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Thank you, Samuel [Žbogar, EU Ambassador to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia].
I really apologise a lot for this delay. We had very long meetings, as you can imagine, with the political leaders and also with your President and I imagine you understand that my visit, coming in this particular moment for the country, was important. I would start from this because my visit was planned some time ago, not too much but some time ago, and it happened to be in a moment that is quite difficult for the country. Difficult from an institutional and political point of view and I hope not too much from a social point of view, even if someone advised me not to come today. But then I thought that good friends show up in difficult moments and that it was good to be here, to pass messages but also understand and listen to how you see the situation here, not only you but also others. So I had, I think, a fruitful visit with meetings and hopefully it will bring some little hope.
It is really a pleasure to be back. I was here in Skopje quite some time ago. In 2014, I was here as an Italian Foreign Minister and I remember very well just before I arrived I told media that I did not like at all the word ‘enlargement’ of the European Union because this gives a sense of a centre that grows as if the process was driven just in Brussels or on the European Union side. Well, I believe that the word we should use is EU integration process because it is a way that covers both sides. It is a walk that you do together; it is a work that you do together. It is a shared decision and it is a decision that not only you take but also you try to implement together.
In the last few years, and if you allow me to be very frank – I tend to be very frank even in my official meetings, with students even more so - the political situation of this country has not allowed us to move ahead on our common path of EU integration. And I know this is very frustrating for you, for many in the country. I have seen the last numbers on the support of the EU integration path of the country and they are quite impressive. Believe me: it is frustrating also for me because I think that the generational challenge we have to reunify our continent in our Union.
I know the young people of the country, but also the young people in the Western Balkans, feel completely European. And you are. There is a good reason for feeling European. Sometimes I find in my speeches, or in my files that colleagues prepare the reference to the European way, the European path of the Western Balkans and I always delete it. Because you do not need to find the European path. You are already Europeans. The only thing is to work towards the European Union integration of the country - because you are part of Europe, you have always been, you are European just like myself, just like people of your age who live in other European countries. We share the same history, the same geography, the same culture and I believe the same values.
So I totally understand the frustration, the exasperation, sometimes even the despair you can feel in seeing that over the last few years your country has not moved forward on the path towards the European Union. And let me say very clearly: I think that too much time has been lost. My question to this country’s leadership – I guess it is also the question you put to your leadership – is if this country’s leadership want to continue losing time? Or even worse, if they want to go backwards?
I know this is a blunt question to put but among us and among friends you have to be clear. I believe that the people of this country are ready for moving forward – and I believe that they deserve to move forward. I know you want to bring your country inside the European Union and today after the elections and respecting the democratic processes, you would have the chance to get back to work, make the reforms that this country badly needs - because you are studying now but then you would be looking for a job – and restart the process that will lead you in the European Union.
The original sense of my visit here is this: to tell you, to tell the country’s leadership, to tell the society that the doors of the European Union are wide open. Not only that they are open but we want you to come in. I know that the citizens are ready for that. I hope that the leadership of this country is ready for that. This is my question to them.
Let me say that the spirit of democracy and rule of law are cornerstones of our European societies and they should never be breached. The parliamentarian majorities and the powers of the state institutions, in particular of the Parliament, should always be respected by all. And I believe in the current situation the letter of the Constitution should guide the President when entrusting the mandate to the candidate of the parties who has the majority in the Assembly. And I am quoting your constitution here.
I have met today all the political leaders; I met the President, in a long and good meeting, constructive meeting, and I have asked him to reflect on the way forward for the institutions of this country. I have asked him to revise his decision and to find a way - and I am sure that there can be way - out of this political and institutional crisis. I am sure also that there is a way of avoiding turning this institutional crisis into an ethnic or inter-ethnic conflictuality in the country; or even worse, into a geopolitical conflict.
Because your country is not subject to an external threat. The only threat is internal and arises from not respecting all the communities of the country or the irresponsible behaviour in siding tensions between communities. The right question to ask, I believe, is why one community or the other feels threatened? And whenever there is a question like that it deserves an answer and I believe that you have a reciprocal responsibility to reassure each other and to find a common way because you are one country.
But I guess you know that better than anyone else. I know that left to the wisdom of a next generation things could be easier to solve but that would be probably for the future. I am not saying that political differences or any kind of differences have to disappear. I do not think and I have never believed that differences should disappear. I think they are the salt of our lives and the beauty of our societies. But there is an unprecedented opportunity today - and I know that this would sound a bit surreal, but I am really convinced about that - to get out of the stalemate and work for the country to join our European community, because every person in this country shares the same interest to go back to the European Union path and advance on it, substantially.
We are ready for that; we are ready for that and my message to you today in these difficult times is one that you would not expect. I am not telling you ‘be patient!’; I am telling you ‘be impatient!’ and ask for what you want and try to work for what you want. I am not telling you to wait for better times; I am telling you to engage, stay positive, stay positive and consistent and do not let frustration turn into cynicism, violence, or divisions. Do not let anyone tell you that your country will never make it or that you will not make it. If you do not see any progress, or even worse if you see that things are getting worse, which sometimes happens in live and in history, don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. And keep a sense of direction, keep the priorities, engage because your behaviour, your voice, your thoughts count.
Every single one of you make a difference. Engage in a constructive, peaceful serious manner, uniting, finding common ground as the European way is. At the end of the day the European Union started as a project that is unique in the world: when Europeans after centuries of war that we have exported in quite some places in the world understood that cooperating and finding common ground was simply more convenient than fighting each other. And this is the big European history lesson we have learnt. This part of Europe is the one that have experienced war and for the last time, but I guess that most of you were born after that or around that time.
So you have a generational responsibility to look at the present – I am not saying the future because I have been young myself and I hated when people were telling me that you are the future. You are also the present, so I think that you have a responsibility today to keep this wise, focused, approach positive. I know that wisdom and youth are not often associated. I believe that youth can be very wise. This focused approach and try to bring your life and also your country towards the right future. Make your voice heard. If you want this country to move forward on path towards the European Union, say so, clearly, and work for it daily and possibly together.
On our side, we see very well that this place, this country, this region, is part of Europe and should and will be part of our Union. There is no doubt about this. I say this out of a personal conviction and I say this out of the institutions I am representing here. The door of the European Union is wide open, over these years we have been waiting for you and we have been asking leadership to work for the country’s common interest. Personally, I will keep working for this to happen and to happen as soon as possible but European integration will not happen from the outside. This is not a process that can be pushed or imposed from the outside. It needs determination, political will, vison, wisdom and you have the opportunity to do it. You have the opportunity to study. I know that some of you were also participating in the Erasmus projects which probably makes of you the best EU ambassadors in this country and also ambassadors of this country in the European Union.
And you, young people who have the opportunity to study, have an essential role to play. Keep pushing for European integration if you want so even when the times become more difficult and more challenging. Be clear on what the responsibilities of this country’s leadership are and work with determination and patience but also with the right pace which can be a fast one. And I believe this is the natural goal for a European nation like yours. Don’t ever take the status quo for granted because the essence of life is change and change is indeed possible and can happen if you work on that. You expect more, I know that, you deserve more, so keep working for more.
Change can happen – I think we see this every single day - for good and for bad and it can happen in this generation, especially this country entering the European Union can happen in this generation. But change needs you to keep hoping and working for it to happen.
So your engagement, I believe, makes a difference, your passion makes a difference and I believe as I told you that your wisdom makes a difference for this country and also for those around you. What happens here is important for the region and what happens in this country and in the region is essential for the rest of the continent and, believe me, also far away because this place, the region of the Western Balkans, is something we discuss also far away from here. For the European Union is the number one priority, it is the reunification of our continent. But this is something that is very clearly also far away. And in these difficult times I think we have a common European responsibility to guarantee that this country and your generation have a good not only future but also a good present.
I thank you very much, and as the Ambassador suggested, I would be really interested in getting more than questions – for which I am also ready – but also your views because this is the unique opportunity for me to listen and not only to speak. I am sorry that I was not only late but also a bit long. I thank you very much.
Link to the video:http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I134283