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posted Oct 1, 2012, 8:01 AM by Plural CentroStudiEuropeo

The city of Florence leads the Mediterranean network of historical city markets

Interview with Dario Nardella, Vice Mayor of Florence

By Giacomo Guerrini

 Giovanni is an old man; thin and strong, brown eyes, more than fifty years passed selling seventeen different kinds of cheese, since he was twelve years old, when his father Marcello and his aunt Margherita bought a little space in the city market of S. Ambrogio, Florence, Italy. Other strange fellows, as the cross eyed Lapo- 51 years old- and Mario, ex sailorman, are running as every morning to prepare the stage for the market opening. Since many centuries the loud voices of sellers are sounding throughout the medieval streets of the city of Florence, cradle of renaissance arts and Tuscan flavors. Here the food is an element of identity, a little piece of history grouping people round a rich table where soups, steaks, dairy recipes and fish plates are served to people from everywhere.  In the 1960’s the Mayor Giorgio La Pira opened the sessions of Mediterranean Dialogues, with participants from twelve States of Europe, Asia and Africa organizing a large welcome dinner with hundreds of international recipes, as a symbol of bound of peace and solidarity based on food. Forty years later, in December 2011, the young front man Mayor Matteo Renzi hosted in Florence the World meeting of UGCL (United Cities of Local Governments) while the Municipality of Florence was promoting the Marakanda project, the Network of Mediterranean City Markets, under the framework of European Med Basin Program: the city is targeting its international position on the Mediterranean area, leading a consortium of ten partners from Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain. The Italian journalist Giacomo Guerrini spoke for us with the Florence’s Vice Mayor Dario Nardella, responsible of city market planning, about Marakanda project and the perspectives of the city markets.

Mr. Nardella, this project is called Marakanda ( in Greek language  the word  refers to the ancient  Persian city of Samarkand, which had central position on the Silk Road between China and the West, destination of travelers and merchants, Ed.) and it’s supported by European Union to enhance Historical Mediterranean markets. What is the added value for the city of Florence in the leading of this proposal?

Florence is the lead partner of this European project, which is funded by ENPI (European Neighboring and Partnership Instrument) Med Basin Program for the 2012- 2015 period. We were awarded of this prestigious European grant of one million and a half o Euros, leading a consortium composed by several cities as Genoa, Barcelona, Xanthi, Limassol, Beirut and Cairo. I was in Barcelona in the beginning of June 2012 to create contracts of cooperation and relationships with their local authorities but also with business associations in order to promote innovative services for historical markets. Finding a common model to foster positive behaviors related to Mediterranean diet, as the acknowledgement of an international labeling for agro food products, but also improving the attractiveness of city markets and services are the main purposes of this initiative.

There is a boundary among these city markets. Of course we are talking about different Countries, but there is something, for example between the network of markets born around the Barcelona’s boqueira and the historical market system of Florence, composed by San Lorenzo, Porcellino (little Pig, curious name derived by the still existing medieval statue positioned in the square, Ed.) and S. Ambrogio marketplaces, which represents a common element to investigate and to exploit.

 You are mentioning an evident linkage between the Mercat de San Josef de la Boqueria and San Lorenzo, above all.  Of course there is a connection about the property traditions and identity of these markets; the same identities that have evolved and transformed during the time but in a certain way they are the mirror of the city where they grown up.  Therefore the typical and the quality of our products could be the core of a common agreement that we want to promote jointly with these other markets in order to join and improve an important work in International trades. I think about the integrated promotion of these markets in Mediterranean area could represent a major attraction for  American, Japanese and Asian  visitors to create a new model to attract   tourism of a certain level. Our common problem is without doubts the large and ruthless competition which is the cause of deterioration and problems to protect structures, because these market sometimes working in ancient structures. The objective of the Marakanda  project is also to put in common the critical points and to share solutions in order to learn  models born to other experiences with the aim to use these resources which the European Union give us.

What is the timetable of Marakanda initiative?

The project has already started. This year the project will be dedicated to build the axes of intervention and to make appropriate benchmarking of local and international partner areas. An exchange of good practices, mainly developed through study visits and staff exchanges will be realized to improve the reciprocal knowledge and upgrade our planning instruments, in particular about city planning. The duration of the project is three years; at the end of this period, for what concerns Florence, we firstly aim to obtain innovative services with a single web site for Florence’s markets.  Different services, as online shopping and tourist promotion, will be offered, free of charge thanks to European contribution. Secondly, we will also carry out some interventions of regeneration on focused areas of markets, making them more attractive but also respecting the bounds about cultural heritage due the historical nature of sites. Finally, we will improve some key services for the sellers, for example the waste management in the market places in order to allow a better system of storage and better welcome service for visitors.

From the clash of civilisations to the common Mediterranean Identity

posted Oct 5, 2011, 5:58 AM by Plural CentroStudiEuropeo   [ updated Oct 11, 2011, 3:22 AM ]

Interview with Izzedin Elzir, President of the Union of the Islamic Communities in Italy 

In Borgo Allegri, an ancient street in the centre of Florence, in the heart of Tuscany, full of the fragrances and the vitality of the nearby historic market of Saint Ambrogio, we meet, on June 2nd 2011, Izzedin Elzir, President of the Union of the Islamic Communities in Italy. Blue eyes, warm and reassuring smile: the young Imam of Florence welcomes us into his office, while, outside, the voices of the street blend Tuscan dialectal expressions with exclamations and words in the Arabic language. Near the small Florentine mosque, there is a garden, where men of all ages, coming from different parts of the world, meet every day. 

In the Mediterranean, the historical and cultural wealth of the Muslim religious heritage has been regarded, for decades, by Western public opinion, as a lasting threat to the peace and stability of the area, rather than as a great opportunity for living together, and for a common growth; namely, the paradox of an important coexistence of Muslims, Christians and Jews, that constitutes, in itself, an insurmountable obstacle to brotherhood and common prosperity. A dramatic and mocking contradiction with what is professed on the subject of peace by the various religious doctrines, don’t you think? 

It is true, this is indeed a paradox: the Islamic faith aims at peoples’ peace and freedom. This faith has major common roots with the other religious cultures that coexist in the Mediterranean, and, in this sense, the path that we can embark on together leaves large positive openings for a common course. We must not renounce to be positive, on this point. If a distrust of the role played by religion exists, this is in part due to historical reasons, as well as to the fact that religion is too often used by those holding the power to keep people calm. In any case, one has to be very careful, and avoid the identification of Islam, Islamism and fundamentalism: every day, theories that have nothing to do with, and in fact do not even know the history of, Islam and of the Mediterranean, are being repeated, To say that, in the future, we will have to live conflicts of civilisations, of cultures, is a fundamental mistake. Cultures do not clash, it is the ideologies that disguise themselves as cultures that do. Our time has certainly the merit of having pointed out the right to difference, but one has to remember that values do not identify themselves with difference as such, but are determined by the relationships between differences. And it is here, and only here, in this relationship between differences, that a new laity, and a State that is not left to theocracy, but allows individuals to live their faith, can be born. All this can coexist only on the basis of respect. Respect for men, for populations, for their faiths.

 The prospect of a new interaction between civilisation 

Matvejević wrote that “every Mediterranean city has a great identity: different languages, different ways of understanding, different ways of saying, different ways of living. This is an identity of being, with respect to which there is a weak identity of doing. One cannot design this strength of the Mediterranean identity. And that is true for all the Mediterranean; it is true for Southern Europe, overlooking the Mediterranean, and it is true for the opposite shore as well”. In short, there is a complexity that often the Western mass media capture in a rather confused way: to quote T. Todorov, a large amount of information, but, as usual, a great difficulty to understand. 

I agree. We are bombarded with information, but we struggle to find syntheses, in-depth examinations. This is a problem that concerns especially us Europeans: nobody in the Northern shore of the Mediterranean expected the events of the Arab Spring to develop at this speed, even though the American media, in this sense, were more prepared than we were. The end of Tunisian dictatorship of Ben Ali evolved in a few weeks, the same happened with the fall of the regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt; various protest movements threaten to undermine authoritarian regimes in the Arab world, in Libya, but also in Syria, in Yemen. The common element of these events comes from the younger generations, from their demands for freedom. About the distorted image that is provided to us by the media, how many times we had heard someone say that “those people are not ready for democracy, dictatorship is the necessary solution in order to avoid chaos”. This is not the case. The young people of the Arab Spring want freedom, they ask for a perspective that will allow them to live a future of peace and security. They ask for the same things we ask for. This Arab Spring, I believe, closes the prospect of a clash of civilisations, and opens that of a new interaction between civilisations. 

This is undoubtedly difficult, but people who have lived under dictatorship are searching for freedom. The trend is towards democracy, all parties present in the various realities of the Arab world have realised that they have to work together in that direction, and the first steps have been significant of this path. I think that this will also help the Europeans to talk to them in a respectful manner. To everyone, not just to those who share their thoughts. Moreover, the model of the European Union is seen as very positive in the Arab world, and it constitutes a stimulus for several cooperative processes present in the Arab countries. I believe that, at this time, Italy, which could play a leading role, is losing a great opportunity. Italy is the most loved European country, its culture and its popular identity are viewed with respect and admiration. Yet the Italian institutions are proving to be more vulnerable and uncertain than their citizens: let’s just think about what happened in Sicily, with a major reception effort from the citizens of the island to help the immigrants coming from the sea, and to establish relationships with them. Positive dialogue, mutual exchange, do not arise when one wants to choose its interlocutor; instead, they arise when one is willing to accept the other, to help him if in need, but also to receive from him, to respect what he carries within himself. In this way, I believe, we will build our common Mediterranean identity.

                                                                                                Francesco Barilli

EU and South Mediterranean Countries: Ideas for a renewed partnership

posted Oct 5, 2011, 5:43 AM by Plural CentroStudiEuropeo   [ updated Oct 11, 2011, 3:49 AM ]

Interview with Nader Al Sayed,Program Manager of the North South Consultants Exchange (NSCE)

Dr. Nader Al Sayed, as Program Manager of NSCE, could you please indicate to us some relevant best practices you were involved in beyond the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, in particular among subjects from the Southern shore of Mediterranean Sea? Which kind of collaboration (in terms of governance, transferability, main outputs & results, etc), has been developed? What have the limits been?

North South Consultants Exchange (NSCE) has been involved for over twenty years now as a local developmental consultancy firm in the Middle East and North Africa. NSCE has already implemented various developmental endeavors in some South Mediterranean countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania and Lebanon. Our thematic focus lies in the fields of microfinance (and Islamic microfinance), water and wastewater management, governance and capacity building to local ministries and authorities, eco-tourism and socio-economic research.

The most prominent best practice NSCE has contributed to achieve and transfer is the design of Islamic microfinance products and services in Senegal. Funded by the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), the still ongoing project has succeeded in identifying new segments of microfinance beneficiaries interested in alternative and non-traditional types of microcredit.

Between the burden of the past and the ideas for the future 

How do you think that the burden of the past, in particular the colonial condition, has influenced the relations between Europe and Mediterranean?

While the colonial burden influenced the relationship between colonial European powers (most notably France and Great Britain) and freshly independent South Mediterranean nations in the 1960s and 1970s right into the 1980s, the relationship between South Mediterranean countries and the EU is relatively stable now (of course a generalization is not perfectly correct here, there are differences between these countries in their relationship to the EU and individual European countries). However, “neocolonial resentments” emerge from time to time as a reaction to certain European policies, e.g. when it comes to restricting immigration to Europe or with regard to subsidizing European agricultural products, thus limiting the access for agricultural products from the South to be exported to Europe. Such practices contribute to drawing a picture that colonialism is returning through the back door.

The aforementioned negative images of Europe can be gradually removed only with more transparency and by following a political path that acknowledges South Mediterranean countries as equal partners, and not merely as beneficiaries of development aid that –in many cases- fosters autocratic structures.

Nowadays, when dealing with geopolitical relations, the reciprocal impression between partners is important. How do the Southern Mediterranean countries see their European neighbors and EU, and how does the latter view the former? 


Despite the "neocolonial resentments" that might arise from time to time on the South Mediterranean side vis-a-vis European politics, an overall positive impression dominates the perception of Europe in the South Mediterranean countries. Europe is generally admired for its democratic political systems, for its fair elections and for sticking to a relatively high standard of human and citizen rights. Although the economies of almost all European countries (especially countries like Greece, Spain, Italy or Ireland) have severely suffered from the negative consequences of the most recent financial crisis, the EU is still perceived by the populations in Southern Mediterranean countries as a heaven for employment and a good quality of life. Furthermore, the EU is valued for its technological advance in the various fields of science.

On the other side, South Mediterranean countries are viewed by the EU as a natural extension of an integration process that started more than forty years ago with a handful of European countries and that has reached 27 countries so far (with Bulgaria and Romania being the newest members in the European club). Although an expansion of the EU to the South and South-East cannot be expected in the coming few years, it does play a role in the strategic considerations of European politicians (the debate on Turkey's access to the EU stands as a good example). Of course economic aspects play a vital role in this respect: a tax-free zone including the EU and its South Mediterranean neighbors would have benefits for both sides. The EU would have greater access to export their native products to large emerging markets in Egypt, Morocco, Turkey etc. and South Mediterranean countries would also benefit from greater access to promote and export their own products.

Common values for a renewed partnership

Considering the importance of cultural dialogue, from which common values could a partnership between North and South countries be built on?

Although involved in many brutal conflicts that lasted for many years, the East and the West share a common and rich history of cultural and humanistic achievements. The "West" has profited from characters like Averroes, Avicenna or Ibn Kaldun while ancient and modern European philosophy and science has for sure influenced the Middle East up until now. It is exactly this joint humanistic heritage that should be the fundament for cultural exchange based on shared human values: freedom, equality, fairness and the belief that both Europe and its non-European Southern neighbors have much more similarities than differences. The belief in a common vision and future where both regions are treated as equal partners will do the rest in bridging separating differences.


The role of migration

In the framework traced by the latter two questions, could migration have a role? And, how could the EU policy of “selective immigration” and the problem of “brain drain” that Southern countries have to face with be compatible ?

I do believe that it is legitimate for the European countries to select the “types” of immigrants they need in their local markets. Most recent trend analysis have shown that there is an increasing demand in Europe for highly skilled and educated workers and technicians: physicians, engineers, graduates from natural science faculties and others. At the same time, no one can deny that the influx of highly educated and experienced immigrants to Europe corresponds with a decline of qualified and well-established personnel in Southern Mediterranean countries. Some kind of “scientific compensation” has to be negotiated between the EU and its Southern neighbors, e.g. in form of more intensive scientific exchange between the EU and other Mediterranean countries, through the provision of capacity building programs to local universities and research centers or by increasing the amount of scholarships provided to extraordinary students and researchers from non-EU Mediterranean countries.

What does the Mediterranean Area represent for the external borders of Southern Countries (for example African countries, the others Arab countries, and so on)?

The Mediterranean Area is, maybe, the most important trade region for almost all South Mediterranean countries ranging from Morocco in the West to Croatia in the South-East of Europe. Furthermore and referring to some Arab countries like Lebanon or Iraq, the Mediterranean Area stands for peace, stability and normality. 

Although many EU countries do not have ethnically and socially uniform societies, they succeeded in establishing strong political systems that integrate all ethnic groups and social strata under the umbrella of democracy. This experience is still missing to a large extent in countries like Iraq and Lebanon. For them, the EU represents the hope for a better political (and thus better social and economic) reality.


The Barcelona process 

It’s a shared opinion that the results of the Barcelona process haven’t been satisfactory. Do you agree? If not, could you tell me why? On the contrary, if so, could you tell me please what the limits have been?

According to the Barcelona Declaration, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership should achieve the following objectives:

• The definition of a common area of peace and stability through the reinforcement of political and security dialogue.

• The construction of a zone of shared prosperity through an economic and financial partnership and gradual establishment of a free trade area by 2010.

• The rapprochement between people through a social, cultural and human partnership aimed at encouraging understanding between cultures and exchanges between civil societies. 

In all aspects there is still room for improvement in terms of political, economic and socio-cultural integration. In terms of economic integration, the free trade agreement has to get its final shape, subsidies have to be removed on both sides gradually, and local agricultural producers from the South have to be trained and supported to export their products to the EU. On a cultural level, it would be great to see much more initiatives like the Anna Lindh Foundation bringing together young people from both sides to exchange their experiences and hopes.

The path to a successful integration of the Mediterranean area

Considering the three pillars of Euro-Mediterranean partnership: political, economic and socio-cultural; if you had to decide where to start, what would you concentrate on first? Why?

The reconciliation of Europe, a continent that witnessed an extensive number of brutalities and rivalries, especially between Germany and France, started as a European Economic Community in 1957 after the Treaties of Rome were signed (before that the European Steal and Coal Community was established). The process of economic integration went hand in hand with the sociocultural interpenetration. The European Political Cooperation was introduced in 1970 after the economic and socio-cultural integration had started, and until now, political integration has not been completely finalized. In the supranational system of the European Union, there are still many policy fields that are regulated by national governments themselves and not by the EU Commission or Parliament, such as Foreign and Security Policy. Thus, the integration of the Mediterranean Area should follow the same successful and gradual path: economic integration in parallel with socio-cultural integration, followed by political integration.

Article from Plural Magazine #1

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                                                        Francesco Barilli and Alessandra Trimarchi

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