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Dear friends, thank you!
First of all, thank you for the great honour you give me today, by celebrating together this anniversary: 25 years since the dream of a continent at peace, finally, found a name.
We have to go back to history: if we have now the European Union, that was a choice made 25 years ago here in Maastricht. And the Treaty of Maastricht was exactly about unity, about, I quote, "ending the divisions of the European continent". By doing this, Maastricht confirmed that Europe is a peace project and the European Union is, indeed, in the history of the world the most successful peace project in human lives.
I see the European Union every single day through the eyes of our friends and partners around the world and I can tell you they envy us. They see the lucky situation we live in. I know there are many difficult things to face, but still the level of social rights, individual rights, civil human rights, women rights and the level of peace and economic development we have reached in Europe has no comparison in the world. It is something we should keep in mind as we criticise, rightly so, our Union while we are trying to change it. Today we look forward. That's our duty and also our responsibility to the future.
Let me go back with the memories just for a moment because in 1992, - 1991, 1992 - I had just started university, so I was probably your age. And I remember very well it was a time for change. Today, we often say we are leaving in turbulent times and everything is changing. Well back then in 1991, 1992 the world was also changing and we had - my generation had - high hopes and expectations for a sort of new global order that we were expecting to come after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But there was also a sense of anxiety and uncertainty inside Europe that we would not feel today in the same manner. Just think that the war in the Balkans had just begun - twenty five years ago. And peace in Europe could not be taken for granted at all. Russia was a question mark; somehow it still is, but in a different manner. And in those years we were living clearly the drama of our European identity and history.
We felt we were at the crossroads of geography and history. And if you look at our history, the European history has always been a history of war. I look even at the story of this beautiful city, if I'm not wrong, it is a history of battles, sieges and invasions. For thousands of years, time in Europe was marked by wars and anniversaries of wars. The only anniversaries actually we were celebrating for thousands of years were those of victories and defeats. One European was winning, another European was losing. Our countries were divided for thousands of years.
Too often we forget the immense privilege we have today in Europe when we celebrate the anniversaries of treaties, treaties of unity, of a Union - the Treaties of Rome, the Treaty of Maastricht, the Lisbon Treaty - instead of only commemorating wars, victories, defeats of each other.
Maastricht was clearly not the first treaty, nor the last. My very role was determined and defined in Lisbon with the Lisbon Treaty. By the way, yes, indeed, I have two hats, actually three because I also lead the European Defence Agency - and I come to defence in a moment. And I guess I am the only one that could say having lived it - together with my one predecessor, because already [Javier] Solana [former High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Secretary General of the Council of the European Union from 1999 until 2009] had a different kind of institutional setting - that all those who tell you it's an impossible job are wrong, it is a perfect job.
Because only having the double responsibility, in my case the triple, of the [European] Commission and the Council [of the European Union] and obviously being responsible to the [European] Parliament gives you the instruments – economic, institutional, political instruments - to bring projects forward, so whoever reflects on duplicating this experiment for other kind of roles, I think they can count on a good basis for trying that.
But Maastricht was a turning point, not only for our continent. I will come back to this in a moment because it is something we too often forget: the external relevance of the Maastricht treaty. But, I am Italian - I understand I'm not the only one in the room - and I cannot be here celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht treaty without telling you that Maastricht sounds different in different languages.
The treaty is always about the Maastricht criteria, it is always about deficit and debt and we cannot go around this. And I know very well that depending on where in Europe you live or what political orientation you have, Maastricht criteria looked very, very different. One of the probably the most divisive issues we could think of in our Union and yet in these recent months - I would say in the last year and a half - we have seen how such strictly quantitative criteria can be applied in an intelligent, sound, serious and constructive manner, if there is a shared political consideration of the context in which they are implemented.
It is good to have common rules. I see a growing tendency in the world to consider rules as a constraint for some, as something to try to get around. Instead, I think it is a European value to affirm and reaffirm that rules are the guarantee for all. The basis for any community living together - without the rules it is the strongest who wins and not only wins, but also dictates the conditions for all. So the contrary of the rules - we always have to keep that in mind - is not freedom, it is arbitrary action. So the rules are the guarantee, the rules are needed. The rules are the basis for our communities to live in. There is no community, there is not solidarity and there is no equity without shared rules. But this doesn't mean that the implementation of the common rules we define together cannot and should not be considered with political intelligence, with flexibility – and I know this is a toxic word here.
But thinking of the environment, thinking of the conditions to which they apply, thinking of the results, of the consequences that they would bring: In life, like in politics, rules are essential, yes, as it is essential to apply them in an intelligent manner. And this is why having a collective political leadership in our European Union is so important. I am proud to be part of what Jean Claude Juncker [President of the European Commission] defines always a ‘political Commission’, which doesn't mean having a party, political agenda, even if all of us have a political family, a clear political identity, a clear political background. It means that we collectively take our political responsibilities for the Union, in particular on how to better guarantee that our common rules are respected fully, by the word, and that the outcome is a good one for all - a win-win situation.
This is taking political responsibilities. It's not an automatic technical decision that needs to be applied and full stop. There is always a political judgment to be made which is not an arbitrary judgment, but it's a political responsibility that needs to be exercised. But Maastricht was much more than economic and financial criteria. And I want to come to that. With the Treaty of Maastricht we set as the common goal of our Union to contribute to peace, security and progress, not only in Europe, but in the wider world. And it was a revolution, think of that: it was the first time in history, in the history of the word, that building peace became the aspiration of a continent. Never before this was the ambition set in any constitution or treaty. This may sound a bit idealistic. I have to confess to you that I don't see anything wrong with being idealistic, especially in times of cynical realpolitik we are living in. It is good, ideals is what brings you forward, is what gives you a vision and I think that vision is important to move forward.
But it is also, and was at the time, a pragmatic decision, from a very pragmatic European leadership. Back in 1992, Michel Rocard, former French Prime Minister explained - you will allow me one sentence in French, no in Italian I promise: La politique étrangère commune, ça sera moins d’impuissance et plus de sécurité.
At the end of the Cold War, I think for the European leaders it was very clear that the European nation states would be powerless in the new world that was emerging - or they were expecting was emerging. The two big blocks coming down, nation states in Europe at the crossroad challenged, questioned. We used to be on the frontline of a clash between superpowers and all of a sudden we saw the risk of becoming irrelevant, from being the centre of history to being nowhere in the map. And I think this is more self-evident today. I often say that there are two kinds of European Union Member States: the small ones and those that have not yet realised that they are small. Because the world we are living in is a global one: continent-sized global powers. And only as a European Union we can set the global agenda or contribute to setting the global agenda, determine the global trends, play a key role, make a difference for Europeans, first of all, but also for the rest of the word.
There is a lot of talks about sovereignsm. I do not see how only through national means, an national interest can be achieved in the word of today. So even if you take the national perspective only, the only way of serving it is through our European Union. That's the reality of today. So I believe sovereignsm doesn't make any sense, simply because it is out of touch with reality - out of touch with the reality of today, it simply doesn't work, it doesn't fit, it's of a different century - while together as a European Union we are strong. The others see it - sometimes we do not see it. And this is the main problem, but the others see it well.
As the European Union we are the second largest economy and we will stay so even after the UK will be out. We are and we will stay the first foreign investor. We are and we will stay even at 27 - and then I will come to the 27 - the leading donor on development corporation and humanitarian aid, the leading diplomatic network and a global security provider. Without the European Union, we would not have the Paris agreement on climate change nor the Iran nuclear deal [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] - and we will make sure it stays - nor the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the UN system would simply do not function. So just imagine, for one moment, what if the European Union didn't exist. For the rest of the world, it would be a disaster. Our word that is already quite chaotic - to put it bluntly - would be definitely in a much worse situation.
I believe today finally were starting to realise that we have an immense potential, that we need the European Union and we are beginning to use it, this potential, as a Union. Back in the 90s - again it's for other generations than yours - but I remember that very well - some referred to the United States as the indispensable nation. And if you look at it now it feels centuries ago, I guess. Today, I believe, no single nation can claim to be indispensable in the global affairs, but the European Union has become an indispensable partner for many - if not for all - in the world. We are indispensable partner for the United Nations, from peace-building to humanitarian aid, we are an indispensable partner for non-proliferation and against climate change. We are an indispensable partner for Africa, investing in human development and sustainable peace and reconciliation and partnership to manage migration. We are an indispensable partner for peace in Syria, with our diplomatic and economic initiative.
So the greatest challenge we face today: what is that? Self-confidence? For sure. It is for sure not our survival. Those who were betting on the British referendum to be the beginning of the end - you remember last year it was full of this everywhere: ‘It's going to be just the beginning of the end, the European Union would dissolve.’ - have been proven completely wrong. It's probably the best argument that we can use for convincing our citizens, explaining without convincing necessarily, that one thing is hearing speeches during rallies and electoral campaigns, but another thing is seeing things turning real. And that's scary. We have a lot to preserve.
Our main problem is not the state of our Union, which is today good. To me the turning point was the celebrations of another Treaty – the Rome Treaties. In March, in Rome, I saw the 27 determined to relaunch our Union, be consistent and stick together and look at the future. I have seen a determination I didn't see in the two years before - maybe it would have helped but it's never too late. Europe will get there. Europe always gives the best in moments of crisis. Our problem is not even speaking with one voice, because I can tell you I never had in those two years and the half, almost three years, in my job a problem of unanimity in the Council, at least not on foreign policy, not on defence, not on development; on trade – from time to time.
But the problem is never speaking on one with one voice. Actually, on the contrary, I don't particularly like the expression speaking with one voice, because I believe our strength is the fact that we have several voices, but voices that sing the same song. And that is beautiful. It sends messages to different partners, different audiences, with different kind of inclinations, different geographical and historic backgrounds, but the same policy.
I always say don't listen to the doorsteps that the ministers do entering the Council, check what they say getting out of the Council. If we have the same position, if we agree on what to do together, that's the most important thing - not if we have different considerations on the reasons or the background. That's normal. We are different in national governments, sometimes; we are different in national parliaments, we are different sometimes in the same party. That's democracy, that's plurality. The important thing is that we come to decide together what we have to do together and then we do it.
So our problem is probably investing in our Union seriously, being consistent, being brave and courageous, as you said, being bold, being, at the same time, visionary and pragmatic as our founding fathers and mothers - because there were some, even if quite hidden, but still there were some – managed to be.
There is a letter that Chancellor [of Germany from 1982 to 1998, Helmut] Kohl and President [of France, from 1981 to 1995, François] Mitterrand wrote during the negotiations leading to Maastricht. And that has to do with the potential, using the potential of our treaties. To me all debates about changing the treaties are fine, but it is a bit surreal as long as we do not use fully the potential we have already in the treaties that are existing. And in the letter they hoped for the development of a common foreign and security policy. I quote: "…could in time lead to a common defence". It took then the Lisbon Treaty to give substance to this promise. But just after Lisbon, you might remember it or might have studied, came the financial crisis and then our Union focussed more on economy than on security, probably rightly so. But that was the course of the events and that part of the Lisbon Treaty, the work on the common defence, stayed a bit aside. Today, 25 years after Maastricht, after that letter, a European Union of security and defence is finally taking shape.
And on this, I believe we can say without exaggerating that we have achieved more over the last year - September to September, academic year, sort of, school year - than in the previous 24 years, or perhaps even more if you think of the attempt to create a European defence community back in the 50s - and here I could quote all the founding fathers who were believing in that.
This year we have set up the first unified command centre [Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC)] for our military training missions, in Brussels. This was completely unthinkable not only 25 years ago or 50 years ago, but just one year ago. If you asked anyone in Brussels, just six months ago if they considered this possible, they would have told you: "No way, it's never going to happen, you're wasting your time". It happened just a few months ago! Some predicted some kind of fatigue for our military and civilian engagement abroad. We have 15 military and civilian operations worldwide. Yet, our Operation Sophia [EUNAVFOR MED], the most recent one in the Mediterranean, sees the participation of basically all Member States and we are about to send a new civilian mission to support the stabilisation of Iraq in this crucial time, including, for the first time ever - something I'm very proud of - with experts to protect cultural heritage. It’s first time ever we include the protection of cultural heritage in our civilian missions and, who knows, it could come also in other places.
Other chapter where we have done progress this year on defence - and I just take defence as a showcase of where we were 24 years ago, 60 years ago and where we are this year with this push for relaunching our Union. We have set up a European Defence Fund with the European Commission. This is why it is so important to use the instruments we have – Commission - budget, political decisions, Council - political support, European Parliament - end control. For the first time with the European Defence Fund, the budget of the European Union will help rationalise our defence spending and strengthen our defence industry. It is not for the European Union to define how much Member States spend on defence, but it is a possibility for the European Union to make sure that they spend together and, in this way, avoid money going into different fragmented projects.
I often quote two numbers: Europeans invest 50% of what the Americans invest in defence, but our output is 15%. It's not for me to work on the 50% gap, but for me to work on the 15/50%? Definitely yes! Then it is for Member States, national parliaments, governments to decide how much they want to invest in defence. But I can make sure, we can make sure, that they invest well, rationally, in a non-fragmented manner, and this is going to be helpful also for our industry.
Another point: EU-NATO. Last year we signed a joint declaration with NATO. We started to implement 42 concrete actions for our cooperation. And this is the most substantive agreement between European Union and NATO since ever. And I think I can say this even if I don't know if we announce it formally: next Monday I will be with Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General] in Helsinki, inaugurating together the Hybrid Centre for Excellence. So, cooperation with NATO is increasingly becoming concrete, in the moment when we are strengthening our European Union defence, which means there is no contradiction between the two. The two can go hand-in-hand.
And, finally, last but definitely not least, at the end of this year, by the European Council in December, I am sure we will initiate a Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) between Member States on defence - something that the Lisbon Treaty has always foreseen, but it was never initiated. So ten years after Lisbon, we finally put into practice the full potential of our treaties. It's the boldest step to date towards a European Union of security and defence.
But, let me tell you very clearly: I believe defence is not where our work ends, nor can it be the only field in which we relaunch our European Union. I see a dangerous trend and I say this as a friend, that now some in Europe believe that, as defence was always the most controversial issue and now it is not anymore, it's better to stick to that and leave other topics apart. My personal conviction is that we need to relaunch the Union on the field of defence and we are doing it - I'm very glad about that - but at least two other things are definitely needed and we will need to be bold, consistent and courageous to go forward on that.
First: greater internal solidarity in dealing with migration and asylum. Second: investment for restarting the economic engine of Europe. If we miss these two fields, there is nothing that the work on defence and security can do for our Union. There is still work to do to deepen our Union, but on top of this work, we cannot forget about another promise of Maastricht, a very important one that is, I quote: "Ending the divisions of the European continent". You said it well, the German experience.
Today, this line of the Maastricht treaty - ending the division of the European continent - has a name, and that is the Western Balkans. Europe will not be united as long as part of the Balkans will be out of our Union. I know this is very unpopular in many places in the Union. Maybe it is for generational issues; I was your age when the war started over there. It is maybe because of geography; the Adriatic Sea is a small lake at the end of the day. And Italy is also part of the Balkans, culturally, even if we would never admit so. Do you know the closest capital to Rome, apart from the Vatican? It is Podgorica. Geography has a meaning, and that is the point.
The Balkans lie at the heart of Europe: Its geography, its history, its culture, its food, its economy, its music that tell us that, and there is no political boundary that can change this reality. It's Europe and we saw it: when we had the refugee crisis, who did we gather in Brussels to manage the crisis together? The Prime Ministers and the Presidents of all the countries of the region, no matter if Member States or not, because geographically we were on the same boat as we say in the Mediterranean - and we needed in each other. So geography and history are powerful elements - you cannot deny.
This is why I say that we need to see that the people of the Balkans are Europeans, that we are part of the same family. We should be and we will be part of the same Union. By the end of our mandate, in the next two years, I am sure that we will build together with our friends in the Balkans practical, measurable progress for all our six partners in the Western Balkans - progress that will make their path towards the European Union irreversible, exactly as the perspective of our Union was irreversible 25 years ago. Because we have also a responsibility, we cannot turn towards the Balkans only when we see a problem with refugees or with terrorists. That is the part of the world where only us can really make a difference.
And this is also what changed the most here in Maastricht 25 years ago. We stopped being just a free trade area and we became a Union - a political Union. From that moment in time, we are not customers, we are citizens. That was the big change: citizens with rights, citizens with responsibilities, with liberties and with opportunities. And this is what made my generation fall in love with the European Union - at that time it was opportunities, freedoms, movements, single currency. We discovered the freedom of studying across the continent. I am an Erasmus student myself, I can say here: we can celebrate the 30th anniversary of the indeed more successful European Union program that has forged generations of Europeans and millions of babies, included of the European generations.
We learned through the Erasmus and I believe I see this is still the case, a new sense of belonging - not only to our local community, not only to our country, but to a broader European family. And I always get very angry when people speak about the European identity as if it was in contradiction with a national identity. I'm from Rome. And if people ask me if I feel more from Rome or from Italy, I tell you: this is nonsense, because I am from Rome, I am from Italy, I am from Europe. I am Italian, I am Roman, I am European. We have different layers of identity. And they are not in contradiction with each other. And I think that this experience of being together, living together, studying together, travelling, also understanding the difficulties of living together being different, is something that made us European.
We realise also that our vote could make a difference not only in our country or in our city but also on a continent. Indeed, President [of France, Emmanuel] Macron said it two days ago in the Sorbonne: Bruxelles, c'est nous, toujours, à chaque instant ! Translated, I would say: Brussels is not elsewhere, it is everywhere. The only ones that cannot play with this are the Belgians. But, indeed, when you see capitals saying Brussels decided it, it is not a building in Brussels that decides. It is Heads of State and Government, parliamentarians, citizens with their votes taking decisions together. Brussels is the capital of the European Union, but is not someone from Mars taking decisions – it is us coming together.
And we have a choice, and here I close: since the Maastricht Treaty, we can be spectators or we can be citizens at full. We can let go or we can engage, seriously. We can let things go the old way, paving the way for populism and irrational movement to grow, or we can seriously work for change. But since Maastricht we do have a choice as Europeans and that made the difference. There is obviously no handbook to follow. We can only learn from our own mistakes and successes - I also have an historian background and that shows -, especially because the European project is a first in human history. Nobody tried this before. We have been crazy enough to try, it worked. People in the world see how this works, people in the European Union start to understand what we risk to lose if we dismantled what we built for 60 years.
The future of our continent is not written anywhere – it’s unscripted. So we have to write the script ourselves and decide ourselves what happens next. That is a big responsibility. Sometimes the responsibility of freedom is heavy to carry, but I think it's a big luxury we have and we have to exercise it. So the future of Europe is in our and in your hands. And the European Union I believe, again, is not a building in Brussels, it is what each of us make of it.