(Please check against actual speech delivered)
Secretary General of the Central European Initiative,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I appreciate the format of today’s Meeting, which facilitates a concrete exchange of views on the main topics of interest of our Countries. We will in fact adopt significant decisions and recommendations for the CEI activity, such as the final Communiqué of this Meeting, the CEI Plan of Action for 2014-2016, the relaunch of the CEI Business Dimension.
I would like to thank the Hungarian Presidency for the new formula chosen for this Ministerial meeting, based on the “Chatham House rule”, that should allow a more frank and flexible discussion.
1. The topic proposed by the Hungarian Presidency, “The Mission of CEI on the eve of its 25th Anniversary”, for today’s discussion is challenging and thus appropriate. We are in Budapest, where what later became CEI started: the decision of Austria, Hungary, Italy, former Jugoslavia to establish the “Quadrangolare” was in fact taken here on the 11th of November, 1989. In the following 25 years the CEI played a key-role as impulse to full democratization as well as to the transition of the Balkans and of Central Eastern Europe towards the European Union.
25 years after, which means more or less one generation, we should now focus on the Mission of CEI in the future. Nowadays “Regional Cooperation for European Integration” and “Bridge between Macro-regions” well symbolize the new tasks of CEI.
The geo-political space of regional cooperation in Europe is in fact evolving, becoming more complex compared to 1989. The Central European Initiative is a rather large family including in fact 10 EU Members, 5 Members involved, with different status, in the EU Enlargement process, 3 Members which participates in the “Eastern Partnership”. Against this background, we can acknowledge three significant trends, in the framework of a multi-polar, global international scenario:
1) The reaction of the EU to the political and economic and financial crisis;
2) The European perspective of the Western Balkans and of Eastern Europe;
3) The evolution of Regional Cooperation goals and instruments in coherence with innovative frameworks of the EU, i.e. the Macro.-regional Strategies.
The interaction of the three 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.
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 “transformative 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.
From a political point of view, Western Balkans’ integration in the European Union – which has been carried out according to the “Copenhagen criteria” approved by the European Council twenty years ago, on June 1993 – needs to achieve three main goals, especially after the events of the 1990’s: the progressive stabilization of the whole area; the reconciliation of the region; economic and social growth. Not only are these goals mutually interconnected, but they are also a conditio sine qua non of a credible and sustainable enlargement strategy both for the European Union and for the interested countries. In this regard, much has been done in the past few years.
We need to continue in this direction. Italy is determined to play a pro-active role, by using all available tools - notably bilateral actions, support for European perspectives and a renewed impetus of the regional cooperation initiatives in which we are involved. Italy’s strategic approach has always seen in the Western Balkans’ European integration a factor of growth, stabilization, reconciliation, based on the virtues and the capabilities of each country.
Croatia’s accession to the EU represents a remarkable example of the EU’s transformative power and stabilising effect of the Enlargement process. Croatia may thus represent a concrete encouragement to rapid progress of the Balkan Countries in their European path.
Another recent example of the “transformative power” of the EU is the historical success of the “Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina facilitated by the EU”. This result was only possible because 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 on the 9th of October and I was myself in Serbia the day before, in preparation of the Intergovernmental Summit between Italy and Serbia held in Ancona on the 15th of October: we both listened with great attention as our counterparts expressed their determination to make rapid and concrete progress in the respective European path.
The recent “Enlargement Package” of the European Commission provided clear indications on how to succeed in the integration process towards the EU.
With regard to this, CEI strongly encourages the acquisition of European standards through both its projects and its political dimension.
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 on the 10th of October with the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Mr. Olefirov, and he clearly confirmed 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. The European stability and social and economic prosperity can greatly benefit of such a progress.
2. 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 Euro-zone will not rely solely on budgetary discipline 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.
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 already 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 these developments by transforming into 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. Bridging Macro-regions represents an asset that only CEI can count on. CEI enjoys political mission and technical skills to further perform in such direction. As the Adriatic and Ionian Macro-regional Strategy is facing the preparation of its Plan of Action, there is increasing potential of synergy as for sectors (infrastructures, energy, environment protection) and membership (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia) of the Danube and of the Adriatic and Ionian Macro-regional Strategies.
Ownership, connections, growth. This is the value added that can make CEI and the three EU Macro-regional Strategies (Baltic, Danube, Adriatic and Ionian) coherent one with each other. The Strategies provide European Macro-regions with a structured framework aimed at catalyzing and rationalizing the policies and the related actions carried out by Governments and Regional Cooperation Fora. For example, the CEI Plan of Action 2014-2016, effectively prepared by CEI Secretariat during the Hungarian Presidency, is well consistent with this approach.
Furthermore, a Macro-Region can represent an important hub for economic activity. For example, several central European and landlocked countries depend heavily on the ports of the Adriatic and Ionian 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 role of the Business Dimension of CEI may well benefit of an interaction with the vital role of business communities in the implementation of the EU Macro-regional Strategies.
3. The role of CEI as impulse to European integration through Regional Cooperation is irreplaceable, as this Initiative is the only regional cooperation organization whose Member States come from both Central and Eastern Europe as well as from the Balkans. This unique added value is the best tool at our disposal to pursue an effective and solid project-dimension of CEI, in terms of EU projects, of projects financed by the CEI Trust Fund at the EBRD in the field of “Know-How Exchange” and of “Technical Cooperation”, of the Business Dimension of the Initiative. This may of course require to adapt CEI to some innovative instruments such as the Macro-regional Strategies, but the political meaning of the project-dimension of the Initiative and its wide membership makes CEI’s task a unique one in geo-political terms, as Europe is increasingly facing deepening and enlargement processes.
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.
4. The political meaning of bridging represents a remarkable example of how rich the European identity is. Each Country of CEI, both EU and non-EU members, effectively contributes to the Initiative thanks to the unique combination of national and European identity that shapes the complex but precious role of Europe in the international system.
5. The CEI Member States may well increase their financial commitment towards the further consolidation of the project-dimension as well as of the Business Dimension of CEI. This may be an effective evolution of the institutional set-up which may currently count on high-skilled Executive Secretariat and Office for the CEI Fund at the EBRD.