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[Check Against Delivery]
Commissioner for Regional Policy
EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian: A new chance to bring countries closer in Europe
Stakeholder Conference on the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region
Athens, 6 February 2014
Future partners in the EU strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian region!
It is a pleasure to be here again in Greece, to enjoy your excellent hospitality and your beautiful country.
This time I am here to mark a significant milestone on the way to a new macro-region. At this conference we will be completing the consultation period, and opening the way for the drafting of the Strategy itself.
During your discussions I am sure you all will be struck by the opportunities – and the challenges – that lie ahead.
The macro regions in the Baltic and the Danube have shown that this new approach really does open up new opportunities. In this region – the first where equal numbers of member states and non-member states are coming together, the strategy is a new chance to bring countries with whom we have so much shared history, closer once again, after a period of separation.
Just twenty years ago, what we are doing would have seemed impossible. Even now, despite all the positive changes that have taken place since the beginning of the 90s, there are still considerable disparities in the region. And while some like Slovenia and Croatia have already found their place inside the EU, some other potential candidates are still a long way from entry.
The new strategy will not magic away economic disparities, or political challenges. But I believe it can make a significant contribution by offering new ways for candidates and potential candidates to work alongside EU member states. It is a chance to build capacity, and to forge links at all levels: between politicians, between technicians, between entrepreneurs and between academics.
I said there are opportunities, but also challenges. I will be rather frank with you. The difficulty of what you are undertaking should not be underestimated. However, our understanding of how to get the best out of the macro regional approach is maturing, and you have the luxury of learning from others' experience.
I hope you will take these lessons on board, because the aim must be to create something lasting. Not a strategy for 2014, but a strategy that grows in the decades to come.
Last summer the Commission conducted an evaluation of the existing macro regional strategies in the Baltic and the Danube. Our evaluation found that the macro regional approach can and does bring results. But it also found that this is the case only if the countries involved take certain actions.
This approach only works, when the participants are willing to look for projects that benefit the whole region. Think across borders. If the Action Plan is a cover for narrow national approaches, it will fail.
The macro regional approach requires the ownership and active input of all participants. You are a group of equal partners. Some may have more funds, or more experience in this kind of initiative. But you all have an equal voice, and no one country should dominate.
Political commitment must translate into adequate resources. Full-time staff to co-ordinate inside each government. Experts from the relevant line ministries given the support they need to participate in each pillar. Staff seconded to the Commission, particularly from the Member States, so that we can play our facilitating role properly.
If you are not able or willing to provide adequate staffing, you should not expect great results.
Evidence shows, it is a mistake to overload capacity. I have insisted that the new strategy start very tightly focussed on issues that chiefly address the hinterland of the Adriatic-Ionian Seas. We already have the Maritime Strategy prepared so well by Maria. This will become one pillar alongside three others. And – for now – that is enough.
I say this not because I want to limit your ambitions. I say this because I want to increase your chances of success.
Start with a pragmatic, realistic and measurable common objectives. Demonstrate to yourselves and your public that you can deliver great results. Then, and only then, increase the scope of the strategy.
The last lesson is perhaps the most important. We have concluded that this new approach can only really flourish if the macro-regions are willing to be drivers, not passengers. The Commission will facilitate and support, but you have to be the leaders.
So what should the objectives be? We will be pulling together the results of the consultation in a Communication and Action Plan that we will publish in June. But some things are already clear.
I will leave it to Maria to talk to you about the first pillar, Blue Growth: this is absolutely key to the development of this region.
The second is regional connectivity: You are at the cross roads of the east west and north south axes of Europe, and this region is an important transit route for goods, passengers and energy. Cooperating more closely through the new macro region will help increase the accessibility and attractiveness of the region, by improving links through the hinterland, and across borders.
Pillar number three is quality of the environment: All our environmental problems cross borders, so the solutions have to as well. Protection of cross border habitats, and of migrating species – like turtles - is just one example.
And lastly there is Sustainable Tourism: When I suggested this as a pillar, some people thought it was too small an objective. Well, tourism is one of our most significant and fastest growing industries. And while Athens is on the tourist map world-wide, the region as a whole has huge unexploited potential in sports, eco, cultural, nautical, thermal, rural, religious, scholastic, and conference tourism. I believe this is an essential area for the strategy.
I said you had the luxury of learning from others' experience. You also have an advantage the Baltic and the Danube lacked at the beginning. You are starting out at the beginning of a financial period. There is no additional money for the strategy, but you can get more from the existing funds – around €50 billion - by factoring the new strategy into your policy planning for the years ahead, so that the funds are used coherently.
We are drawing up the relevant programmes and strategy papers for the member and non-member states right now. The strategy should be on everybody's minds as we go through this process, and mainstreamed into all financial planning. And just a reminder: do please acknowledge to your public when funds come from EU sources, whatever those are!!!
How the strategy develops will be up to each of you, and the hard work starts here! Let's make this a new start in the region, another step forward towards a more hopeful future for all who live here.