(fa fede solo il testo effettivamente pronunciato)
Dear State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Serbia,
Dear Representative of the European Commission,
Dear President of the Marche Region,
Dear Secretary General of the Adriatic and Ionian Initiative,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very glad to close the First session of today’s event on “Connecting the Adriatic and Ionian Region”. This is in fact the first meeting of the Working Group for the Pillar “Connecting the Region”.
Italy and Serbia chair together this exercise in the crucial phase of consultation of the stakeholders. The goal is indeed a timely and successful preparation of the Plan of Action of the Strategy, in view of the final approval by the European Council in the second half of 2014.
The Adriatic and Ionian Strategy is a key-priority of the Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second semester of 2014. Italy gives the utmost importance to the innovative instrument of territorial cooperation.
Tomorrow, the III Intergovernmental Summit between Serbia and Italy will take place here in Ancona, confirming the prominent role of the Region Marche in the strategic partnership between our Country and Serbia, also in the wider perspective of the coming Adriatic and Ionian Macro-region. Ancona hosts, as you know, the Permanent Secretariat of the Adriatic and Ionian Initiative, established in 2000 as an impulse to stability and prosperity of the Balkan region after a decade of conflicts. The Adriatic and Ionian Initiative represents the intergovernmental anchorage of the Adriatic and Ionian Strategy.
Italy is actively working on the Plan of Action based on ownership and horizontal responsibility, through national coordination by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department for Development and Cohesion Policies, in close collaboration with line Ministries, the involved Regions, as well as with the relevant Institutions and actors consulted for the preparation of the Partnership Agreement.
Italy aims at effectively contributing to the whole Plan of Action of the Adriatic and Ionian Strategy, of course with a particular focus, in this phase of stakeholders’consultation, on the Pillar “Connecting the Region” in all its dimensions, thus including research and innovation and capacity-building.
The Plan of Action should focus on a few strategic goals and related activities/actions and should be prepared in coherence the 2014-2020 Programming. The non-EU Countries of the Strategy should ensure coordination between the Plan of Action and the relevant Instrument of Pre-Accession Funds and Programmes.
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).
From the operational point of view, the consultation of stakeholders, started at national level some months ago, confirmed that the Plan of Action can succeed, in terms of territorial development policy, only if it focuses on both Maritime and Hinterland dimension. Without such approach, for example, we may not work towards a common, updated system of maritime traffic monitoring nor to the enhancement of competitiveness of Adriatic and Ionian Ports and to their effective connections to Trans European Networks in European Corridors.
In the end, Macro-regions should represent a catalyst to prioritize national interventions and utilization of the relevant funds, in line with the European economic, social and territorial cohesion. In the Adriatic and Ionian Region, this could not be achieved only with regard to maritime affairs. Today’s event may thus contribute to further achieve clear evidence on this and to provide Italy and Serbia, as Co-Chairs of the Working Group “Connecting the Region”, with useful indications in view of the timely and effective preparation of the Report to the Commission, by the 13th of December next, on this stakeholders’ consultation phase.
Let me thank in the end all concerned actors of the territories, such as Regional Institutions, the civil society, the business community, as well as the Fora of the Adriatic and Ionian Initiative (Forum of the Adriatic and Ionian Chambers of Commerce; UNIADRION; Forum of the Adriatic and Ionian Cities and Towns) to actively take part in this consultation process.
I would like in particular to wish to thank:
- the President of the Region Marche, Gian Mario Spacca, for his concrete, long-term support to the Adriatic and Ionian Strategy, also in quality of Chairmanship of the Adriatic and Ionian Interregional Group in the EU Committee of the Regions as well as of coordination among the Italian Adriatic and Ionian Regions.
- the President of the Chamber of Commerce of Ancona, Mr. Giampieri, for the proactive contribution of the Chamber of Commerce of Ancona and of the Forum of Adriatic and Ionian Chambers of Commerce to the preparation of the Strategy, as well as for the beautiful location of this event.