Opportunities Seized, Opportunities Missed Ten years in the European Union

House of Hungarians, Budapest


Ladies and gentlemen,
I believe that today's debate is extremely useful not only in view of looking back to the past, but to examine the pros and cons, 10 years after the Big Bang of 2004, which allowed reuniting Europe; for that reason I would like to thank the Hungarian Government for having promoted this meeting at such a high level.

I remember that in 2003, during the Italian semester of the EU Presidency, all my colleagues, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, representing the future new members of the Union, were sitting around our working table, already participating regularly in meetings, such as the Intergovernmental Conference that had the ambition to establish a new Constitutional Treaty for the European Union. I had the honour of chairing the Conference in my quality of Italian Foreign Minister, and I remember well the contributions provided by the colleagues of Hungary, Poland, and the Baltic countries, who were about to join us formally as full members of our large family only a few months later. No one could find any difference between the "old Europe" and - I am using the quotation marks - the “new Europe" in terms of quality and authority of their contribution.

The truth, dear friends, is that all countries that in 2004 - exactly 10 years ago - have become full members of our great family, were already Europeans. They have been Europeans for centuries: for their history, their culture, and their traditions. Only the drama of the division of the world into two blocs had been able to keep them separated from their natural home, the House of Europe, and that's why I don't like talking about the enlargement, but about the reunification of our continent. A reunification that was not merely geographical because, for example, a country like Hungary has always been, and will always be, deeply European: geographically, culturally, and historically. It has been an institutional reunification.

The great path of the EU integration cannot even remotely be completed without that great stage of reunification. My country has always believed in the importance for us of overcoming barriers, walls, and finally joining together in this great common goal that is the European Union. In the light of the results that have been achieved, the reunification of Europe was a big step that has brought great benefits to all of us. That is why I want to state very clearly that the path of reunification should not, and cannot, stop.

When I was the Vice President of the European Commission, I accompanied Romania's and Bulgaria’s accession to the Union; I followed very important negotiating chapters for Croatia, which joined our common Home last year, and I am absolutely convinced that the path of reunification of Europe must not stop here, but must continue in the Western Balkan region where one can breathe the history of Europe. Let us think of Belgrade, let us think of Sarajevo: we are certainly thinking of peoples who already feel close to the European family and that are longing to become full members of this great family someday - and they're right.

The path of the European integration and the extraordinary step of reunification of 2004 have enriched the ideals that the founding fathers of Europe - from Adenauer to De Gasperi, from Schuman to Altiero Spinelli and Jean Monnet - had drawn many decades ago. In particular, stability, prosperity and peace. Well, there is no doubt that after the fall of the Berlin wall, the path that led to the accession of the countries of Eastern Europe certainly gave crucial impetus to peace and stability. It has been the magnet that has allowed us to stabilize important regions close to the borders of Europe, which only two decades ago seemed in the grip of a relentless disintegration, nationalisms and terrible ethnic clashes, while today are irreversibly in the process of joining the European family.

I am referring to the Western Balkan region, for which the European Union has been able to exercise a role of attraction, has acted as a magnet, to defeat the most extremist impulses, the most nationalist instincts. That is already a great achievement, but it’s not the only one. The contribution of the new Member States from 2004 to date is an important contribution to enrich the potential of Europe from the point of view of economy, development, and infrastructure.

Your contribution is essential for defining – finally, I hope - even a common European energy policy, which we feel particularly necessary, at a time when relations with Russia have become more complex and more critical. It is a time when I think it is in the common interest of the European Union, of the whole European Union, on the one hand, strengthening our common strategy for energy security, while on the other hand, working with determination to lower the tension, avoiding to rebuild walls and obstacles to the East, thus falling again into the devastating atmosphere of a new Cold War.

While I was the Vice President of the European Commission, I had the honour of leading the enlargement of the Schengen area - coordinating the relating process. We accorded to the citizens of a very large Europe the right to free movement within the common borders: that is perhaps one of the greatest expressions of freedom of the person. And I recall with some excitement when, in December 2007 (in some cases being alone, while in other cases I was accompanying President Barroso), we went to some border posts, where, up to 20 years before, people were shooting each other. We opened those borders, where deeply moved people could finally pass from side to side freely and safely: the frontiers between Poland and Germany, the Baltic Sea maritime borders, or that wall which divided in two a town in my country, the city of Gorizia, from Nova Gorica in Slovenia. On that evening of December 2007, many people remembered when they were trying to escape from Yugoslavia to Italy through that wall.

We tend to take all these results for granted. That is wrong, because we should instead recall what Europe was without this great family reunified, what Europe was without the right to free movement, without a common market that has cut down customs barriers. We should certainly consider what would be the cost of less Europe, and less European integration, to citizens and businesses. It would be a very high cost. We must say it clearly to all those for which populism and anti-Europeanism constitute some slogans useful to incite citizens’ hidden fears in the present difficult moment of exit from the dramatic global economic crisis.

The reunification of Europe has certainly brought more wealth and more prosperity to all of us: to me, an Italian of the old Europe; to you, Hungarian friends who have a history and a culture which are also ancient and secular, but only ten years ago you were still required to show your Passport to cross the border.

All of you, friends of Central and Eastern Europe, have made sacrifices, you have complied with the rules, you followed the parameters that the European Union had indicated as conditions to become full members of our common family. But I think that those results, those reforms, those benefits and also those sacrifices have been made especially in the interests of your peoples, and not because they were in the interest of some bureaucracy in Brussels.

I believe that this should be the political message for the future of our European integration: a message of political integration, not of bureaucratic prevalence; a message where the substance of the rights and aspirations of Peoples prevails over the formal rules and formalistic principles; a future political integration where there is not only the principle of the common currency for those who have it, or the principle of the common market (that we have all), but there is also a future of political integration for security, for the great choices of international politics. I hope we will never see again a Europe going in no particular order as it has been at the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, or again when it was faced with prospects of an escalation of war in Syria, or even when dealing with the acknowledgement of the Palestinian status at the United Nations or with the prospects of solution of the negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

I believe that the contribution of history, feeling, and national traditions of your countries, of your peoples, of the ethnic and linguistic minorities, are all factors of great wealth. I state this as an Italian who is familiar with the Italian linguistic minorities in South Tyrol or in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and who thinks that the respect for minorities, as well as for the history and for the local and regional cultures, in each of our countries, is an added value that makes the whole Europe stronger.

To do that, to continue with the process of political integration, we need political leadership, clear ideas and a vision. And let me once again remember here a founding father of our Europe, my great countryman, President De Gasperi, and his famous vision of statesman who looks to the next generation, and who is not just willing to win the next election.

That is exactly the far-sighted leadership we need, just a few weeks from those European elections which perhaps will give birth to a Parliament strongly conditioned by those who do not want Europe, who think that disintegration and the return to nationalism are better; or rather - as I hope - to a Parliament with a majority that believes in Europe, in its prospects for political integration, a Parliament which firmly believes in the fact that Europe is an opportunity and not the problem; that Europe should be closer to the people and citizens in everyday life, and should not simply dictate from Brussels complicated rules that nobody understands.

Your contribution has been, and will be, increasingly important in helping us in reaching this goal: growing Europe through its change, changing Europe from inside for the better, and not aseptically opposing it from the barricades. Making the citizens understand that the era of indiscriminate austerity, rigor without results for growth and for development has come to an end, while the moment of courage, investment, the challenge on the younger generation and their potential is arrived. The time has come to think that because we're all in the same boat, it is in the interest of all that the boat is strengthened, not weakened.

Dear friends, no European country, not even the biggest and the strongest among us, is able to navigate alone in the ocean of globalization of opportunities, but also of challenges and risks. Only a politically integrated Europe can overcome these challenges. And that is why your contribution over the next 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, will be a constructive contribution where your country and your People will enhance - day after day - what the founding fathers had shown: stability, prosperity, security and peace.

These are all political messages, not messages that we can entrust to the hands of a purely bureaucratic leadership, or to palace manoeuvres, where a small group of people meet together and decide what will be the future of the European institutions and who will be their Chairmen. This is not possible. The principle of the equal dignity of all members of the European Union is a pillar of the Union, and woe to those who put that in doubt.

Thank you for your attention.