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Podgorica,1 March 2017
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Speaker [of the Parliament of Montenegro, Ivan] Brajović, distinguished Ambassadors,
Honourable Members, dear friends and colleagues,
I am truly honoured to address this Parliament, the home of all the people of Montenegro. Although many seats are empty today – and I wish the opposition had accepted my invitation to have an exchange of views here because I know the support to the EU integration in Montenegro goes well beyond party lines. I really hope that my message can be heard by all the people and the parties of Montenegro, not only those who are here with us. It is a pretty straightforward message: that the European Union cares about the Western Balkans and Montenegro, that our door is open, that we imagine and want a common future for all the people of this continent, joined inside our Union. And I know that the people of Montenegro also imagine and want a common future inside the European Union. Beyond party lines.
As you know, in the next days I am travelling in all the so-called “Western Balkans Six.” I’ve been very keen to visit the entire region in one single trip – because I believe that regional cooperation is essential both for your citizens and for the path towards the European Union. And I have wanted my trip to begin right here, in Montenegro. This is partly because of the positive role you play in regional dynamics, having excellent relations with all your neighbours. And in a region like this, where the memory of the war is still not too far away, this is no minor achievement.
But it’s not just that. This is a young country, one of the youngest in the world. “Crna Gora” has centuries of history, but it is only ten years since you have regained your independence. And from the very moment this country regained its independence, you have decided to embark on a path towards European integration. The aspiration to be part of a common European family is written in the DNA of Montenegro.
In just over ten years, this country has made incredible progress – not only towards membership of the European Union. Your economy keeps growing, tourism is thriving, you are on the doorstep of NATO. You are engaged on the international arena as a force for peace, for instance, through your contribution to the European Union’s military missions to Mali and off the Horn of Africa. The negotiations on your accession to the EU keep advancing – so that there is no doubt, right now, that you are the frontrunner on the trail towards our Union.
Montenegro can and will be part of the European Union: this is not a distant dream. It is a real possibility that is just waiting for us to make it happen together. This is a responsibility for our political generation, not for the next one. Together we can lead Montenegro – and all the Western Balkans – inside the European Union.
I believe the European Union will not be complete as long as this region won’t join our community. The Balkans lie at the heart of Europe: no political boundary can change this reality – a reality based on geography, on history, on culture and on the precise awareness we share: that our future will be a better one, if it will be a common one. The people of the Balkans are European: they want and deserve the same opportunities, the same safeguards and rights as all other citizens of this continent.
As an Italian, I know I am just stating the obvious. Geography tells us so – and as I speak, I know I am doing it in the capital city that is closer to my own hometown, Rome, apart from the Vatican or San Marino. Our coasts are so close, and the Adriatic is such a “short” sea – almost a big lake. Along its shores, borders have moved, cultures have mixed. The port of Bar has always been a gateway – between the East and the West, between empires, between Central and South-Eastern Europe.
Your history is the history of Europe. And we know that the history of our continent has not always been easy. It’s a history of encounters, and a history of violence. It is filled with dark pages, which we cannot forget. But we can move forward and we have the responsibility to move forward.
Regional stability and growth are there – and this seems a miracle. Actually, it is the result of political choices, and vision, and commitment. But these are still fragile achievements. The promise of better living conditions has not always been followed by perceivable progress. The global balance of power is shifting, and this has put even more pressure on this fragile region. Sometimes, even necessarily, we had the impression that peace itself could not be taken for granted.
If you look at our challenges and at our opportunities, we can only face them together. In today’s world, my neighbour’s weakness is my own weakness. Instability always spills over borders. But likewise, my neighbour’s strength can be my own strength.
This is the core idea behind European integration: at a precise moment in history, we realised that it made much more sense to work together with our neighbours, instead of waging war against them. Our differences have not disappeared – and we don’t want them to disappear. But together we can turn our differences into a source of strength.
This is what we call “unity in diversity”. Strength in diversity. Unfortunately, this is not something you can achieve once and for all. Unity in diversity has to be continuously confirmed and reinforced. Otherwise, it dies. And here, there is so much we can learn from one another.
Montenegro is a unique place in the world. Such a small country hosts such an incredible variety of stories, languages, religions, ethnicities. Montenegrins live together with Serbs and Albanians, Croats, Bosniaks and Roma. This is a country for the Orthodox and the Muslim, the Catholic and the non-believer. So many different identities coexist here in Montenegro, but you all share a sense of belonging to a larger community.
I don’t want to be naïve, and portray an overly rosy situation. Coexistence is not easy. Mutual understanding and respect don’t always come natural. This is a challenge we all face, as we all come to terms with the growing diversity of our continent. Today we all have multiple identities, we all belong at the same time to a local or ethnic community, to our own country, and to the greater European family. But let me tell you there’s no contradiction in this. I know this is not the message we hear the most, nowadays.
Unity in diversity is a complex matter, and it can be very hard to achieve. This is particularly true in times of extreme polarisation. All European democracies have experienced moments of extreme partisanship, when dialogue seemed impossible. I come from a country that has some experience in this regard: I was myself a member of a national Parliament, so I know what it means and how difficult it can be. But when a country’s fundamental choices are at stake, the only way ahead is to take a deep breath, focus on what our citizens need, and serve the country with responsibility.
An inclusive political dialogue is crucial to Montenegro’s future, both as a democracy and as a candidate country. And all sides need to do their part – government and opposition, together with the civil society – managing your differences, without putting them aside, when the interest of the people of Montenegro is at stake. So let me call on all parties in this country – those that are here today, and those that aren’t – to overcome any outstanding issue, and work together for the sake of your people. Not because someone tells you this is the right thing to do; but because we all don’t know a better way to serve our purpose than exercising our responsibilities inside democratic institutions. The political fight can be tough – and you can count on it, in our region. But the game needs to be played in the field.
This is a young country, but I am sure your society and your political system have the maturity to deal with the current situation and to get over it. However difficult the times may be, I am sure you will find a solution, the necessary dialogue, the necessary understanding, the necessary commitment, and the opposition will be able to take once again its place in this Parliament.
I believe that the path towards the European Union can be a powerful motivation to seek unity beyond your legitimate natural disagreements. This is what the overwhelming majority of your citizens expect.
The EU path can be a unifier, because membership of our Union is not – and will never be - a declaration of hostilities against anyone. We are Union for peace, for democracy, for economic growth. Our mentality is not based on blocs, and spheres of influence. We do not define our identity against somebody else identity. What truly matters to us is primarily to deliver on our citizens’ needs.
This is quite clear if you look at the reforms Montenegro has already implemented since becoming a candidate country, and the opportunities that our cooperation has already created. Hundreds of students from Montenegro have come to universities in the European Union, thanks to Erasmus+. The economy is growing faster than in most other parts of Europe, despite a slow international recovery. It is now essential to continue on the same path.
I am not just talking about economic reforms. Foreign investors need to trust the institutions of a country, and its justice system. Business people need to know that they all play by the same rules, and corruption won’t make their life impossible. That the rule of law will always be guaranteed, as the backbone of democracy. Higher standards for environment protection or food safety will attract more tourists to this beautiful land. Better opportunities for women in business can unleash the full potential of the people of this country.
These reforms do not matter because the European Union asks for them. They matter because they have a real impact on the people of Montenegro, making this country more stable, more competitive and fair.
And so I come back to the responsibility of our generation. The time to pass these reforms is now. The time to make peace in the Balkans irreversible is now. The time to advance Montenegro on the path towards the EU is now.
Do not let any political fight stand in the way. On our side, the European Union’s side, I can promise you that the door is open. And that we want you to enter. We will do our part: the people of Montenegro need you to bring this country forward. Bring Montenegro in the European Union – for the people of this country, for the Western Balkans and for our entire continent. Thank you.