The Balkans cannot wait any longer. The relaunch of Italy’s action in the region, which the Italian government launched with the Trieste Conference last 24 January, reached a further important milestone at the ministerial meeting held in Rome yesterday, Monday 3 April. Together with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, as well as the Swedish rotating Presidency of the EU Council and the Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, we discussed how to make the process of European integration of this region more concrete.
We listened attentively to the strong demand for European and Italian support from these countries, as well as their aspiration to be part of the European project – to which they feel intimately linked by history, culture and economy, and to the construction of which they wish to contribute with their civil society and young people’s energy and enthusiasm. What emerged clearly from the discussion was the need to work together for integration into the mechanisms and institutional life of the EU, right from the initial stages of the negotiation process, particularly in key sectors such as energy and digital transition, infrastructure, education, and research.
What these countries are asking for is not a rebate on the reforms that the EU is asking them to adopt in order to join, but certainty as to the process, the timing, and above all the end result. Indeed, I have been able to experience first-hand their frustration with an integration process that has become increasingly erratic in recent years, partly due to the EU’s frequent bureaucratic interpretation of negotiating dynamics. In doing so, one forgets the extraordinary transformative value that the integration process has on the institutions and civil society of these countries. The European dream risks becoming a chimera for all of them.
The growing disillusionment of the citizens of the Western Balkans with the European perspective of the region is a wake-up call that must shake the EU and its member states. Let it be clear: the EU cannot afford to lose the Western Balkans. As the Russian aggression against Ukraine reminds us every day, European security would be seriously compromised by this prospect. Italy is among the countries most exposed to the risks that would arise from such a scenario, also on the migration front.
Italy feels the responsibility to act as the voice of the hopes and expectations of those who live on the other side of the Adriatic and who see their destiny in a united Europe. For this reason, the Italian Government has fought and worked for the granting of the status of “EU candidate” for Bosnia and Herzegovina, a symbol of the complexity but also of the extraordinary potential of this region. With the same determination, we will continue to work so that there is more Europe and more Italy in the Balkans.
Italy wants to be a protagonist of peace, a builder of integration and prosperity. We have all the credentials to do so. This is testified to by the sincere gratitude for the contribution to regional stability that our armed forces ensure; the admiration for our way of doing business as witnessed by a growing interchange (+50% interchange in the first half of 2022 for a total value of about EUR 17 billion), and by the success of initiatives such as the first “Italy-Serbia Business and Science Forum”, which was attended by over 400 companies.
The Italian government is on board and will play its part to the full, as the Italian Prime Minister recalled at the opening of the ministerial meeting in Rome. Our commitment in the Western Balkans will continue with renewed impetus and conviction. The Balkans cannot wait any longer.