OUR BALKANS-THE FRAGILE HEART OF OUR EUROPE
A few decades ago Europe was demolished and its people were desperate. It needed reconstruction, and it needed reconciliation. The European Union brought lasting peace, stability, security and the promise of more prosperity and a better life. Back then the "raison d'être" for European cooperation and integration was more than obvious. That original reason is just as valid today, even if we now sometimes rather foolishly take those achievements for granted.
The fact is that Europe has changed since then. It is a good place to live – peaceful, secure and rich - and many are wondering why we should continue strengthening our cooperation and integration. The rest of world has also changed, one could say dramatically, especially in the last two decades. We are more interconnected and more interdependent. Developing countries, like China and India, are catching up fast; the world is becoming increasingly multi-polar. Many of the challenges we face, such as climate change, future energy supply, potential pandemics and other health issues, shortages of food and drinking water, security… are becoming more and more global. And competition is getting even fiercer. In a way one could say that the world in which we live is more fragile and precarious than ever.
Two concepts will determine our common future life. The first is sustainability, not only environmental, but sustainability in its widest sense. We have learned from the current financial and economic crisis that economies and profits should also be sustainable. The second concept is global governance. This has become obviously necessary as the world has turned into a mutually interdependent global village and our individual and collective responsibilities have substantially increased.
The World needs a responsible Europe, a Europe that is able to speak with one voice, a Europe which can take the leading role globally when needed, for example in the case of climate change. But it is not only the World that needs a stronger Europe; we Europeans also need a stronger Europe, a Europe capable of dealing with the changed reality in which we live.
While the original "raison d'être" for our cooperation is still there and valid, new global developments are clearly an additional reason for strengthening Europe’s role, an additional "raison d'être" for our strengthened cooperation.
The Balkans are part of Europe, geographically, culturally, historically, economically, in fact in every way you can imagine…The fact is that all Balkan countries would today be members of the European Union if the recent terrible war in the region had been avoided. But it was not. It happened, and it is a reminder to all of us of how fragile Europe, and especially this region, still is. The time horizon for the countries in the region has changed. Membership has been pushed back, for some more than others. Slovenia was wise enough, and lucky enough, to escape. An important message of hope and determination to continue with the enlargement policy was given to the region in a recent announcement of the target date for the accession of Croatia.
The European Union's behaviour in those critical times was far from appropriate and desirable. Its reaction to the emerging conflict was not expressed with the clear voice and determination that was needed. We should not forget that. For this reason we have a kind of moral duty and obligation to help the region and to correct some of those unfortunate facts.
All the so-called Western Balkan countries clearly have a European Union perspective. This perspective is as important for them individually as it is also for their region and the whole of Europe. It is about their peace, their stability and their prosperity, but it is also about European peace, stability and prosperity. Even if Europe's many other problems (like the current fight against the financial and economic crises) are often more visible, many of us are highly aware that enlargement was - and still is – the most successful European policy. The countries in the Balkan region should therefore "keep alive" a belief in the European Union and in Europe, while at the same time the European Union should "keep alive" the enlargement policy and process, including the European perspective of all Western Balkan countries (and Turkey, of course). What I learned as Head of Slovenia's Negotiation Team for its accession to the European Union is that the European Union keeps its promises, and that there are many friends in European institutions ready to help. Don't forget, there are even more of us here today.
There is no doubt that the Balkan people have strong potential. Just think of their unforgettable movies, literature and music, or scientific genius like that of Nikola Tesla. Who could forget the imagination and the unpredictable creativity of many of their athletes? All these people bring their unlimited talents to various areas of our lives.
I am currently responsible in the European Commission for the Environment and in my previous mandate I was responsible for Science and Research. Both areas are vital for any country's future, prosperity and quality of life.
Cooperation is like blood for our organs. In research we are trying to build a strong European Research Area, enabling an open market place for talents and ideas to circulate. Of course all Member States are part of that approach, but we are trying to enlarge it beyond the Union borders by associating countries with the European Framework and Research Area. Associated members have practically the same rights and obligations as all Member States. In a way, they are already members of the Union in the area of science and research. When I joined the European Commission none of the so-called Western Balkan countries was associated, and by the end of my mandate all of them were. The philosophy behind that approach is simple. It is based on the logic of integrating the region as soon as possible, and as much as possible, into the European Union. It is based on the logic of help through the strengthening of domestic capacities!
The project of Sarajevo Notebooks is unique. It emerged from the initiative of a group of prominent writers and intellectuals from all of the Balkan countries. The importance of this project is in its ability to promote cooperation and build bridges, thus embracing the idea of cultural identity, whilst at the same time recognizing our differences as a source of richness. This project not only plays an important part in strengthening regional cooperation, it reveals to the rest of Europe the high philosophical and literary standards coming from this - in many respects - stigmatised region. A region whose culture includes all the fundamental characteristics of spiritual dimensions that are genuinely European. It reminds us that Europe is also there, rich and diverse – something that is of course so easily understandable for all of us who used to live together in the former Yugoslavia.
For many years this project has gathered intellectuals from the region. On the one hand, the contributing authors promote intellectual and artistic excellence and, on the other hand, they give voice to the urgent need to adopt a democratic European spirit in reciprocal contacts and links. You provide proof, by clear example, that lively dialogue is indeed possible. And more than this, proof that such dialogue - although fragile and in need of outside assistance - can and should be developed in the region itself.
Dear friends, your mission is truly noble. You have been for years sharing the hope of understanding and cooperation, tolerance and readiness for listening and understanding others. You are building dialogue bridges between young generations of writers in the region and replacing hate with hope. Hope that we are able to live together in harmony. Sarajevo Notebooks are the lighthouse for the region and for Europe. They are bringing back that same Olympic spirit which died on the blood-stained streets of Sarajevo some years ago.
Rest reassured that also in Brussels we admire your work, your sincere fight for a better world out there, in your region, in my region. One should believe in one's own abilities, in one's own strengths, in one's own future. One should believe that borders, be they on the ground, in the air or sea, or even more importantly in our heads, can fall. And the process of European integration is exactly the process in which the borders are falling, slowly but steadily, especially the ones in our heads.
Sarajevo Notebooks are strengthening the beating of our fragile Balkan European heart. It echoes loud and far … worthy of the support it receives!