(Brussels, 13 April 2010, 16.30)
I would like first of all to congratulate President Bresso and the Committee of the Regions for organising this important Forum so promptly. It is an extremely useful day for reflection on targeted, enhanced forms of governance by the European Union. Forms of governance that clearly must respond to the principles of trans-national territorial integration, cohesion and inclusiveness and which must therefore promote synergies rather than any form of discrimination or duplication. And forms of governance that must have a multi-level approach that is perfectly in keeping with the cardinal principles of subsidiarity and complementarity. All of this must be part of a vital and concrete medium- to long-term vision to be set in the framework of the EU 2020 Strategy, currently being finalised.
The profound changes, both present and future, in international relations require of the European Union an increasingly convinced and bold awareness of its responsibilities. The corollary is that it must increasingly be prepared to take on and act upon these responsibilities, starting from our enlarged European home.
In 2000 the Heads of Government and the Foreign Ministers of Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Italy and Slovenia adopted the Ancona Declaration introducing the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative (AII). In 2002 the then Union of Serbia and Montenegro joined them. Since 2008, a permanent AII Secretariat has been operating in Ancona, funded by the Italian Government and Marche Region.
Today, therefore, the AII has eight members, of which three belong to the EU. Of the other five, Croatia is about to join the Union and the other four are set – in what we hope will be the near future – to become full members of the European family. We must support and facilitate this process.
It is gratifying to recall that the leading figures of the EU were also present in Ancona in 2000. This bore witness to a far-sighted agreement on a strategic vision. A vision which has already given multi-faceted and concrete results, but which, a decade later, can – and must – make a decisive quality leap. A quality leap that is in the interests not just of the socio-economic and institutional growth of the area, but also of the overall framework of European stability and security.
The Italian Presidency of the AII will end on 5 May 2010 in Ancona with a meeting of the eight Foreign Ministers and the institutional participation of the EU and of the Presidency of the Council of Baltic States. In the course of our Presidency, one cooperation protocol has been signed and another 3 are ready for signing. Institutional Cooperation will be renewed on 29 April in Bari with the meeting of the Speakers of member states’ Parliaments.
Italy agrees with the recent, still necessarily limited, EU approach on macro-regions. We are convinced that is worth following this approach without hesitation in those regional areas that are equipped and ready to adopt it. We will need to be bold and show overall strategic far-sightedness, considering that the timescale for finalising a macro-region runs to some years. The Commission must play a decisive role in this process and show wisdom and impartiality between the various actors and expectations involved.
But we certainly cannot wait for years to see if a so-called “pilot project” is successful, not least because we have great confidence in the work that the Baltic Sea macro-region has already embarked upon. And we look with keen interest to the work that the Danube macro-region will be undertaking once it is formalised. Italy also, and fully, agrees with the three “nos” upon which the Baltic Sea Strategy was built: no new funds, no new legislation, and no new institutions.
It must be underscored that macro-regions do not just strengthen cooperation by facilitating consensus on issues of common interest between territories of member states belonging to a given area. Macro-regions also contribute, from a synergistic perspective, to establishing more profound relationships with neighbouring territories and states both within and outside the EU.
Italy, in the name also of Greece and Slovenia, is firmly and deeply convinced that in the present context an initiative encompassing a macro-region of the southern flank of Europe is absolutely vital.
The Adriatic-Ionian basin is almost a “landlocked” sea: a sea that in the future will increasingly be “internal” to the EU. It is also a system with strong common features – historical, economic, and cultural – and significant experience of integration.
It is a basin that has similarities with the Baltic region. Both seas are circumscribed, both have similar problems and challenges, and both act as “hinges” between member and non-EU states. At the same time, the Adriatic-Ionian basin is the natural maritime outlet for the Danube region.
The Adriatic-Ionian region has, all things considered, all the prerequisites to act as a homogeneous macro-region for which a strategic approach based on similarity and common problems, opportunities and prospects should be developed. A macro-region with the capacity to interact without duplications and to create synergies with other European macro-regions.
We are speaking of an area that extends to over 600,000 square metres and is home to about 100 million people, with territories that are already closely linked by various forms and experiences of cross-border cooperation. These include the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative, the Instrument of Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) Adriatic Cross-border Programme, the Adriatic Euroregion, the UniAdrion University Network and the Forum of Adriatic-Ionian Cities and Chambers of Commerce, to mention just the most significant examples.
As was the case with the Baltic, where a consolidated fabric of cooperation between the different countries already exists, so too for the Adriatic and Ionian we feel that a European strategy could draw on the many initiatives, programmes and projects already under way. This would give it an established European framework, and the possibility of adapting the available instruments to the features specific to each situation. Without in so doing losing sight of the overall, single goal of strengthening the cohesion of the European Union as a whole.
One important added value of this Adriatic-Ionian Strategy is the confirmation of a fundamental political signal to the countries of the western Balkans: a renewed focus on the prospects for concrete collaboration. This would be developed in tandem with the more complex process leading to future membership of the European family to which they naturally belong.
We are aware, of course, of the differences in status with respect to EU members. But we are convinced that the countries bordering the Adriatic and Ionian seas can, in agreement with the Commission, identify shared priorities, the coordinated pursuit of which will give substance to the Strategy.
The recent Brdo Summit and the Conference which the Spanish Presidency, in agreement with Italy, is preparing to hold in Sarajevo, confirm that stronger regional cooperation and the integration of the western Balkans with the EU are two sides of the same coin. The creation of an Adriatic-Ionian macro-region would therefore be the necessary “political incubator” of a process that began with the Thessalonica Agenda and whose final stretch we now need to complete.
We will define with our partners the operational sectors of the Strategy, but we believe we can already identify some – not least on the basis of our consolidated experience in the AII context – which by their very nature lend themselves beautifully to cooperation within the macro-region. These are: the conservation of the environment, the development of our territories, and the improvement of accessibility and communications.
Bearing in mind the features specific to a maritime region, we could also take into consideration questions such as fishing, the “highways of the sea”, shipping and port security, and collaboration by our civil protection agencies.
At the same time, the horizon we are contemplating to draw up and implement the Strategy is broad. Broad enough to allow us to bring the priorities we will be working on into line with those that will be set out in the 2020 Strategy and which will emerge as the future financial outlook takes shape. This will bring us perfectly into line with the EU’s strategic guidelines in matters of development and integration.
I would like to conclude by saying that as we work on a Strategy for the Adriatic and the Ionian along with the states and the Commission, we see the regions and other territorial bodies they encompass playing a full role. These actors can boast of long experience of cross-border cooperation and each of them is fully aware of the potential, strong points and problems of their own territories.
The regions are often able to operate more effectively than other actors to implement projects of concrete, decentralised interest to their citizens, while also ensuring that these are consistent with national development policies.
We are especially pleased, therefore, to be able to express in this very significant setting – the Committee of the Regions – the hope, in the name also of Greece and Slovenia, that the Adriatic-Ionian macro-region will take concrete shape. The hope that it will take its place in the new architecture of cross-border cooperation that is taking shape with the macro-regional strategies, as an active driver of closer integration between the territories and peoples of the EU and the countries that aspire to join it. And in so doing we shall not of course rule out the possibility that other countries of the area might join in this Strategy.