(fa fede solo il testo effettivamente pronunciato)
I am truly delighted to be speaking today at this Conference focusing on a topic that is essential to the future of Europe: the enlargement strategy and the frontiers of Europe. I would like to thank the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence of the University of Rome Tor Vergata for organising this event.
The frontiers of Europe: the EU must continue to be an open prospect – Over the years, the debate on the frontiers of Europe has gone hand in hand with the development of the EU integration process. It remains an open issue, which affects the whole external role of the EU and its relations with other key international stakeholders, namely the USA and Russia. In this context, I would like to underscore here that the idea of geographical limes based on conventional criteria is not a suitable guide for the enlargement process. The EU should, rather, remain an open perspective for those countries which share our principles of democracy, freedom and the rule of law and are ready to assume the rights and obligations of membership, according to the EU Treaty and the Copenhagen criteria.
The meaning of the European project: eliminating borders – That said, it must be underscored that European integration was conceived to eliminate frontiers. Any type of frontier. Physical, economic, political, cultural. Internal frontiers and external frontiers. It was conceived to create a common market. To create a Schengen area. To reunite the “old continent”, in the name of that liberal democracy that lies at the root of our cultural identity and of the transatlantic relationship. Today the European Union is called upon to eliminate new “frontiers”: whether by approving a true economic union by better coordinating our fiscal policies; or by organising a cohesive and effective external action policy; or by taking the first steps towards a common European defence framework.
The process of enlargement to include the countries of central-eastern Europe, albeit not without errors in the timing and manner of its gestation, has been a success. The enlargement process was a great stabilisation operation conducted by using the European Union’s civil “soft power” to best effect. The transforming power of a model – political, economic and of values – that is worthy of imitation. Brussels has acted as a “magnet” – attracting its external neighbours, and transforming and integrating them. The enlargement of the European Union has brought peace, stability, security and economic prosperity. This is something we must never forget.
Globalisation and economic crisis: the enlargement strategy is highly topical. But is the Union’s enlargement strategy still relevant today? Is it still in Europe’s interest to take this project forward? The economic crisis and the speculative attack on the euro – have they made the enlargement policy more uncertain or more necessary? And what are the risks inherent to enlargement fatigue?
There is no doubt that some EU countries are increasingly sceptical on the possibility of a new enlargement wave [see the recent Merkel statements]. But Italy’s position is very clear. We believe it is in the European Union’s interest to complete the work it has begun and to complete the enlargement process in a rapid timescale, especially in the western Balkans and Turkey, as well as in Iceland. If Reykjavik’s decision to apply for EU membership demonstrates once again the power of attraction of the European project, allow me to put some considerations to you on the Western Balkans and Turkey.
(1) Enlargement to the Balkans: the political vision of Thessalonica has become a political and moral duty –First of all, we need to ensure that the European perspective of all the Western Balkans Countries sees real progress, in view of the strategic relevance of this area not just for the EU but for the USA also. In recent years, the prospect of full Euro-Atlantic Integration has deeply changed the features of the region, offering a political solution to eradicate the historical roots of instability and bring peace, democracy and economic development. However, this is no time for complacency.
The region continues to face political challenges related to the completion of the democratic transition, while outstanding bilateral issues continue to hamper regional cooperation. Moreover, the current economic crisis has deeply affected the economies of the Western Balkans, especially as regards employment and social conditions. It risks jeopardizing the efforts undertaken thus far to consolidate stability and increase prosperity. Against this background, the EU accession process is the only way to ensure a sound recovery and prevent the risk of new social and economic strains at the EU’s external borders, with negative repercussions for the Union’s economy and society.
Fully aware of this, Italy proposed, and the Spanish EU Presidency agreed, the Sarajevo High Level Meeting which took place on 2 June. That Conference played a key role in renewing our commitment in favour of the European perspective of the Western Balkans. It also helped to further strengthen cooperation with the USA, which plays a strategic role in promoting the political and economic stabilisation of the area, together with Russia and Turkey. It is nonetheless essential to envisage a concrete follow-up to that meeting. A more ambitious and proactive approach by the EU is required to keep the Western Balkan Countries anchored to Europe, thus consolidating democracy and fostering the reconciliation process within the region.
At a time when international dynamics suggest to adopt new strategic approaches – from Asia, to Africa, to the Persian Gulf - the Western Balkans’ enlargement process must remain a priority on the EU agenda in the years to come, given the region’s strategic importance to the EU’s security and stability. It should be clear that the Union’s ability to assume its full share of responsibility as a global player will be measured primarily by the success of its strategy towards that neighbourhood. Our mission cannot be considered accomplished until all the Western Balkan Countries have joined the European family, a family to which they naturally belong.
Otherwise, we must be ready to pay the non-enlargement costs. What is at stake is the risk of undermining the credibility of the EU enlargement strategy as a whole, as well as losing our main political leverage on all the Countries involved. In this way we run the risk of jeopardizing the adoption of important reforms and of failing to help the region’s democratization and modernisation process. The lack of a concrete European perspective would, moreover, create a real danger of alienating local public opinion and of strengthening radical and nationalistic movements. It could also discourage a flexible and constructive approach to outstanding bilateral disputes and thus undermine any concrete possibility of overcoming – once and for all –the problems of the past.
In this framework, the next steps to be taken are clear. We need to move forward on visa liberalisation – a process that I launched in 2008 as Vice President of the European Commission – for all the Balkan countries. Before the year is out this measure must also encompass the citizens of Bosnia and Albania. We expect Croatia to enter the EU by late 2011/early 2012. We need to open accession talks with Macedonia. We need to grant candidate country status to Serbia, Montenegro and Albania. And all of this without leaving Bosnia or Kosovo lagging behind.
(2) Lose Turkey? Is it affordable? Ankara’s entry to the EU is and remains a strategic objective – Are we losing Turkey? Is Turkey moving away from Europe? Do we bear any responsibility? Of course, the current framework of Turkey’s EU accession process is not encouraging. The talks are at a standstill, mainly because of the lack of progress in the difficult normalisation of relations with Cyprus. At the same time, certain of Ankara’s foreign policy decisions, for example the crisis in its relations with Israel and its rapprochement with Iran, give cause for significant doubts and questions.
Recent events notwithstanding, in our view it is essential to relaunch the accession negotiations with Ankara for Turkey’s full integration into the EU. Turkey has committed itself to the EU integration process and has achieved remarkable progress in recent years, progress that has been encouraged by the European perspective [see also the current Turkish economic recovery].
If obstacles are placed on Ankara’s path towards Europe, this will certainly not help Turkey’s democratisation and modernisation process. Such obstacles would, rather, compromise the adoption of important reforms. They would also create a real danger of alienating Turkish society from the West and of strengthening radical and xenophobic movements, with negative repercussions not only for the EU’s security, but for the international community as well.
The EU must not give Turkey any reasons or excuses to turn its back on Europe. The EU should maintain its commitments towards Turkey’s Government and public opinion and continue its talks with Ankara in good faith, according to the Negotiating Framework. Even in complicated times like our own, The European Union must have the courage to grasp the challenge that Turkey’s EU accession bid poses to its identity. We must be aware that Turkey’s entry to the EU could have the same symbolic force, for relations between the West and Islam, as the French-German peace or the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ankara’s entry to Europe could be read as a sign, on the one hand, of the compatibility between Islam, democracy and human rights and, on the other, of the Union’s ability to welcome different cultures without betraying its own identity. A historic objective, and one that we must not turn our backs on. With Ankara, we share crucial strategic interests such as the stability of the southern Caucasus, security of energy supply, and fighting terrorism.
There is no doubt that Turkey still has a long way to go before it reaches Brussels. And it is equally clear that it will reach its destination only if it manages to respect the commitments and obligations it has signed up to. While the journey is difficult, its final destination cannot be opened up once again to question. Italy will do everything in its power not to “lose” Turkey. To keep its “European outlook” open and avoid questioning its ability to proceed to full integration. Future EU membership for Turkey would be the culmination of a long modernisation process for the country and would have a decisive impact on the prospects for stability in the entire Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea region.
Let me conclude these remarks with a final consideration. The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty has made the European Union uniquely suited to take on its leadership responsibility, by strengthening its role as a global actor able to seize the opportunities and face the challenges presented by the present international scenario. The enlargement process is one such opportunity, one that we cannot afford to miss if want to make the EU a leading actor on the global stage. The European integration of the Western Balkans and Turkey would extend the EU’s geo-political weight, thus expanding its influence more directly to the east (Caucasus and Central Asia) and to the south (Mediterranean). Of course, there will be challenges ahead, but we now have the means to tackle them – and win. An enlarged, and stronger, European Union will also be of key importance in giving new content to the transatlantic relationship.