Pannonhalma – Ungheria 02 Settembre 2011
“The European Union’s future challenges: economic harmonization and stabilization of our neighbourhood”
Ladies and gentlemen,
I was very honoured to receive the invitation to take part in this important meeting in the magnificent setting of Pannonhalma Abbey. I would like to warmly thank add Reverend Arch Abbot for hosting us today.
Since the first Benedictine monks from Italy settled here more than a thousand years ago, this glorious monastic institution has pumped culture into the very veins of European citizens. This place became an invaluable guardian of European memory. With its outstanding architecture and artistic richness, Pannonhalma stands also as a living testimony to the power of the Christian message.
Today’s gathering brings together the Ambassadors of two countries that were so deeply linked in the past and then tragically separated by the iron curtain. It is a signal of the EU’s ability to cure the grave wounds of the past in the name of common interests and of a shared history. A history that is behind us, but not forgotten.
I viewed the invitation to this meeting as a much appreciated acknowledgement of Italy’s role as a tireless supporter of the EU project. The EU is a community of destiny, not just of procedures. It may suffer and evolve to better face ever-new challenges. But it cannot break up. As a Mediterranean country traditionally looking also towards the Eastern and Balkan regions, Italy bears a special responsibility for the promotion of EU cohesion.
I speak to you today as an active defender, also, of the ancient values and Christian spirit that emanate from the very walls of this Abbey. In joining battle to defend freedom of religion, the Italian Government aims at stressing the role of religious traditions in contributing to peace. To proclaim our identity does not mean opposing that of others. Rather it means revitalizing those universal values that any believer aspires to: solidarity and respect for human nature and dignity. On this, I recognize always the full support of Minister Martonyi and Minister Spindelegger and of the Austrian and Hungarian Governments.
Our independence movement was similar to those of the other nationalities that were part of the Hapsburgs’empire, most notably the Hungarians, with whom we enjoyed close relations at that time. We recall the Hungarian patriots’ participation in Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand, and Lajos Kossuth’s stay in Turin.
2) The European Union: a success story and a force for progress
The European integration process has been a spectacularly successful vehicle enabling both founding countries and later entrants to move on from the tragedies of history and find a new common space of peace and prosperity.
Emerging from the destruction of the Second World War, Italy quickly managed to find its feet thanks to the European Community, which gave us strong leverage to achieve an impressive recovery in just a few decades.
The peaceful European framework granted absolute protection to minorities, thus converting causes of potential tension between member States into factors of mutual enrichment. Alto Adige is one of the most successful examples.
On another level, the prospect of EU accession was perhaps the most relevant factor in Central European countries’ successful transition from soul-crushing, oppressive regimes to free nations. That important step in the EU integration process was also the results of initiatives aimed at overcoming the division in blocks by establishing new links among European countries. I recall to that end that in 1989 Italy and Austria involved Hungary and Yugoslavia in a very farsighted cooperation experience called “Quadrangolare”, which after several changes of the format (Pentagonale and Hexagonale) was finally renamed Central European Initiative in 1992.
Today, the persistent economic crisis is further spreading feelings of alienation and marginalization that could fuel despair. A strong political answer is needed. An answer that reaffirms the main EU goal of prosperity in unity and promotes the values of openness and freedom.
3) The world today: a perfect picture of European Union’s challenges (economic integration and stabilization of our neighbourhood)
I believe that the major challenges facing today’s Europe are just two. That of a truly unified economic policy that is capable of supporting the single currency. And that of attaining a position on the international stage that is on a par with Europe’s power and ambitions.
We would have been hard pressed to find a more timely moment than now to discuss these issues, with the European Union itself in the eye of the financial storm and witness to a highly nervous Mediterranean region.
I will be frank: I feel that the daily panorama of divergences between the countries of Europe could appear – indeed does appear – disheartening for many of us.
Take, for example, the economic crisis. The gap between the advocates of the community method and the last-ditch defenders of national prerogatives, and that between the strongest and weakest performers, does not help integration and the EU credibility.
Or take the Libyan crisis. We run the risk that the constant jostling for a high-profile role could bring national self-interest to prevail and foster a short-term vision of how best to manage – at the regional level – the future of the Mediterranean.
And yet, the rule whereby every crisis is also an opportunity applies here too.
4) A common economic governance. Some positive prospects.
The sovereign debt crisis has in fact prompted the European Union to advance major reforms aimed at reinforcing the governance and stability of the euro area with tools such as the European Financial Stability Facility and the forthcoming European Stability Mechanism.
While trying to react to a hard-hitting financial crisis, we were forced to face up to an obvious reality: no common currency can survive with 27 different fiscal policies! Hence, current upheavals in the financial markets are pressing us to make progress towards increased fiscal policy harmonization by studying all possible measures, including a collective euro-zone bond market.
Italy has done its homework to respond to investors’ concerns. The decision to have the “golden rule” of budget balance enshrined in our Constitution has already been taken. We have already adopted fiscal measures and welfare reforms to reduce our budget deficit by 85 billion Euros, while a new bill to further strengthen fiscal discipline is currently being debated in Parliament. I am convinced that these measures will make a strong contribution to the stability of our economies.
Ladies and gentlemen,
the difficulty of defending the Euro from speculation and avoiding defaults by member countries has led to a very necessary emphasis on austerity and rigour. But also to some needless hesitation and doubts as to the wisdom of assisting partners in trouble.
Europe is our common house. We have built it with patience, hard work and sacrifices. In exchange for the shelter afforded by a more solid roof than our national currencies could provide, we agreed to create the Euro and to give up our sovereign power in monetary policy. If even just one of us tried to remove his own brick, the house would collapse.
In a globalized world we are all interconnected: every single country is affected by what happens on the other side of the globe. But in Europe, interconnection is enhanced by an irreversible story of integration. In our common home, there is no way to protect just a part of the building to the detriment of the rest. A financial crisis may initially affect an individual country. But sitting on the fence would be of no advantage to the others since the crisis could bring down the Euro, thus damaging the national interest of everybody, including those who tried to stay out.
Solidarity is the insurance policy that protects us from the risks of fire and damage to our European home, though each State has its homework, in terms of financial structural reforms to be implemented. That is the very heart of the new Italian Europeism: the best way to defend and promote our national interest is to safeguard the common investment we made many years ago with our European partners. And to make it even safer we do not need less Europe but more Europe. That means a stronger economic governance to support our currency with a focus on growth and a solid political union allowing us to speak with one credible voice to the markets and to implement valid social cohesion policies.
5) Stabilisation and development of neighbouring regions.
The 21st century opened with an unprecedented terrorist attack against America, which threatened to plunge the world into fear and sharpen divisions in the international community. Instead, ten years on we are dealing with an equally decisive event, but one of a positive nature: the Arab spring is opening up new horizons for a more democratic future in the Mediterranean. Never in the future, after this strong wake-up call, EU and the Western world will accept or implement relationships unless a clear framework of human rights, rule of law, democratic principles is set.
Tomorrow conference on Libya to be held in Paris will hopefully mark the beginning of a new phase. Libya has a historic opportunity to become a truly democratic state and we will do our best to help. The last months of war and violence by Gheddafi against its own people have been the terrible price to pay. I take the opportunity to thank Hungary for representing the interests of the EU countries in Libya in a very difficult moment. It has been just one more success out of the very skilful and persevering semester of Hungarian Presidency of the EU.
But what can we do concretely? A tool of proven efficiency in the EU’s arsenal for promoting prosperity, stability and democracy is the European Neighbourhood Policy. We should preserve its unity. We are fully aware of the need to continue to support our eastern neighbours’reform process. In the current situation, however, I am confident that there is a general consensus on the need to devote special attention to our southern partners, if we want to prevent the crisis from becoming entrenched, right on our borders.
Italy has prioritised a number of initiatives such as investments to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and a new Erasmus Programme for the Mediterranean.
But the real priority is to identify additional resources.
By greeting the Arab spring with enthusiasm, the Western world has created huge expectations among the peoples of Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Sustainable development, democratisation, better quality education, growth and more job opportunities: these are just some of the overwhelming challenges they face.
They are counting on us. Failure on our part to give strong and concrete answers now would produce a destabilizing effect in the whole region. Extremists would not miss the opportunity to fill the vacuum.
Times are difficult, I agree. Nevertheless we must be bold, there is too much at stake for all of us.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Enlargement has been one of the main EU policies of the last 20 years. After the fall of the Berlin Wall we knew that it was only by providing a guiding hand from the EU and using its force of attraction that we could extend the area of stability and democracy. These reasons still hold for the Western Balkans.
In that region, encouraging developments coexist with persistent strains. Still, there is no alternative to an European perspective. The Italian leadership in pursuing that goal is demonstrated by our constant and intense work to develop tighter political and economical relationships and by our relevant participation in all of international missions, like KFOR, EULEX Kosovo or Bosnia Althea. I wish to acknowledge the Austrian and Hungarian support to this strategic process aimed at the stabilisation of the whole region. Our Croatian friends will soon be part of the European family. We celebrate that and hope that this success will act as a catalyst for the other countries.
Our agenda has to be ambitious. That is why Italy has always supported Turkey’s integration. Its pivotal role in the Mediterranean has been confirmed by recent events. Still, Turkish-EU relations are now at a very critical phase. The debate will go on but I wish to pose a very simple question: looking at the ongoing transformation of our world, can anybody really think that it is in our interest to cut Turkey off from its European aspirations? I think not.
Finally, let me spend some words on what I believe to be an additional, very innovative tool to promote concrete, common interests. I refer to the new EU Macro-Regional Strategies.
As you know, Italy has a strong interest in the development of an Adriatic-Ionian Macro-Region involving countries marked by close interdependence and physical and cultural proximity. A fresh, macro-regional approach to that wide area seems to me both timely and highly useful.
I am confident that both Austria and Hungary will help us with this initiative, which is certainly complementary to the Baltic and Danube strategies and which can find a support in other multilateral fora we all belong to, like the CEI.
Austria, Hungary and Italy together represent the connection between two long-standing EU “souls”: one looking to the South and one to the East. We can consider ourselves a symbolic hinge that does not divide but brings together, thanks to our excellent relations and cultural affinity.
The move towards an enhanced European framework, in both the economic and foreign policy fields, is becoming more and more urgent.
The Lisbon Treaty has given us new instruments. As the future operational arm of our foreign policy, the EEAS is a very necessary “school” for our civil servants to learn to develop and communicate a proper European approach and vision. I can assure you that Italian Ambassadors the world over will always be ready to work with all of you, their colleagues, to achieve our common goals.