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EWB Interview, Michele Giacomelli: Italy determined to work together with Western Balkans states

Interview with Michele Giacomelli, Special Envoy of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Berlin Process. The interview was conducted at Civil Society Forum Tirana in anticipation of the Trieste Summit of Western Balkans states, which Italy will host in July.

European Western Balkans: After three years and three Summits, how do you see the results of the Berlin Process?

Michele Giacomelli: First of all, we have to start from the beginning: the Berlin Process started thanks to a farsighted initiative of Chancellor Merkel. After Berlin, Vienna, and Paris the organisation of a fourth summit proves that this is a successful initiative. The Process is still a powerful tool to facilitate the transformation of the region and its progress towards accession to the European Union. I think there is strong desire coming from the region, because the Berlin Process, the process of the Western Balkan countries, is perceived as a sign of a political engagement and also as an opportunity for economic results and tangible benefits, especially in the area of infrastructure. All in all, I think it is a successful process.

EWB: Italy is set to host the next Summit in July. What will be the priorities of this year’s Summit in Trieste?

MG: Italy will continue on the path set by previous Summits, keeping the focus on physical connectivity, especially through projects on infrastructure connections (highways, roads, railways, electric grid). This year will mark the implementation of the projects approved in the previous years and also the approval of a new set of projects. Moreover, we will continue the work in the youth dimension also through the newly established RYCO. In Trieste we expect the first projects to be presented by RYCO and we hope that they will be financed by the Commission and by the Member States.

In Trieste, though, we also want to stress the dimension of the regional economic integration, an idea that has been floating for a couple of years at least. We see benefits in this because a larger, more integrated, market can facilitate trade and exchanges and can make the Region more attractive for foreign direct investments. The need for the countries of the Region to better understand the objective of this initiative is understandable. At the same time, I believe that this new front of cooperation is complementary to the accession process, because it will facilitate integration in the EU.

Moreover, Italy intends to introduce a new focus on small and medium size enterprises (SMEs). To this end, we will organise a Business Forum devoted to SMEs, to present  the financial instruments and other instruments aimed at facilitating the economic development and integration in the region. We will also work in the area of prevention and fight against corruption by organising a workshop chaired by our national anticorruption authority.

Together with these main objectives, the Summit will have a series of side events, including a Forum dedicated to Youth and a Civil Society Forum. The role of civil society in particular is constantly growing, as demonstrated by the interesting debate held today at the regional civil society event (Civil Society Forum Tirana) where I took part.

EWB: Italy has strong ties with the Western Balkans, especially in the economy, as it is the largest export partner of the region. How do you see Italian engagement in European integration of Western Balkan states?

MG: We have always been a strong supporter of the integration of the Western Balkans countries to the European Union. We think that we understand the region, I will not say better than the others, but surely we understand the region well, thanks to the ties we developed in the past and nowadays, thanks to the history and our geographical proximity.

At the same time, the countries of the region see us as a useful and helpful partner, and we want to continue to play such role. We keep encouraging reforms in the countries in order to progress on the path towards European integration. We are seen as a credible partner because we have no hidden agenda. Our determination is to cooperate and work together with the Western Balkans countries.

EWB: The official EU policy on enlargement in the Western Balkans is the “regatta principle”, where each country has its own separate integration path. However, at the same time, the Berlin Process aims at connecting the countries into a single, integrated region. Why is that so and do you believe this policy could change?

MG: Of course, there are conditions, there are parameters to be fulfilled, there is the principle of ‘own-merits’, this is normal and it is part of the accession process, so we can only support the countries to perform well. At the same time, the Western Balkans Process has a remarkable capacity to stimulate the convergence of different countries on the same platform: it is an objective and also an expected result of the Process, to which we attach high importance.

EWB: It seems that bilateral disputes are still a major problem for European integration of Western Balkans states. In which way do you think that the Berlin Process can help the region overcome this issue?

MG: The Western Balkans Process cannot solve the problems that the Region has to solve, but it surely provides with an important opportunity to boost political dialogue. What is important is that the Western Balkans take the ownership of the Process. Bilateral disputes are a heritage of the past, they can be solved if all countries share a common objective. The Western Balkans Process aims just at facilitating the convergence of the objectives of the countries of the Region.

Nikola Ristić, EWB Executive Editor

European Western Balkans is an official media partner of the Civil Society Forum Tirana, supported by European Fund for the Balkans, ERSTE Stiftung and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

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