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Intervento del Vice Ministro Dassù al Convegno “Connecting Macro-regions”

(fa fede solo il testo effettivamente pronunciato)

Mister Chairman,

Ambassadors,President of the Committee of the Regions,

Secretary General of the Central European Initiative,

President of the Autonomous Region Friuli Venezia Giulia,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s Symposium focuses on a challenging topic in an appropriate place and time. Appropriate place, because Trieste occupies a key strategic location, ideally positioned to take advantage of its natural Central European hinterland and of its vocation as a seaport oriented towards the East, at the crossroads of the Latin, Germanic and Slavic world. Appropriate time, because the geo-political space of regional cooperation in Europe is evolving, becoming more complex compared to 1989, when the “Quadrangolare” was founded, subsequently to become the Central European Initiative.

We can in fact acknowledge three significant trends, in the framework of a multi-polar, global international scenario:

1st trend: a European Union made of 28 Members is moving towards a durable solution of an economic and financial crisis which increasingly affects her political dimension. The new economic governance of the Union and of the Eurozone will not rely solely on austerity but will focus on concrete measures for jobs creation and growth; it will require, at the same time, more European integration and more trust in the EU Institutions on the part of European citizens. These goals represent in fact key-priorities of the programme of the Italian Presidency of the EU Council in the second semester of 2014. We are determined to actively work, as founding members of the EU, to further strengthen the effectiveness and democratic legitimacy of our common institutions.

2nd trend: The Western Balkans and Eastern Europe are moving closer to the EU. In spite of the economic crisis – and also thanks to the efforts of countries like Italy, playing a vital role in keeping the EU’s doors open – the “transformational power” of the European Union remains fully effective. In spite of all its shortcomings, the EU is still a “magnet” that attracts its external neighbours. One recent, perfect example of this transformational power is the historical success of the “Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina facilitated by the EU”. This result was only possible because of the of the prospect of EU membership, a prospect that is already making the whole Balkan area more stable and secure. Minister Bonino has visited Albania two days ago and I was myself in Serbia the day before: we both listened with great attention as our counterparts expressed their determination to make rapid and concrete progress in the respective European path. With regard to this, the next “Enlargement Package” of the European Commission will provide clear indications.

As to the Eastern European Countries which are members of the CEI, there seem to be positive developments in their political association and economic integration with the EU. I met yesterday the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Mr.Olefirov, and he confirmed in no uncertain terms that his country’s European choice is irrevocable. Provided that the benchmarks set by the EU are met, we look forward to the signature of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU on the occasion of the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2013.

3rd trend: Older regional cooperation initiatives, such as the CEI, increasingly face challenges, as they must interact with the innovative instrument of EU territorial cooperation: the macro-regional strategies. CEI member countries belong to the two approved EU Macro-regional Strategies for the Baltic Sea Region and for the Danube Region, as well as to the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region, due to be approved by the European Council in the second semester of 2014. CEI is successfully adapting her activity to this trend by acting as a “Bridge between Macroregions” both at political and operational / project level. The Hungarian Presidency of CEI in 2013 successfully worked to enhance this role of the Initiative. I am sure that the coming Austrian Presidency may well continue to act in coherence with this priority activity.

The interaction of these trends is important. It has to be taken into consideration in order to reshape and reorient the different initiatives of regional cooperation, identifying and ordering priorities to make them work effectively and concretely. This is a task for national governments and local authorities alike.

Italy, in particular, is highly committed to regional cooperation, and macro-regions in particular, as a precious impulse to:

1. European integration and association of the Balkans as well as of Eastern Europe to the EU. Regional cooperation facilitates progress towards the alignment with EU standards, the “acquis communautaire”, thus having a positive impact on the European path and on the stability of the concerned countries, as well as on a regional scale. Furthermore, a macro-regional strategy can be essential in promoting economic integration and standard of living convergence among countries. In the case of the Adriatic Ionic Macro-Region, for example, we have big GDP per capita differentials between, on the one hand, countries like Italy Slovenia and Greece (around the EU-27 average) and, on the other, Western Balkans countries, among the lowest in Europe.

2. Coordinated policies and a better use of EU and national funds. Regional cooperation, in particular through an effective project-dimension and a macro-regional approach, may represent a structured framework avoiding overlapping actions and coordinating policies at regional and national level. This goal is of the utmost importance, in view of the 2014-2020 Programming, with particular regard to the Cohesion Policy. We are also aware that European macro-regional strategies require more responsibility, more quality and less duplication in the use of EU and national funds. In the current difficult economic situation, the “3 NOs Rule” of the Strategies – no new funds, no new institutions, no new legislation – makes this instrument even more attractive.

3. Development of trans-cultural interchanges and contacts between national civil societies. Well structured macro-regional strategies can provide a common European framework to promote cultural assimilation and the empowerment of national civil societies on a regional level. This is particularly important for regions such as Eastern Europe or the Balkans, where the consolidation of democratic practices goes hand in hand with the development of a thriving and dynamic public sphere.

4. Last but not least, the EU Macro-Regions strategy allows us to plan infrastructural development on a broader geographic scale, promoting communications and transport integration. There can be very little integration without material and immaterial infrastructures. Trans-national Information Technologies network can be optimized and the development of infrastructures such as highways, railroads and ports can facilitate terrestrial trade and ensure the rapid implementation of land and maritime space without barriers.

Connections, consistency, effectiveness, ownership. This is the value added that macro-regional strategies bring to the European project.

This strategic vision of the EU is at the core of our foreign policy vis-à-vis the Balkans and Eastern Europe. It is well symbolized by the significant amount of political capital we invested in promoting the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region. We are convinced that Western Balkans should become “internal” to the EU.

In the elaboration as well as in the implementation of the Strategy, Candidate countries can work together with current and future EU Member States, increasingly acquiring European standards and best practices. The Strategy thus represents a great opportunity for the EU itself, as it encourages cohesion beyond the borders of the EU, in a sensitive area for the stability of the continent.

This is particularly true as the Adriatic-Ionic Macro-Region can represent an important hub for economic activity. Several central European and landlocked countries depend heavily on the ports of the macro-region for their trade and strong commercial relations exists within the area. For countries such as Albania and Montenegro, the Macro-Region accounts for more than 50% of their import-export and between 20% and 50% for Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Adriatic and Ionian Strategy is also politically and technically complementary with the “EU Strategy for the Danube Region”, which includes several non-Member States; some of them are indeed also members of the Adriatic and Ionian Macro-region (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia).

In the current phase of preparation of the Plan of Action of the Adriatic and Ionian Strategy, the role of the business community is essential. We rely very much on it to identify concrete and sustainable priorities and the future implementation of the Strategy. For example, the contribution of the Adriatic and Ionian Chambers of Commerce, through their Forum, greatly contributed to the stakeholders consultation which convinced the Commission and the other EU Member States of the merit of the initiative. Without macro-regional approach, we may not work towards a common, updated system of maritime traffic monitoring nor to enhance the competitiveness of Adriatic and Ionian Ports and reinforce their connections to Trans European Networks in European Corridors. In the end, Macro-regions should represent a catalyst to prioritize national interventions.

Colleagues, Ambassadors, Distinguished Guests.

The mission of the Adriatic and Ionian Strategy is connecting and protecting, fostering the political and economical development of a European area and linking the Balkan area to the Baltic and the Danube Regions, where EU Macro-regional Strategies are already in place.

The notion of connecting and protecting well describes the complex task of strengthening Regional Cooperation. We need more Regional Cooperation in order to further enforce and enlarge Europe. Ivo Andrić, prominent diplomat and writer of the former Jugoslavia, wrote, “nothing is nicer and more precious than bridges”, as they “represent the place in which man encountered an obstacle and did not give up, but indeed managed to overcome it”. History and geography have given us the responsibility to contribute in a determinant and pro-active way to make our Continent safeguard peace, stability and prosperity at political, social and economical level.

In this perspective, the genuine meaning of Regional Cooperation is to provide a bridge helping Europe to overcome crises and to positively evolve from crises to progress.

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