Your Excellency Minister Osman Saleh, Minister for Foreign Affairs,
Senior Officials of the PFDJ and of the Government,
Ambassadors, representatives of international agencies,
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
My wife and myself wish you a warm welcome tonight to celebrate with us Europe Day. I am grateful to the Italian Ambassador, Stefano Pontesilli, who offered us this beautiful venue in the centre of Asmara. And at the outset, I would like to thank all my colleagues who helped organize this event, which, I hope, you will enjoy.
Some people told me last year that my speech was too long, but since it is only once a year that I have the occasion to talk about Europe, about the European Union, and about our cooperation with Eritrea, I will make good use of this opportunity, and so I ask you to be patient and give me some time for it. The time spent listening to me will make you appreciate the food served afterwards by Vittorio and his team.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
In a few days it will be 66 years that the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman called on the nations of Europe to unite in order to make war on our continent impossible. We consider that day, the 9th of May 1950, as the founding moment of European integration, a process that gradually, and with some ups and downs, has brought together 28 countries and more than 500 million people of different cultures, languages and beliefs into a single political entity bound by a common commitment to "the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law", as well as to the objectives of solidarity and the convergence of their economies, as the preamble of the Treaty of the European Union says.
- 66 years which did not completely end wars on the European continent, as we have seen in the 1990ies in the Balkans, but six decades which prevented the recurrent confrontations among European powers that characterized much of the continent's history since the collapse of the Roman Empire;
- 66 years which made the European Union the world's largest economy, as well as the most important trading partner for the United States, China, Russia, India, Brazil, most of Africa, and many other countries;
- 66 years of an astounding recovery from the Second World War, of remarkable progress in research and development, of extra-ordinary creativity which turned Europe into a trail-blazer of technological innovation, environmental protection, climate change management, and sustainable development;
- 66 years which have made Europe one of the most prosperous parts of the world, with many countries on top of the list of the most liveable places on Earth, and the world's number one tourist destination.
It is worth reminding ourselves of these achievements and to remember that they are the results of hard work and of the right policy decisions, in order to put the current challenges into perspective. And challenges there are indeed, first and foremost, according to the media, the ongoing migration crisis: After centuries of sending European people off to other continents, Europe has become a major space of immigration. There are now more than 35 million migrants in the European Union, and more coming every year. While of course not all of the newcomers are refugees, the number of asylum seekers in Europe has soared in the last 3 years, reaching more than 1.3 million in 2015, and probably a few hundred thousand more who have not yet filed asylum applications. This is stretching the capacity of European societies to care for and integrate those seeking refuge, and it aggravates the risk of terrorism and other forms of international organized crime.
And it's a problem which will not go away any time soon: Many countries in Europe's immediate neighbourhood, notably the Middle East and Africa, experience a dangerous combination of strong demographic growth and political instability; the ability of these countries to create sustainable and adaptable societies, to create jobs and business opportunities for their young people – or their failure to achieve this – will have a direct impact on Europe's own stability and security.
I will come back to this matter in a moment, but when we lament about the migration crisis sparked off by the exodus of Syrian refugees from Turkey, let us remember where the term "Europe, Europa" comes from: According to Greek mythology, "Europa" was a Phoenician princess seduced by the Greek God Zeus, who took the form of a Bull and abducted the young lady to the Island of Crete. Which means that the first historically recorded European was an immigrant from the Middle East, and a victim of human trafficking !
It is of course a legend, but it reminds us what Europe owes to the Middle East, from the invention of agriculture and writing to the origins of Christianity, nowadays the predominant religion of Europa and an important part of its cultural heritage. The legend of Europa also reminds us of the role of ancient Greece as the cradle of European civilization, the interface between the Middle East and Neolithic Europe. Ancient Greece was an assembly of city states with an estimated total population of no more than present-day Liverpool, but it laid the foundations of modern science, mathematics, geometry, philosophy, theatre, and it had the first documented form of parliamentary democracy.
Greece today is the most distressed member of the European Union because of the combined migration and financial crisis, but we should not forget that Europe would not be what it is today without classical Greece. We owe our fellow citizens from Greece the recognition of the crucial role their forefathers plaid for the emergence of modern Europe, and of modern civilization in general.
Now let me turn back to European integration: The past 66 years have also created a political, economic and social space with increasing complexity; a system that has been struggling to tackle today's challenges, and this makes many people doubt about the future of this great and unprecedented political experiment which we call the European Union. Today, the citizen's confidence in the European Union is undermined by the migration crisis, by the financial crisis, by centrifugal tendencies at the continental as well as national levels. On 23rd June, the British people will decide whether they want to remain part of the Union or not, and three days later, Spain will hold elections which risk fanning the flames of secessionism in Catalonia. These are just two examples of upcoming political events that could have a profound impact on Europe's future. Whatever decisions they may bring, in my view the various challenges
the European Union is facing are essentially the symptom of three fundamental crises:
The first one is a crisis of confidence in our decision-making procedures. No state, no region, no political entity exists in a political vacuum, or in a world that is static. States, societies, political entities like the European Union have to face the challenges around them and within them, and adapt to an ever-changing world. The international community is a Darwinian jungle: you compete, you adapt, you innovate – or you disappear. The European Union has not been fast in tackling the migration crisis, or, to put it more bluntly, it has not been fast enough, because Member States' governments have taken things into their own hands and adopted national measures that undermine some of the fundamental principles of the European Union, notably the free movement of people and goods. If the EU wants to successfully manage the ongoing migration crisis and safeguard its own achievements, it has to invent decision-making procedures that are adapted to modern crisis situations. Collective decision-making is more democratic but it can be cumbersome, and the world around us will not wait until we have finished deliberating. We need decision-making procedures that are fast enough to solve the problems we are facing today, while securing the support of a critical mass of European citizens for the decisions that are taken.
The second crisis is a crisis of economic management and solidarity. It concerns mainly the 19 countries which have the Euro as their common currency, but it also has an impact on all the other EU Member States, as well on the rest of Europe and the wider world. I am talking of the unbearable paradox that afflicts the Eurozone: It has states which have no more control over their currency, and EU institutions with little influence on fiscal policy. This has led to serious economic imbalances between north and south, and brought some of the Eurozone members to the brink of bankruptcy. Structural efforts like the European Stability Mechanism and repeated interventions of the European Central Bank in international financial markets have so far prevented the worst, but they have not solved the fundamental problem, and worse, they have fuelled Eurosceptic sentiments in both the rich and the poor Member States. In the rich Member States, because of a growing reluctance of the public to shoulder the financial burden of others, and in the poor ones because of the dramatic rise in unemployment after 2008. The Eurozone members will have to overcome this problem and agree on an economic management system that revitalizes economic growth in all countries and brings unemployment down to reasonable levels. This is not only an issue of fiscal and monetary discipline, but also a matter of investing in the economies of the future, i.e. enabling countries to produce commodities and services that are competitive on the international market. More than ever before in recent history, Europe has to compete with new global economic powers, and it has to create an economic system that is up to the challenge, and at the same time makes the best use of Europe's talent and preserves the sense of social solidarity Europe is famous for in the rest of the world. We have to move forward economically, but without leaving some of our Member States or citizens behind.
The third crisis is a crisis of identity. Academics have often pointed out that Europe is not a political organization based on ethnic, linguistic or cultural commonality, nor on some form of supra-national "European identity", but on a set of common values and a common belief in the rule of law, in fair competition, transparency and accountability. This makes a lot of sense, but no political entity can survive for long without the support of its citizens, which is based on an understanding of what it is and what it wants to become.
Reportedly it was Jacques Delors, one of the great Commission Presidents, who said that the European Union "is an undefined political object". It is an irony of history that in spite of Jacques Delors' remarkable, and remarkably successful, efforts to advance European integration, his words should sound so strangely familiar today. They sound familiar because until now, we cannot quite define what the European Union exactly is, and we do not agree what is shall be in the future.
Article I of the Treaty of the European Union speaks of "creating an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe", but this mantra of continued integration cannot anymore be taken for granted. We should be grateful to the British Prime Minister David Cameron for having stated clearly, at the Davos World Economic Forum earlier this year, that Europe as an "ever-deepening political union" is "not the right organization for us", that is for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Cameron pointed to the elephant in the room. Do the 28 EU Member States, and their societies, still want "an ever-closer union" ? Do they still believe that today's and tomorrow's problems of Europe can best be solved collectively, that the EU will be able to guarantee a peaceful, prosperous and safe future for its citizens and a fair distribution of its wealth ? Not only the British electorate, but people in each and every EU Member State will have to ask themselves these questions. And if we cannot muster a critical mass responding positively, we will have to go back to the drawing board and rethink the future of the European Union, both geographically and politically.
I will leave you with these observations as food for thought for the rest of the evening and beyond, and now briefly turn to Eritrea and Eritrea-EU relations.
Your Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,
This year is an auspicious year for Eritrea. It is of course the 25th anniversary of Eritrea's Independence, and Eritreans are truly proud of the heroic liberation struggle which they themselves, or their parents and relatives have fought. But this is also a time of new opportunities for the country: new mining businesses are opening, new cooperation agreements with international partners have been concluded, and earlier this year, Eritrea presented its submission to UNESCO for the recognition of Asmara as a World Heritage Site, which the city certainly deserves in view of its architectural treasures from the Italian Modernismo.
As regards Eritrea – EU relations, they have evolved significantly over the last years. Implementation of programs under the 10th European Development Fund, mainly in the agricultural sector, but also in capacity building for the administration and the judiciary, is in its final stages. With the 11th European Development Fund, our cooperation will reach another dimension. At the end of January, the Minister of National Development, Dr. Giorgis Teklemichael, and myself signed the new National Indicative Program, which is the framework for the next half-decade up to 2020. It expands considerably the financial scope of our cooperation but also gives it a new orientation, focusing on renewable energy and governance.
In the first sector, the EU will support Eritrea's energy shift from hydrocarbon-based sources to solar, wind and geothermal energy, of which Eritrea has a considerable potential. In the area of governance, we agreed to work together on the implementation of the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review on human rights, and support the Government's efforts in economic planning, statistics, and public finance management.
We look forward to working with the government, but also with other institutions which have an important role like the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers or the Chamber of Commerce, in order to help create an environment that stimulates growth and employment creation, leading eventually to a balanced, robust economy capable of competing on the international market while ensuring the basic needs of the population and equal opportunities for all.
We believe, indeed, that a strong, dynamic economy is the key to resolving one of the problems that affects both Eritrea and the EU, albeit in different ways – namely migration. We are trying to tackle this collectively in the context of the Khartoum process and the follow-up to last November's Valletta conference. Some of the EU Member States are also actively involved: Finland has been supporting higher education, whereas Italy and Germany have decided to resume bilateral cooperation and are discussing with the government potential sectors and activities.
We understand that education and training are a priority for the government, and we maintain our offer to this sector, as well as for other activities addressing the root causes of migration, through the Trust Fund created at Valletta. However, education and training have to go hand in hand with the creation of conditions for a dynamic labour market and a favourable business environment. Otherwise, upgrading the skills of young people without offering them opportunities for employment or entrepreneurship will only encourage emigration, rather than reducing it.
Finally, whenever I touch this topic, I have to point out that migration is not just a problem but also an opportunity. Eritrea has a formidable Diaspora in neighbouring countries and in Europe, with valuable skills, experience and in some cases capital, and most of them maintain strong links to their homeland. Encouraging them to come back and participate in the development of the country could help unlock the untapped economic potential of Eritrea. We expect, of course, that many of them will come in the course of this months to celebrate with us the Silver Jubilee, for which I would already congratulate our Eritrean friends in advance, and offer a toast to the government and the people of Eritrea, and to the cooperation between Eritrea and the European Union !