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Speech by the Hon. Minister at the University of Gorizia

“The Trieste Summit between continuity and innovation”

Gorizia, 23 May 2017


President Serracchiani, (to be confirmed)

Vice Rector Prof. Roberto Gennaro, (University of Gorizia)

Mayor Ettore Romoli, (Mayor of Gorizia)

Prefect Isabella Alberti, (Gorizia)

Prefect Annapaola Porzio, (Trieste)

Regional Councillors,

Consul General of Slovenia,

Distinguished Professors,

Dear Students,

Today is the anniversary of a very sad event that marked my life and the lives of many people of my generation: the Capaci massacre, in which the anti-mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo, and their escorting officers Vito Schifani, Rocco Dicillo and Antonio Montinaro lost their lives.

We all remember when and where we heard the terrible news, the unawareness before the event and the devastation after it, like a bolt from the blue.  

For an Italian, the Capaci massacre is akin to the attack on the Twin Towers. An event we shall never forget.

Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino, and many other brave anti-mafia magistrates, taught us the importance of always seeking the truth, the heroism of civic duty, and the overriding value of legality and the rule of law. In so doing, they paid the ultimate price.

I am pleased to commemorate this day with so many young people and above all at a university. Falcone said: the fight against the mafia requires a cultural and moral shift”, which can only come, in my opinion, from education. 

Education which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is supporting with an internationalisation strategy for the university system. I am eager to give my strong encouragement to this action, which will see me visiting several universities around Italy.

I am convinced that the Ministry can provide a service to universities, and that universities can in turn teach many young people to remain free and promote the ideals and values that mark the 23rd May.

The foreign policy theme I have chosen to discuss here today is one that I am particularly passionate about: the Trieste Summit on the Western Balkans on 12 July this year and the prospects for European integration of the Balkan region.

Today, we need the Western Balkans more than ever before because, after Brexit, while some European countries are struggling to say “Europe”, there is a loud cry from the Western Balkans for “more Europe”. We cannot afford to disregard their expectations, especially after so many years of reforms and sacrifices on the path to enlargement. We cannot fail to fulfil their European dream.

The Balkans are an extremely important part of Italian foreign policy and our security is always at stake in the Balkans. The security of our citizens is in fact the main requirement we wanted to satisfy with the European prospect and the policy of enlargement.

Let’s face it, the desire to reunite Europe is not an act of generosity by the Member States of the EU to reward people subjected to illiberal regimes for years, but a strategic, courageous and politically far-sighted choice.

By making this choice, our foreign policy has decided to export stability and security, rather than import instability, political crisis, illegal immigration and criminality.

By making this choice, we have said “no” to nationalistic and ethnic divisions, to the walls that divided us for years.

Not too many years ago, during the cold war, Gorizia was a mini-Berlin, disfigured by a wall and a frontier that divided East from West on our continent, a space of freedom from one of oppression. On the hills above Gorizia there was a big inscription that said “Naš Tito”, our Tito, so that everyone could read it from below.

In those years, Gorizia was a city in shock, because that border was marked by hatred and nationalist prevarication. And yet, despite this great tragedy, those years saw the start of a renaissance and the blossoming of ethical and civil values of coexistence, and the strength of tolerance over hatred.

The path towards re-establishing links between two friendly, neighbouring countries, in a Europe united by respect for minorities and diversity, started here, in these lands. This is where a common European identity with the people of the former Yugoslavia was first reborn.

Therefore, the first breakthrough came with the European integration process, which Italy contributed to starting and which it then determined with great conviction to widen to include the Western Balkan countries. Together we said never again to the brutality of nationalist violence and hateful discrimination that annihilate the value of freedom and the protection of fundamental rights.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Communism and the tragic wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, if a European prospect had not been offered, the Balkans would have fallen into the abyss.

I am convinced that the European prospect is the “ideal glue” that holds the Balkans together.

Alcide De Gasperi, speaking to the founding States of the European Coal and Steel Community, urged them to leave “open the circle” around which the six countries were already grouped, so that “as in a nuclear attraction”, other countries could in the future approach or take part in it.

De Gasperi’s exhortation did not stem from blind faith or a visionary viewpoint. It was rather based on the premise that the division of Europe into two blocks, without being justified by a different geographical and cultural connotation, threatened European security and prosperity.

Today, the danger no longer lies in Communism but in populism and the disenchantment of public opinion. Populism and disillusionment make the European process more fragile and fuel nationalist rhetoric.

A Europe that is turned in on itself, or uncertain, helps neither its members nor those who look to the EU as the winning formula to overcome the ghosts of the past.

We are a lucky generation who have not experienced war because the European project has guaranteed peace for over sixty years. The European Union is the most extraordinary institutional experiment of peace in the world. But it is built on values and freedoms we must defend every day, to avoid a return to the past. Regression is not an option. 

It is precisely to preserve the achievements of the last sixty years that we put so much energy into ensuring the success of the Rome Summit of 24 March this year. And the principle of differentiated integration – which was fully endorsed in the Rome Declaration for the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaties – offers new opportunities for the Western Balkans as well. 

There is an ideal connection between the Rome Summit and the upcoming Trieste Summit on the Western Balkans, which we shall highlight in our action. Because a renewed Europe that is determined to overcome its challenges can also show a greater capacity to welcome the Western Balkans.


The road to Trieste is not, however, free of political risks and trouble: there are tensions almost everywhere in the Western Balkans which could grow and become disruptive at any time.

There are some very delicate issues that affect everyone, including migration on the Balkan route, radicalism, jihadism and terrorism.

Therefore, I have decided to convene a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Western Balkans, which will be held in Rome tomorrow, to reflect and act together on strategic issues of common interest, and to reassure the political climate before the Summit.

But we are also seeing signs of hope from the Balkans, which confirm that the European Union remains a factor of stability. In recent months, the EU has been stronger and more confident, and the effects are visible.

Two pieces of good news have already contributed in part to improving the situation: in Albania: the positive end to the dialogue between the political parties to identify timelines and agree procedures for the forthcoming elections; and in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: President Ivanov’s decision to entrust Zoran Zaev with the mandate of forming a new executive, which provides a window of opportunity for overcoming the difficult political crisis.

I believe that “dialogue” and “inclusion” are key to promoting the democratic maturity needed to overcome every obstacle. The city of Trieste, which has built its history and prestige on intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, as the gateway to Europe from the Balkans, is well aware of this. 

Another key word is “reconciliation”, on which the “spirit of Trieste” is also forged. The spirit that allowed disputes between Italy, Slovenia and Croatia to be overcome in a united Europe has given us the strength to resume the journey to reconciliation and to establishing friendship between our people.

Last April, in Croatia, together with Minister Lorenzin and with the Croatian Foreign Affairs and Health Minister, we commemorated the Vergarolla massacre of August 1946 for the first time. This horrific massacre was caused by the explosion of a pile of bombs stacked up on the beach, which killed around a hundred people. It was supposed to be a feast organised by the Pietas Julia rowing club.

We paid tribute to Dr Geppino Micheletti: a doctor who, despite having lost both his sons in the explosion, continued to assist the injured for hours and hours without a break.

It is in this spirit that we must find the strength to carry on.

I have no hesitation in considering the Trieste Summit on the Western Balkans a unique and unmissable opportunity:

–       to ensure that the European prospect of the Western Balkans does not become an abstract and distant concept.

–       to solidify every possible “bridge” between the Western Balkans and Italy, and between Italy and Europe. Italy must become the hub of the Balkans towards Europe. Gorizia and Trieste its focal points

Ivo Andric, a Yugoslav diplomat, writer and Nobel Prize winner, famous for his masterpiece “The Bridge on the Drina”, said that “Of everything that man erects and builds in his desire to live, nothing is more precious than bridges”.

I want to point out that Italian diplomacy has built many bridges in the Balkans. Italian diplomacy is one of the few European diplomacies that can speak with authority in all the capitals of the Balkans. Italian diplomacy cannot be reproached for anything in the Balkans.

I also want to underline that this University has trained many of our young and brilliant diplomats in its diplomatic sciences department, in parallel with the important internationalisation effort that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has fostered.

We have many strengths.

Firstly, the fact that the Balkans perceive Italy as a big friendly country, which has no “hidden agendas” and which is counting on the growth of economic and commercial interests in the area to generate prosperity.

A second important element is that, for historical, geographical and human reasons, Italy understands the reality of the Balkans more than anyone. We have also invested enormous “diplomatic capital” in processes such as the Central European Initiative (CEI) and the Adriatic Ionian Initiative (AII) to strengthen regional cooperation.

A third aspect is the coherence and consistency of our support for the European path taken by the Balkans, based on their interest in becoming part of the common area of peace, democracy and economic prosperity which is Europe.

I chose the words “continuity” and “innovation” in the title of my speech because in Trieste we shall be acting in continuity with previous Summits but with an extra focus on innovation.

There will be continuity as regards:

–       infrastructure connectivity: motorways, roads, railways, power grids, which are the “core business” of the Process. We must speed up these projects and overcome the last hurdles to signing the Treaty on the Community of Transport.

–       regional economic integration: because we are close to a market of 20 million consumers with lots of currently untapped potential for trade, investments and growth.

–       and focus on young people: thanks to the Young People’s Forum which will be organised at the University of Trieste, in the thirtieth anniversary year of Erasmus.

On the innovation front we shall commit:

–       to the development of Small and Medium Enterprises: we have planned to organise a Business Forum to underline that SMEs are the lifeblood of this region.

–       and to the prevention of and fight against corruption: in Trieste we intend to strengthen legality and the rule of law. Working closely with the National Anti-Corruption Authority (ANAC), we have planned an initiative to share best practice and strengthen the capacity of Balkan countries.

With the Trieste Summit, we want to state very clearly that it’s time to build and look ahead with confidence in Europe. We have an “agenda of things to do” to avoid anyone being tempted to abandon themselves to nationalist rhetoric and the ghosts of the past.

I’m convinced that we can relaunch and improve Europe with the energy and vitality of the Western Balkans. Because only those who love Europe, like the Italian people, and the people of the Western Balkans, can truly improve it.


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