Esteemed colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,Dear friends,
Taking my cue from the title of this panel, I think it is quite necessary to address at the outset a very central question: who are those actors who strive for stability and, conversely, which are those which act in the opposite direction. We cannot afford to harbor any illusions or be carried away by wishful thinking in our analysis because, at the end of the day, the European Union and the individual states that comprise it do not live in a vacuum. Advancing our rules-based agenda and creating win-win situations in our region and beyond requires partners, like-minded ones as we want to call them, and this must be done in a clear-eyed and careful manner.
It is therefore self-evident, from my point of view, that if the EU is to truly fulfill its potential in the international arena, a few key elements are required: a strong voice, a unity of purpose and a staunch commitment to the values it espouses. We are currently in the middle of cataclysmic developments in the European space, with the brutal war waged by Russia against Ukraine, and the unified response of the EU has been forceful in utilizing available tools in our arsenal. It is also evident, however, that our multilateral approach with third countries, to build our case, has not been quite as effective. It is imperative that we engage in a brainstorming exercise on this, if we are to be successful in making a persuasive argument about the undoubtable benefits, as we consider them, of a rules-based order and the primacy of international law.
Speaking of which, let me say a couple of words about the Eastern Mediterranean, where all these issues are extremely pertinent. This brings me back to the question I posed at the beginning, regarding stability-minded actors vs. spoilers. Cyprus and Greece have been working diligently and purposefully over the last 10 years, to construct a matrix in which all the countries in the East Med may co-operate harmoniously and for mutual benefit. The underpinning philosophy is not particularly philosophic: adherence by all to a set of principles which have come to define the international system following World War II. Every single regional actor has bought into this concept and the resulting trilateral mechanisms, as you are aware, are now fully established and functioning very efficiently.
Such has been the success of this project that other countries have been seeking to become part of the equation. The 3+1 format tying together Cyprus, Greece and Israel with the US is now a fact and at the most recent meeting at Foreign Ministers level, specific objectives were agreed, which will yield in due course tangible results.
It is of course unfortunate that one regional actor not only refuses to join in this great example of regional multilateralism but, even worse, seeks to upend it. As I have already mentioned, in order to deal with such challenges effectively, we must look with an objective eye, at the motives guiding a spoiler’s actions. In this particular case, is Ankara interested in a regional, rules-based order from which everyone stands to gain? Or is it playing a zero-sum game in an effort to exert regional dominance at the expense of the rest? I want to underline again; we cannot afford the luxury of wishful thinking when it comes to such crucial matters.
In conclusion, let me say that whether we address the Western Balkans or the post-Soviet sphere or the Eastern Mediterranean, the European Union’s stance and its voice must be unequivocal and not merely pay lip service to ideals and values.
As far as the Western Balkans are concerned, it is my firm belief that partners in the region should know that there exists a clear direction for their perspective in joining the EU. Equally it should create certain responsibilities on their behalf as future Members. The Western Balkans should be encouraged that concrete reforms will have tangible and immediate benefits as regards the accession process.
Our response to the invasion of Ukraine demonstrated both our abilities as well as our limitations. Moving forward, let us see how we may further strengthen the former while mitigating the latter.