Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to Croatia, and to Dubrovnik. In ancient times, the walls of Dubrovnik were inscribed with the Latin inscription Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro - Freedom should not be sold for all the gold in the world. I think that you will agree that there is no more fitting location in Europe than this city to consider the democratic revolution that continues to advance freedom in Southeast Europe and to transform our societies. In the last decade, we have not only been witnesses of profound and rapid change, but its beneficiaries. As a consequence, we are the fortunate generation that bears both the responsibility and the burden of defining our nations as democracies and guiding our countries (and often our Parliaments which is oftentimes more difficult) into the Euro-Atlantic community.
We all understand the challenges that the past has imposed on us. To overcome the challenges that we face as the political, civic and intellectual leaders of our nations, we must articulate a vision of a future in which all our citizens can participate and prosper – which must include a vision of a civic society which will enrich the lives of our citizens and the lives of their children. After more than fifty years of isolation behind the iron-curtain, our economies and societies were deadened by what the Polish Nobel Laureate Czeslav Milosz called the “closed mind” of communism. It is an understatement to say that we firmly believe that the expansion of peace and freedom is the critical foundation of the Europe that we all aspire to.
Our countries are at different stages on the road to membership in the transatlantic community. But, as I look around Croatia’s neighborhood in South East Europe and beyond, I see progress and advancement everywhere. The challenges that remain are all manageable if we look to the future and act with statesmanship. We all agree that membership in the European Union and NATO are objectives that we and our people support. The European Union offers our countries and our citizens real benefits: economic integration and the capacity to compete on the global market. It also gives our citizens the confidence and pride to belong to a Europe that promotes individual freedoms and preserves our national identities and cultural uniqueness.
Croatia is acutely aware that peace and security cannot be achieved in isolation. NATO is widely recognized to be the most successful alliance in history. It is a mistake to view NATO purely as a military alliance, for NATO was founded on and relies upon a set of core values: peace, freedom, democracy and a free market economy. Croatia knows that NATO links both sides of the Atlantic into a powerful community of shared values and interests, and it is able to respond with flexibility and decisiveness to new challenges and threats on the European continent and across the globe.
While the threat of war in Europe has disappeared, it is our responsibility to complete the southern dimension of Europe to ensure that instability and turmoil never return to our communities. Although war and conflict will not return to this part of Europe, we must be prepared for the substantial risks and uncertainties that lurk out beyond Europe, including terrorism, political instability, economic fragility and the challenges that the environment poses to the global community.
We will continue to build on the recent achievements of all our nations, especially in economic and trade relations with Europe and building the network of economic ties across South East Europe. To consolidate stability and raise prosperity in our countries, we must address the issue of trade and investment. We recognize that an improved investment climate is crucial to sustaining democracy and satisfying the needs of our citizens. Therefore, promoting trade, business, development and prosperity can be reinforced by extending the benefits of membership of the Central Free Trade Agreement to Europe’s southern dimension and beyond, to include Moldova and the Ukraine. In a same way deepening and expanding regional cooperation, e.g. in South East European Cooperation Process, can only contribute to the stability of this part of Europe and therefore to the completing of Europe’s Southern Dimension.
But I think in our discussions today we should advance our thinking further than a consideration of our recent successes. To this end, I would like to offer my thoughts on what will become the future history of Southeast Europe:
- I believe that the economic development and growth of prosperity that we have just begun to experience in Croatia are the first signs of an economic miracle that will soon sweep the entire region of Southeast Europe. The same free market forces and enlightened policies which lifted Slovakia, Hungary and others are having their effect in our countries today.
- I believe that European idea has put down deep and permanent roots in all our countries. It is clear that affairs of state are decided by free and fair democratic processes, and that the people’s political choice will be respected. The example of Serbia and Montenegro is but the most recent proof of this proposition. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Prime Minister Đukanović to our discussions today and commend him for the successful referendum in his country.
- Additionally, I believe that our understandable preoccupation (and often frustration) with the pace of negotiations with the European Union blinds us to the larger effects of integration. Here, I speak of the “soft effects” of commerce, tourism, trade, even The World Cup. These interactions which constitute the social and civilizational fabric of Europe are increasingly exponentially in Europe’s South and expanding across the Black Sea. In my lifetime (god willing in my political lifetime) a businessman or tourist will be able to drive from Vienna to Istanbul without stopping at a border crossing. We need to begin to imagine the effect that this simple freedom will have on the strength and prosperity of Europe.
- Finally, I believe that the next generation of political and economic leadership has already appeared in Europe and now resides in the university classrooms and lecture halls of Zagreb, Belgrade, Skopje, Tirana, Sarajevo, and Podgorica………I have not finished….and Kiev, Chisinau and Tbilisi. (I would like to acknowledge and welcome President Saakasvili whose achievements are well known. Georgia like all our countries is an essential part of European history.) My point, here, is that this next generation whose desire for education, opportunity will inevitably become both a dynamic economic force and responsible and active political constituency which will transform not just our region, but Europe itself.
Today, we need to turn our attention to the possibilities they lie just in front of us. It seems to me that the completion of Europe’s South in the remaining years of this decade will hold untold benefits not only for the citizens of Southeast Europe, but for Europe as a whole. Not only will these benefits be economic -- although the thought of seven or eight “Slovak Miracles” in one region of Europe is something to think about – the completion of Europe’s South act as a bridge to Europe’s East. For, as we all agree, the values, opportunities and freedom, which has clearly transformed the fair city of Dubrovnik cannot be denied to any European democracy. To return to the walls of Dubrovnik, it is true that freedom cannot be sold, but it is also true that it cannot be withheld and must be protected and expanded.