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«A crucial week for Europe», says Bonino (Il Messaggero)

This is a crucial week for Europe: a week of internal and external challenges

The economic and financial crisis is severely testing the ability of our common institutions to balance austerity and growth, a vital condition to address the key problem of unemployment. Europe is more than just a spread. A healthy Union must also look outside its borders, because the rest of the world is not standing still and waiting for us to resolve our internal problems. Europe must be equal to its responsibilities, especially as regards two important issues being played out at present.

First, Turkey. Europe cannot shirk its historic responsibility to choose between myopia and far-sightedness. We are sorry that some Turkish authorities have reacted disproportionately to peaceful demonstrations. And yet current circumstances must inject a renewed sense of urgency in taking forward the European Union’s negotiations with Ankara.

We need to involve the Turkish authorities constructively. Not by laying down lessons but neither by showing signs of backing down on the fundamental values of freedom and justice. The European continent needs a fully democratic Turkey within, not outside, its borders. That is the goal we must keep in mind, and Turkey – as the last decade of its history has shown – needs the constraints and benefits that being anchored to Europe would bring it. Now more than ever.

Now is not the time to close the door on Turkey’s prospects of European membership. Rather, it is time to strengthen them. Yesterday’s decision by the EU’s General Affairs Council to resume accession negotiations in October 2013 and open the regional policies chapter is a signal pointing in the right direction. Of course, if we had opened the negotiations on issues such as justice and the fundamental rights well before now, then today we would have a more effective lever in our dialogue with the Turkish authorities. If we made the mistake of halting Ankara’s European integration process, tomorrow we would have a less credible Europe on the international stage.

Second, on 27 and 28 June the European Council will be meeting to agree on a precise date to open Serbia’s membership negotiations. This time, Belgrade is looking to us with higher hopes. In Pristina too, the capital of Kosovo, expectations are high with respect to the opening of negotiations on the Association and Stabilisation Agreement. I very much hope that over the next few days we Europeans will be up to this challenge, having taken a further step forwards on the path to the integration of the Balkans. Without this, the only outcome – and certainly not one to be hoped for –would be the resurgence of a nationalistic spirit in Belgrade and Pristina. Postponing the decisions could trigger a negative spiral of suspicion and tension, notwithstanding the huge effort already made by all concerned.

Opening negotiations is of vital importance: we must decide now. The peoples of Serbia and Kosovo have shown an extraordinary spirit of compromise, with the ultimate goal of joining the European family. A rejection, or a delayed response to their efforts, could lead to the failure of the historic agreement reached through the EU’s mediation. Our credibility – which is hard to earn and easy to lose – is at stake. It is only through credible policies that Europe will be able to tackle the challenges facing it, such as the stability of its neighbours to the south and east.

To perform its international role, the European Union needs a renewed democratic legitimacy and the confidence of its citizens. Today, advancing towards a “light federation” is not just a courageous option, it is also an imperative on which to work. A Union that is overly weighted towards monetary and fiscal issues, but weak in economic and social matters, and heavily “mortgaged” by national governments in many sectors of foreign and security policy, will not be capable of tackling its internal challenges or contributing to the future international scenario. A keen demand for Europe continues to exist both inside and outside Europe – if only Europe were able, and wanted, to meet that demand. If not, Eurosceptisicm will be fuelled by people’s frustration over the slow pace of progress, the delays, and the ambiguities.

In the last analysis, Europe must send a convincing message to its citizens. If we fail, the elections for the European Parliament could produce a majority of Eurosceptic and populist forces. Today, when we are going through difficult times at both the political and economic levels, we cannot afford such as result.