EU and the new challenges of the XXI century

Lectio Magistralis of Franco Frattini at the University of Sofia, 17th November 2015

When, back in the 1950s, the founding fathers of the European Union thought of their dream of integration, they had in their mind a deeply political project. The historical letter sent by Schumann in 1950 outlining his idea of Europe contained a project where political integration was the aim, economic integration was a tool and an intermediate step, and its final destination was an integrated continent with a leading role on the international stage.

Over the years this project became more clear, for example through the efforts made by Alcide De Gasperi, another of Europe’s founding fathers, who supported the European defence project that failed because of the French refusal by De Gaulle to join a project that somehow exceeded or accompanied the national armed forces. Consequently, the European dream of De Gasperi, the dream of a strong Europe in foreign and defence policy, met its first major setback.

Certainly, after many decades, Europe has made extraordinary steps forward. We have defined a common market; we have abolished customs and customs duties; we have launched a major project of economic governance; through the Maastricht Treaty, we have defined a single European currency, the Euro, with the possibility of adopting it recognized to all EU member countries that so desire and which meet all the parameters and requirements. An open, inclusive project that – if future conditions will allow that – will involve all the members of the European Union.

I believe, ladies and gentlemen, dear students, that nobody should forget – not even for a moment – that in the midst of the dramatic economic and financial crisis which has hit Europe in the most recent years, the interventions of the European Central Bank (a further tool coming from the great strategy implemented in Maastricht) constituted the only strong and, thankfully, insurmountable barrier against international speculation that hit the various country-systems, government bonds, stock-exchanges, and could possibly lead to the collapse of some less economically strong countries.

Although these interventions concerned only the Eurozone Member countries, no doubt those injections of liquidity, the flow to national systems granting credit to small businesses, companies, citizens, have led a turnaround thanks to the so-called “quantitative easing”, strongly wanted by the ECB and its President, my fellow countryman professor Mario Draghi; this is a turning point we must not take for granted, and for which we must recognize this European instrument functioned well.

Then, now, what is Europe really missing in its path towards its further integration? What’s missing? Which political steps haven’t we accomplished, if we think about what the founding fathers had before their eyes already in the 1950s?

What has been missing so far – and is still missing – is the transition from a strong economic integration to a political governance of the European economy, starting with the Eurozone (but not only); and certainly even the action, the political leadership, which in my opinion would be essential for the European integration, in the two key areas of foreign policy and defence policy: two sectors which are absolutely essential if we want that our Europe has its place in the world.

You have studied, you are researchers, you know Europe; so there is no need for me to point out that in the globalized world no country – not even the biggest, the strongest – is able to act all alone; not even a small group of countries, albeit important, albeit strong, could guide alone the solution of the crises that are ravaging entire regions of the world. I think in particular of the Middle East, I think of the most ill-fated areas which faced and still face Daesh terrorism, the so-called Caliphate; I think of the unstoppable crisis in Libya and Somalia, and in the Saharan Africa. All I have mentioned is about the Mediterranean basin, a region where Europe should be the main actor and unfortunately it is not. Let’s think of the large negotiations that have characterized the agreement to stop the nuclear proliferation program of Iran. Europe was present but – as it is obvious to all – the agreement was reached because the United States and Russia, with China’s support, fortunately found an agreement on the parameters that could be accepted by Iran, and then resulted in the signature of this agreement in Vienna.

If I think of another time in our most recent past, I could quote the Minsk agreement between Russia and Ukraine: I hope it will be fully applied and implemented. However, the Minsk agreement should have shown the Europe’s signature, the signature of those who represent it, and not only the laudable initiative of two European countries’ prominent leaders (Germany and France). Europe was absent, and not only on that occasion.

Yet, ladies and gentlemen, dear students, when Europe has been able to delineate a line, a strategic action, with a shared vision, in its external policies or in those concerning the nearby areas, then Europe has been successful. Probably, the most successful case in the last twenty years was when Europe could outline a strategy for the Western Balkans that, through the dissolution of Tito’s Yugoslavia, albeit at the cost of great sufferings (even implying an action where Europe, NATO, and the United Nations have done much – and had to do much), has led to avoid new nationalisms, new extremisms: a path where the Western Balkan countries recognize themselves as part of Europe, in the name of an accession which for some has already become a reality, and for others is becoming a reality in the future.

It is clear that this is the context where we can identify the path that led to the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union: a path which I have contributed to, as a Commissioner, and Vice-President of the Commission, even with negotiations on most delicate and sensitive dossiers. I remember the negotiations here in Sofia, on the chapters relating to justice, the fight against corruption, security, where this country has made enormous strides, although still further progress must be made.

Therefore this success story, the enlargement itself, the strategy for the Balkans, the reunification of the countries who had known the drama of Communist totalitarianism, all of them represent a time when Europe was an important actor on international politics.

Why doesn’t the same happen again on other occasions? I wonder why Europe is divided when we think about the Middle East, between countries that voted in favour of the recognition of the Palestinian State, others who abstained, while others voted against. Certainly Europe has not exercised its weight.

And again, when it comes to define our line of action against Israel… There are people who have doubts about the non-negotiable right of Israel to defend itself, its own security.

Therefore, in situations of extreme delicacy or of extreme gravity, Europe has not been able – and still it is not able – to work out its own foreign policy process. If I think of the Mediterranean region, despite the important initiative which was adopted in order to establish a Naval Mission for prevention (but also to fight) human trafficking, a European Union Naval Mission, when we come to the practical aspects of this mission, well…, it cannot simply function, because Europe has not obtained from the Security Council the adoption of a resolution allowing armed enforcement proceedings against the traffickers yet, including the destruction of the boats carrying the desperate people arriving on the shores of Europe. So, in that case, we have a mission which is relevant in its objectives, a European one -because it derives from a unanimous agreement among the European countries – which is essentially paralyzed, because Europe is unable to play a strong role today before the Security Council: for example, in order to obtain a resolution on Libya, a resolution we have been waiting for too long and which has not arrived yet.

Those examples I’m recalling with deep sadness – I have to say, because I am one of those who would really want a Europe united on foreign policy and defence and security – those examples demonstrate that more still needs to be done and the obstacles are certainly not technical: they are rather political.

A long way back in 2003 Italy had the honour – due to the rotating Presidency of the European Union – to negotiate a reform of the treaties, which led, after important agreements, to what we called the “Constitutional Treaty” of the European Union. Personally, in my quality of Italian Foreign Minister, I chaired the Foreign Affairs Council at that time. The Treaty, as you know, never entered into force, because the French and the Dutch, after a referendum, rejected it, fearing an excessive integration: therefore, they unfortunately showed that the leadership of those countries had not been able to explain, to convoy a vote for Europe, instead of a vote against Europe.

The Lisbon Treaty was adopted instead: certainly less ambitious, when compared to the Constitutional Treaty signed in Rome, but definitely the best possible compromise, under the circumstances, given the times, given the still recent eco of the French and Dutch rejection of the Treaty of Rome (it was the year 2008). Well, in the Lisbon Treaty, instruments exist – and they are all institutional instruments – which allow, for example, establishing an enhanced cooperation, like the one that was established a long time ago for the common currency, the euro, among a group of at least nine countries that decide in the field of defence and security, to begin with. That wouldn’t certainly be the European army: conditions do not allow that, and I think conditions will not be favourable for a long, long time yet. But it would be an extraordinary step forward, if countries like Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Poland, countries with a tradition of the armed forces, and already used at international engagement in the Atlantic Alliance, decided along with others – and why not Bulgaria? – to share some of the strategies, and especially some of the resources for security and defence.

I know that some pilot projects have been launched, I know that there are the so called “battle groups” which have worked however quite bad so far. And I know that joint battalions’ initiatives are being established between pairs of countries: my country is participating in initiatives of this kind. But pilot experiments are experiments which are totally distant from an institutional system able to bring countries next to each other in order to share strategies, resources and means, a group of countries, under the Lisbon Treaty, and in accordance with the rules that we follow.

However, a political precondition is needed in order to make all this really happen: the political leaders of the Governments should understand that more integration in the field of defence, foreign policy, security policy and in the fight against terrorism, does not mean a concession of sovereignty: it is not a waiver of the national interests, but it is instead an act of force, an act that would make our Europe stronger.

It is therefore obvious that, if the political leadership will still be missing, there won’t be any way to explain people and parliaments that a more United Europe in outlining strategies for common foreign, security and defence policies means a Europe that weighs more in the world, representing a global actor that can sit as an interlocutor credible, to be listened at, at the tables where global powers from China to India, to the United States, to Russia already sit; tables where certainly the largest and most powerful among the European countries has and would have a minor or even marginal role, if alone.

I see the need for a common European policy in order to tackle challenges that affect us directly. I think of the last global challenges: migration, the plight of refugees, a challenge that this country, Bulgaria, as a transit country, has known and still knows, and that my country, Italy, has known for years and years with hundreds of thousands people arriving on the southern coast of Sicily, fleeing from wars, famine, ethnic ravages.

This challenge cannot be the challenge of Bulgaria, of Italy, of Hungary. It must be the common challenge of Europe. This challenge has not been met so far, because of national egoisms, of the willingness of countries who preferred attracting the votes of political extremists and xenophobes rather than outlining a strong and courageous policy explaining the world – but above all their own peoples – that Europe has the pride to be the land of rights and opportunities (we even gained the Nobel Peace Prize!). The disgrace of desperate people fleeing war who nevertheless are not accepted, is a shame that we should absolutely delete.

Europe failed even on that ground. How many summits of Heads of Government have unnecessarily confirmed that there were agreements already on the paper and never translated into reality? Agreements, which provided and provide for solidarity with the most vulnerable Countries, transit countries such as Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovakia. Transit countries such as Italy, like little Malta, are asking for solidarity, shared responsibility and burden sharing. However, so far no agreement has been translated into reality.

And, you see, it is not credible that Europe, facing the world, solemnly promises to allocate some two billion euros for development, the growth of the countries of North Africa, the Mediterranean basin, or the countries of origin of migratory flows, and even today, after those commitments by the heads of Government, the European Commission tells us that only 28 million have been earmarked – out of two billion solemnly promised.

You understand that the world, which is watching us, watching our Europe, cannot help evaluating actions such as those in terms of low credibility.

So, ladies and gentlemen, dear students, it is necessary to have a vision. I don’t think in today’s Europe there are personalities able to drive or tow Europe all alone. I don’t believe neither in the German traction nor in the French-German axis; I do not even believe in small groups of countries. I believe in an integrated Europe where all countries share, proportionately, the common responsibilities, where there are no series A and series B countries.

But this vision requires a political leadership in the capitals and in Brussels, and it is a political leadership that, frankly, I can’t see so far. There is unfortunately a global framework in which leaderships got weakened. The disengagement of the United States of America from the Mediterranean is a fact that worries me a lot, and certainly, the absence of Europe can be perceived.

Finally, we must not look at the amendment of the treaties; we must not look at the integration or the changes to the pacts that have been reached. We have to look at the political choices instead. Political decisions can be taken thanks to the already existing institutional tools. But if we do not add the strength of the political choice to the institutional tool, Europe will go on without having a common foreign policy: before the eyes of the world Europe will still be divided, it will continue not to play that role as an actor, as a producer of security in the fight against terrorism, in the military operations for peace, which should belong to Europe. Europe, as a whole, has been and is still a consumer instead of a producer of security. Looking at the catastrophic terrorist attacks on Paris, we have see how little a big and strong country like France can do alone. We must have more intelligence and police cooperation, we should not allow for save heavens for terrorists on our cities and quartiers. These live as our neighbours, while plotting to kill all of us. Zero tolerance in Europe, shared measures to track the suspects, their mobiles and electronic devices, their movements, and let’s have much tougher criminal legal measure to keep them in life isolation imprisonment. And please, don’t speak about dialogue or trying to understand on those that aim at destroying our civilisation!.

Europe would deserve a role for historical reasons: for example, Europe, first and foremost Europe, should engage in the Mediterranean, without waiting for the armed forces brought here by our American friends from overseas, or by Russia on the eastern side. But if Europe is absent, if Europe is not there, others will take that place and terrorists will enjoy that vacuum for their bloody objectives.

If by chance Europe would be replaced in Northern Africa by the Gulf monarchies, by Arab countries, and they would take that place without Europe, my concern increases. I would not like the combination of economic factors, poverty, despair, lack of development, and political factors, extremisms, the massive conflict between Shiites and Sunnis in the Arab world, I would not like seeing Europe paying an even higher price, with a growing crisis in the Mediterranean region, whose consequences we will inevitably pay, if all those factors combine.

Speaking of the Mediterranean region, I would rather increase my horizon: it is a region that includes Turkey, which includes the Black Sea, which looks to the Caucasus and involves Bulgaria as a frontier country, like Italy in southern Europe; therefore, it calls for the responsibility of this country, as it calls for the responsibility of all countries, without exception, which think and want Europe as a credible, respected, reputable and efficient actor on the international scene.

You may wonder if this is just a dream. I would rather say it is an urgent necessity, because the world and the bad in the world go faster than bureaucratic decisions, the world does not wait for the choices of others, does not wait for the choices of our Europe. If these choices will be missing, someone else will occupy the place that we have left vacant. Thank you.

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