Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am truly delighted and privileged to be speaking to you today at this historical university. I wish to thank Rector Caklovica [si pronuncia Ciacloviza] for inviting me and to extend my gratitude also to other Rectors who have joined us in this occasion, and to all of you for being here today. And of course I am also most pleased to be in Sarajevo, a unique city that holds a special place in Europe’s historic memory. Nearly 15 years since the Dayton agreements were signed, of the many images telling the story of this city the one I most wish to recall today is the capacity for civil resistance it displayed during the long siege of the 1990s.
In 1992 - in this same month of April – Sarajevo suffered its first casualties of the war following the break-up of Yugoslavia. Suada Dilberovic, a young medical student, was the first to die. I wish to pay tribute here today to her memory. In spite of those tragic events, Sarajevo today retains the hallmarks of an “open city” and is winning back its traditional role as a melting pot in which peoples of different cultures and religions peacefully interact and merge. It is an invaluable and reassuring resource for the future of the Balkans and for European civilization itself.
In the global age, a new way to view the Europe-Balkans relationship – Starting from the history and symbolic value of this city, I would like to share with you my views on the way the relationship between Europe and the Balkans has evolved in recent years. An ancient and complex relationship, with widespread sufferings: from the World Wars to the break-up of Yugoslavia. From 1996 to 1999, however, the opening up of the prospect of full Euro-Atlantic integration for the region changed the historic tempo of the Balkans, and finally offered a political solution to the complex equation that allows for stability of the area to match the wider requirements of security of the “old continent”.
Today, while the EU and NATO enlargement process continues to make headway, a number of factors suggest a new way of viewing the relationship between Europe and the Balkans. I am thinking of the effects of globalisation, the emergence of a multi-polar international order, the different domestic and regional profiles of the countries involved, and the way Europe’s concept of security has changed. But having a different perspective on this region does not mean wanting to draw up yet another strategy for its future. Nor does it mean closing our eyes to its many difficulties. And even less does it mean relegating the strategic importance of its stabilization to the background.
It means, rather, proposing policies, goals and the ideal handling of instruments that we can already count on, through an effective multi-faceted approach. An approach that enables us to set the Europe-Balkans relationship in today’s global arena and to take full advantage of its new potential and opportunities. This means, essentially, providing us with a lens through which we may read the international context in view of swiftly completing the European Union’s enlargement process.
The Euro-Atlantic integration of the countries of central-eastern Europe has been a success, but our mission cannot be considered accomplished until all the western Balkan countries, and Turkey, have joined the European family. At a time when international dynamics suggest that we should adopt new strategic approaches – from Asia, to Africa, to the Persian Gulf – this goal must remain an absolute priority for the European Union. We must not lower our guard. We have not yet crossed the finishing line.
All of this said, at this time of globalisation there are three specific dimensions that suggest we should redefine the relationship between Europe and the Balkans. The first concerns economic competitiveness and energy security. The second, the geo-political framework and the European Union’s aspirations to play a global role. And the third, the central position now occupied in the international agenda by the inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. Allow me to examine these three dimensions more closely.
The first dimension is economic competitiveness and energy security – In the face of the new multipolar international order, the European Union needs to recover competitiveness on all levels. Over the next decade, the EU needs, most notably, to boost its economic growth and employment levels and guarantee its energy security more effectively.
From this perspective, the Balkans offer valuable opportunities to be grasped, not just in commercial or direct investment terms but in strategic sectors too, such as energy and transport. Just consider, in the latter case, the importance of the pan-European Corridors V and VIII, and of the future creation of a Transport Community between the countries of the area and the EU. In terms of energy supply, the region, which established an Energy Community in 2005, also offers advantages that deserve special consideration. Whether for its resources, most notably renewable sources such as hydro-electricity. Or for the advantages it offers in connecting with the central-European market. Or, lastly, for the growing attention devoted by countries in the region to strategic energy diversification projects: such as South Stream, Nabucco or the Turkey-Greece-Italy Interconnection (ITGI).
In twenty-first century Europe, energy security is indeed a strategic challenge that needs to be effectively tackled. We need to diversify our sources and supply routes and to rebalance our energy consumption mix. To achieve this, closer cooperation with the Balkans is needed. Italy has long understood the importance of pursuing this path and is already engaged, through its enterprises, in the countries of the area in implementing important energy collaboration projects. Bosnia Herzegovina is a relevant element of this project.
The second dimension of a new Europe-Balkans relationship is geo-politics and the European Union’s global role – To achieve its aspiration to play a global role, the European Union is called upon to extend its international range of action and assume greater responsibility in contributing to peace and global security. On both these fronts the Europe-Balkans relationship offers an important added value, which must be exploited.
With regard to the need to extend the Union’s geo-political base, it is clear that enlargement to the Balkans and Turkey would achieve this goal. In so doing, the EU could project its interests more directly to the east, towards the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Caspian and Central Asia; and to the south, towards the Mediterranean. The Balkans and Turkey would cease to be “border areas” and evolve into a “bridge” towards stronger political, economic and security partnerships. Partnerships which the Union urgently needs in order to develop new comprehensive means of international cooperation and thus avert the risk of being sidelined as new global equilibria are being established.
With respect to the second aspect, we are fully aware that the Union’s global status will be measured primarily by its ability to contribute, in a timely and effective manner, to stabilizing both close and remote crisis-areas. This applies both to situations such as Kosovo, Afghanistan or Somalia, and to natural disasters, as in the case of Haiti. As the Lisbon Treaty is being gradually implemented, the EU needs to leap forward and build-up its security dimension and its civilian and military crisis-management capabilities.
For this purpose, the lessons the Union has learned in recent years from its experience in the Balkans are extremely valuable. Most notably, the lessons drawn from the “comprehensive approach” it has effectively elaborated, aimed at accommodating the requirements of both its military contribution to peace and of its commitment to economic, institutional and civil reconstruction. We should not forget that it was above all as a result of the crises and conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s that the Union developed its framework of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) instruments and established the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), whose first missions – civilian and military – were sent to this very region.
And the third dimension of the Europe-Balkans relationship at a time of globalisation is inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue – Globalisation has generated a new demand for belonging and identity. To respond to this challenge we need to harmonize diverse political, cultural and spiritual energies. In this respect, inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue has become a vital instrument through which we may strive to understand the world, and the changes it is experiencing; it is an important dimension through which we can observe the Europe-Balkans relationship in a new light.
The time has come for the European Union to make a vigorous effort to rediscover the deep foundations of dialogue between the West and Islam. These two identities show many similarities and are constantly engaged in a fruitful mingling of ideas, as witnessed by the history of Sarajevo and its university. This is another reason for the EU to meet the challenge that the accession of the Balkan countries and, above all, of Turkey, pose to its identity. On a global scale, the accession of all south-east Europe countries to the EU could be read, on the one hand, as a confirmation of the compatibility of Islam with democracy and human rights; and, on the other, as evidence of the Union’s ability to welcome different cultures without neglecting its own identity. Its a historic goal and opportunity that we must stand ready to grasp.
Also in the Balkans an enhanced inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue is needed, if Europe wants to contribute to the codification of a multilateral international order that enhances and respects diverse identities. This commitment should at the same time be viewed as a valuable instrument from a “preventive diplomacy” perspective, and for developing a concept of peace based not just on military security but also on justice and reconciliation as a method for solving lacerating conflicts at their very roots. And the Balkans – having won back their peace after the civil wars of the 1990s – need to enhance these same targets. They should uphold their best historical traditions of peaceful and fruitful coexistence of peoples, languages and religions. From this angle, the recent condemnation by the Serbian National Assembly of the crimes of Srebrenica, a genocide that still today stirs the conscience of all Europeans, is to be considered an important step in the right direction.
The future of the “European perspective” for the Balkans: how to recreate momentum in the region’s transformation process – The three keys of interpretation I have just laid out may give more concrete form to the factors supporting a rapid integration of the Balkans in the European Union. But it is a fact that in recent years this process, while making significant headway, has lost momentum.
In evaluating the results of this endeavor, we do have reason for satisfaction if we think, for example, that Croatia and Albania are today members of NATO and Zagreb could complete its EU negotiation process by the end of 2010. That EU candidate status has been granted to Macedonia. That Serbia, Montenegro and Albania have submitted their applications to join the Union. That Serbian, Macedonian and Montenegrin citizens are already benefiting from visa liberalisation.
At the same time, we can feel nothing but regret if we reflect on the cautious approach that has set-in in some European capitals over the EU enlargement process itself. If we observe that radical nationalism has still not been defeated, once and for all, in the Balkans, and ponder the fact that internal reform processes have been sluggish in nearly all countries of the region. Political stalemate in Albania, the constitutional impasse in Bosnia-Herzegovina, or the fragility of Kosovo, generate concerns and make matters more difficult in Brussels.
Overall, however, I believe that positive signals prevail: they nonetheless need to be properly supported. In this respect, the main challenge the EU has to address today in its relationship with the Balkans is to understand how to restore dynamism to the region’s “European perspective”. How momentum can be restored to the Balkans’ transformation process. How the region’s European integration project can be prevented from becoming mired down in stagnation. According to the Italian vision, we should pursue our goals in a hasty and relentless manner, moving along three directions.
(1) Strengthen the region’s “European perspective” through concrete steps: the example of visa liberalisation – We need, first of all, to make the Balkans’ “European perspective” more tangible and foster a better understanding of the concrete advantages of “entering Europe”. Being a part of the European Union, and this is a message I am addressing above all to the students and young people of the Balkans, is equivalent to achieving a better quality of life. Europe entails student exchange programmes between EU countries; economic support and soft loans for small-and medium-sized enterprises; help for farms and the rural world; consumer protection; protection for the environment, better infrastructure for your country. Europe means, my dear students, freedom of movement, as the EU’s decision to liberalise visas for the citizens of Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia shows.
The dialogue on visas which I launched in 2008, as Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Justice and Internal affairs, proved to be a crucial instrument in supporting the pro-European drive of countries of the region. It is the initiative that more than any other gave local public opinion a sense of the positive impact of closer integration with Europe on people’s day-to-day life. I know well how deeply you aspire to being able to travel freely in Europe. That is a legitimate right. In the light of the relevant progress in complying with EU conditions, Italy will continue to play a leading role in supporting visa liberalization as early as possible for Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as for Albania.
(2) Keeping the Balkans high up the EU agenda: the Sarajevo Conference – The second track we must follow aims at making sure that the Balkans remain a priority on the Union’s agenda. This was the essence of the “8-Point Plan” I proposed a year ago to strengthen the Balkans in their pathway towards Europe, a Plan that has largely been implemented. This is the spirit with which Italy advanced the proposal, accepted by the Spanish Presidency, that 10 years on from the Zagreb Summit a high-level EU-Western Balkans political meeting should be held, with the participation of other key partners for the region. Significantly, it has been decided to host the event right here in Sarajevo, in early June. This choice confirms that we look on Bosnia-Herzegovina as the keystone for regional stabilisation. The June meeting will be a unique opportunity to give new impetus to the countries of the region in their ambition towards full EU membership and to reiterate just how real this “European perspective” is.
If Bosnia-Herzegovina, in particular, is to move closer to achieving this goal, the European Union must also seek to strengthen its presence in the country by exploiting the margins provided by the Lisbon Treaty. We should find a way to break free of the deadlock experienced in our plans for transition from the Office of the High Representative (OHR) to the EU Special Representative (EUSR). We must introduce a new dynamic in which the Union takes on more and more responsibilities and encourages the local leadership to gain greater confidence in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s European future. And to translate this confidence into concrete actions.
The Atlantic Alliance, and with it the United States, must also keep a watchful eye on the Balkans. Although NATO has been progressively scaling-down its military presence in the region, it continues to have significant political weight here. The Alliance is and remains a pillar of regional stability, having established relationships with all the countries of the area, ranging from full integration, to Membership Action Plan (MAP) status, to Partnerships for Peace (PfP). In this regard Italy believes that MAP status should be granted to Bosnia-Herzegovina as a demonstration of political support for the country, in the interest of national and regional stabilisation. But Bosnia-Herzegovina’s leadership must, in turn, demonstrate that it is willing to adopt appropriate measures, as NATO is requesting.
(3) Revitalising regional cooperation: the macro-region concept – The third path to follow in nurturing the Balkans’ “European perspective” is that of regional cooperation. In recent years we have witnessed a multiplication of public and private examples of concrete economic and commercial collaboration between the countries and businesses of the area. A phenomenon that has led some observers to speak of the birth of a “Yugosphere” of common interests. It is a concept that should not be misunderstood: it does not relate to the past, quite the opposite it takes stock of the present framework and aims at developing a better future. And this applies to many sectors, from the energy and transport communities I mentioned earlier, to the creation in 2006 of a free-trade area in central and south-east Europe.
However, countries of the region are still engaged in settling longstanding disputes. There is a long list of pending issues, I will mention just one: Kosovo. It is the Balkans’ first and foremost responsibility to strive to solve those disputes thus removing obstacles that could slow down progress towards the European Union.
In this context, another consideration is particularly timely. In an enlarged 27-member EU, and with the prospect of other accessions, the issue of sub-regional integration is taking-on a new and greater relevance. The logic of this approach is to address, in a European framework, problems that are common to a given territory, following an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach. This applies to many sectors that impacts directly on the quality of life of citizens as is the case of environment, tourism, or the prevention of natural risks. The adoption of the Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region at the European Council in October 2009 demonstrates that a new tendency within the EU is developing along these lines.
Naturally, the Balkans too are a most interesting macro-region. In this respect, work has already begun on a Strategy for the Danube Region, which should be completed in 2011. A quick glance at the map suffices, however, to understand that the Danube cannot fulfill all the potential of an area that has links with the Adriatic, the Black Sea and the Alps. Italy therefore feels it is of the utmost importance to draw up, also on the basis of the existing regional fora, a European Strategy for the Adriatic and the Ionian, which would involve the European Commission and all the countries concerned, Bosnia-Herzegovina included. The Meeting of Adriatic-Ionian Initiative Foreign Ministers taking place on 5 May in Ancona will be a valuable opportunity to examine and decide on the best way forward toward this result.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to conclude this address on a note of hope for the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But not before I have reminded you of the international community’s concern over the political stalemate your country is experiencing. This is a widespread feeling that springs from a historic awareness of how, in the Balkans, immobility can sometimes translate into crisis, or into a re-opening of crises thought to have been solved. In light of the upcoming elections your country stands, once again, at a crossroads. It must choose between focusing on the past or turning to the future. It must opt either for nationalist rhetoric or for the European agenda. It must distinguish between relying on international mentoring and taking its destiny into its own hands and shaping that destiny through its own will.
All of that said, Italy is convinced that the conditions are in place for 2010 not to be a lost year for the Euro-Atlantic integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina. We feel that – in spite of the many difficulties – there is still political scope for this country to make progress in the field of reforms, even before the October elections. It is up to you, to the civil society and leadership of your country, to grasp this opportunity in a timely manner and show that you are able to translate it into a lasting political process. In so doing, you will always be able to count on the collaboration and friendship of Italy.