.
This brings me to another issue, which I have followed very closely since the beginning of the pandemic and the subsequent production of vaccines. It is the glaring disparity in the access to vaccines, between the ‘haves and the have nots’, around the globe.
Pragmatically speaking, the world cannot expect to rid itself of this virus unless and until all countries and peoples have equal guaranteed access to vaccines.
Yet, as we all know, access to vaccination is far from being guaranteed to millions and millions of people.
This is not only a matter of statistics and science. It is a reality which hurts!
This situation makes us reflect on our collective moral duty As citizens of the world, we have a duty to see that no one is left behind.
In this context, I am pleased to point out that even in the face of limited supplies, Malta punched above its weight and actually on various occasions distributed protective clothing and vaccines for free to other nations and peoples.
All of you– representing our global youth – have a role to play in instilling a greater sense of global solidarity through your actions.
I reiterate this message as often as possible, and especially when addressing younger generations.
This was what motivated me to organise The Young Mediterranean Voices initiative in 2016, together with the then-High Representative of the European Union, and the Anna Lindh Foundation. Together we convened a ‘Mediterranean Forum’, that was held in Malta’s capital, Valletta.
The initiative was very similar to the one we are holding today. It was based on open exchanges regarding several issues and challenges facing the Mediterranean region. There was all round agreement that ultimate solutions rested on dialogue, tolerance, and mutual understanding.
My Presidency is proud to act as a platform for young voices, eager to make themselves heard and to bring about positive and long term change, be it in the environmental, educational and inter-cultural spheres.
From my very own experience, I urge the older generation and youth alike to engage better and more directly in intergenerational cooperation on issues of common interest.
Young and old – we are equal partners in this global effort to promote dialogue, towards the attainment of ecological cooperation, security, prosperity and peace.
I conclude with a final appeal to all of you.
When you are back in your own countries and in your daily routines, ensure that in your debates and discussions you practice and promote a culture of persuasion rather than that of confrontation, based on informed arguments, and mutual respect for the opinions of others.
That way, hopefully, you will be able to influence policy and democratically bring peoples and nations together rather than creating division and distrust. Besides do ensure that there will be no place in your hearts and minds, for hate, xenophobia, ostracism, racism, or exclusion, based on ethnicity, creed, gender, or any other motive.
Let this be your footprint for the present, and you legacy for the future.
I wish you all, successful deliberations.