Poštovani poslanici, velika mi je čast, da budem u zemlji u kojoj se osećam kao kod kuće.
Dragi premijer [Aleksandar Vučić], dragi ministri,
Dear Ambassadors, friends,
It is really an honour to be here in the home of Serbian democracy. It always an honour for me to address a parliament having been a member of a national Parliament myself. I missed some of the parliamentary dynamics so it is a good opportunity for me also to get a little bit of that. In the Italian parliament I have a long experience with that. Thank you for offering me this opportunity.
As we start the reflection on the future of the European Union, my message to Serbia, and to the whole region, is that the future of the European Union will not be at 27, because for one Member State that will eventually leave the Union, new Member States will come in. And I am convinced that Serbia will be one of them.
I remember very well that during my second visit to Belgrade – my first one in this capacity -, Prime Minister [Aleksandar] Vučić and myself were standing in front of the press, in 2015, and I was saying clearly that we would have opened chapters for negotiations within the year. At that time many were sceptical about that and still we did it. Thanks also to your work, your determination, and I would like also to thank this Parliament, all of it, the government and Prime Minister Vučić for the hard work we did together and that is already bringing excellent results.
The direction you choose for Serbia does not only matter for your citizens; but it matters for millions of proud and hopeful Serbians. Your decisions here – because I guess you also take decisions on top of this – matter for the stability of this region but also for the entire European continent.
Over the past few years, the direction you have chosen for Serbia has been very clear. Serbia is moving steadily on its path towards the European Union, with important results. Just days ago, at the beginning of this week, we opened two new chapters in our negotiations after four other chapters were opened last year. And I know very well that opening chapter is not necessarily a thing that your citizens expect, but this translates into real reforms that make a difference for real people, for businesses, for economic growth, for rule of law, justice and for your citizens.
You have taken bold and decisive steps towards change, to move your country forward. You see better than anyone else the huge potential of this country and of the Serbian people. So you are right to be ambitious. Today I would like to assure you that we are ambitious too. My speech is long, so be prepared.
We care about Serbia. We care about Serbia, we care about its present and about its future. Because both your present and your future is linked to the present and the future of the European Union. Not only the door of the European Union is wide open for Serbia, we look forward to welcoming you inside our community. This is not a distant dream, this is a concrete project we are together working on.
I believe our Union will not be complete as long as Serbia, and all the Western Balkans, will not join our family. This country and this region lie at the very heart of Europe. The history of Europe was written in these lands, throughout the centuries. I just learnt a few hours ago that 18 of the Ottoman Empires were born in this land. Our ties go back in history some thousands of years. It’s a history with many dark pages, indeed. It’s a history that has too much violence in it; in this region but also in the rest of Europe. But it is also a history of ground-breaking scientific discoveries, and noble traditions transmitted throughout the centuries. It’s a history that deserves to be represented better than this; it’s a history that deserves to be represented better than this; it’s a history that needs to be honoured through a joint celebration of our European identity; it’s a history of arts, literature, of rights and liberties.
It will only mean that Serbia joins the Union as soon as we manage to advance together. I only mention one thing that makes Serbia part of our common European heritage. It is Serbia that gave birth to one of the first constitutions of Europe, back in 1835, based on the separation of powers and on the protection of all citizens before the State.
Our common future has deep roots; they are strong. It is based on our common history, but – I would like to stress this – it is based on the strength of our relationship in the present and the need we have for the future. The European Union is already the first trading partner for Serbia: almost two thirds of your exports are headed towards the European Union and more than three quarters of foreign investments in this country come from the European Union, creating jobs and opportunities for Serbians every single day. We have a very clear immediate interest in deepening our cooperation.
And in fact, our cooperation has already intensified. When we worked on the European Union’s Global Strategy for foreign and security policy, my team came here to Belgrade to discuss together priorities and expectations because we want to discuss and plan the future of our Union together because we know that you will be part of that Union.
The challenges you face are the same challenges we face. We are together on that, be it the fight transnational organised crime; be it the management of migration or refugee flows; be it ensuring energy security or, overall, the security of our citizens. It is not idealism that tells us that we are bound together. It’s realism and interests that tells us that we need each another.
This message becomes even more important today, in a delicate moment for this region and for the whole of Europe.
The impressive progress of Serbia, and of all the Western Balkans, is endangered by a growing sense of uncertainty in the world and in the region. We live in a fragile world, in constant evolution and the global balance of power is shifting – sometimes it is not even clear where the real power truly lies. The pressure on this delicate region is growing. Peace itself cannot be taken for granted anymore. Stability today requires a greater investment from all of us. Because without peace and without reconciliation, progress in any other field is at risk, first of all in the field of economy.
This was the original intuition leading to the birth of a united Europe, exactly sixty years ago. We will celebrate sixty years of the Treaty of Rome in a few weeks from now. After we had fought each other for centuries and in the most violent war humanity has ever seen – the 2nd World War -, Europeans realised that it was much more convenient for all of us to establish a regional economic cooperation to do business together rather than to do war to each other. And the European Union was born like this.
That is how it started: an economic cooperation project, then it grew as a peace project, and it is still the most successful peace and economic project in human history. The people of Italy, of Germany, of France – we understood that none of us could prosper in war times while all of us could benefit from peace and cooperation. Instead of waging war for our borderlands, we turned those regions into the powerhouse of our common growth. And it worked – and it still works, despite everything.
To preserve growth and prosperity in this region, peace and stability are essential. And Serbia’s importance to regional stability is impossible to overstate.
So I am particularly grateful to you, to your government, to your Prime Minister, to your Parliament – all of it – for Serbia’s continued commitment to this European Union integration path, but also to regional cooperation and dialogue.
And yet our common achievements are still very fragile and precarious. A new destabilisation of this region would hamper your economic development, scare foreign investors – and I am not sure this is what your people want -, endanger the progress you have so hardly worked for. All of this is at risk. There would be no glory for anyone if a new escalation of tensions arises. There would but problems for all.
This is why we are investing so much energy in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and in regional cooperation.
The entire region is going through a very, very delicate moment and this country is not an exception. If you count on me to get tired of this, you are miscalculated. The entire region is going through a very difficult moment – and I understand you, you have a long electoral campaign to run so you maybe you will need your voice to speak to your citizens – extreme polarisation and resurgent ethnic tensions. I know it is difficult and history is recent. But let me tell you: Serbia’s role is key, is crucial. Not only for Serbia but for all of us, you have a big responsibility in your hands.
Serbia has always lived at the crossroads of different worlds, and the traditional labels of “East” and “West” have never been enough for this country. You have taught us this and you should not simplify your identity with one label rather than the other. You have chosen to defy the traditional classifications, your identity – you taught us – is both Eastern and Western, and unique, at the same time. This has made you, Serbia, the pivot between worlds and cultures, in constant dialogue with both sides, reaching out beyond past and present fracture lines. And I am more than confident that Serbia will continue to live out of this richness.
Let me tell you that I see a very important place for Serbia, and for this “vocation”, inside the European Union. Europe today is a global power. Some do not like it, but it is the reality. It is an autonomous player and a cooperative power in the international arena. We define our interests, our values, and we look for partners sharing our principles and our interests as well. Membership of our Union is not – and will never be – a declaration of hostilities against anyone. We do not do politics against others. We find common ground, we build bridges and we listen to each other. Our mentality is not based on blocs or spheres of influence. We know that reality is much more complex than that; it is not black and white, never. We do not define our identity against anyone. We are Union for peace, for democracy, for rule of law, for economic growth.
These are our goals, this is what we want for our citizens, in the Union and in all of Europe. And I know this is what you want for your citizens too. And these are the foundations for cooperation with our partners, the fundamental of our common agenda.
On economic growth, Serbia has achieved impressive results in recent years. I was looking at the economic growth forecast and I think you can be proud of it. This is thanks to the reforms you have managed to put in place. Serbia can continue this change and the accession agenda includes the right tools to do so. Because a stronger rule of law with a more predictable business environment, with better services for all citizens Serbia will also attract more investments from abroad and create new jobs.
You are now entering an important electoral campaign – you have entered it already, that is quite self-evident – and the people of Serbia will have the opportunity to choose democratically, rationally, listening to the arguments, listening to the real facts and proposals. You are also facing the opportunity to choose a vision for your future. Whatever the outcome of the vote, the European Union looks forward to working with the new President and the government on Serbia’s path towards our Union.
In such an important moment in this country’s history, it is crucial that all the people of Serbia – all of them – engage and find their place in the fundamental choices you make. And here the role of members of parliament is crucial. You are the vital link between citizenship and the institutions. You have a shared responsibility to play.
Inside the European Union, for far too long we forgot to talk about the real benefits of the European Union for our citizens. This whole process that we call the European Union integration path sometimes sounds technical and even abstract. But it is concrete, it is real, it makes a difference for businesses, for citizens, every single day of our life.
And it is about a better bureaucracy, one that helps the citizens and business instead of standing in their way. It is about an independent and fair judicial, one that business people citizens can fully trust. It is about connections across Europe, so that our exports – including your exports – can be traded more easily and boost growth, including in Serbia.
So, I am sure this agenda is one you all support. Serbia has done a lot in recent years. And now, you can keep pushing the country forward as Serbs ask for. You can be a partner for stability in the entire region, in the Western Balkans. And you can advance the country on the path towards the European Union. And indeed you can enter the European Union as a full Member State.
I thank you very much. I wish you a peaceful electoral campaign and a fruitful work in the parliament and I thank you once again for the honour you have given me to address you in this wonderful hemicycle.
Link to the video:http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I134285