First day of the year, and as usual I have decided to look back at the best moments of the last twelve months. 2018 ended on a sad note: a few days ago the world lost Amos Oz – an Israeli writer who never stopped believing in the possibility of peace and of the two-state solution. Oz once wrote: “There is no need to establish whose fault it was, whose blindness it was that caused the tragedy. What we need is to find a way out of the mire.”
I would like to keep this lesson in mind as the new year begins. Against all the difficulties in our world and our times, we can try to build little big solutions, together with those who have the will and the possibility to do so. We know that great changes can start with small steps forward.
This is also the common thread in the twelve moments from 2018 that I bring with me in the new year. These moments show that the European Union has become an indispensable point of reference, globally. And they let us look at the future with hope, in spite of all difficulties.
The Lake Prespa agreement
In June I was at the border between Greece and the future North Macedonia, for the signature of an historic agreement between Athens and Skopje: thanks to the leadership and the courage of their Prime Ministers – Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev – the two countries have solved an issue that had poisoned their relationship for decades. The agreement sent a message of peace for the whole of Europe and particularly for the Balkans. This year we will have to continue on this path – completing the ratification processes in Athens and Skopje, but also opening negotiations for the accession to the European Union of the future North Macedonia and Albania, pushing forward the work to normalise relations between Serbia and Kosovo through the dialogue we facilitate, and trying to make the path toward the European Union irreversible for all our six partners.
European defence, a promise comes true
At the end of 2017 we laid the foundation for the Europe of defence – after sixty years when the dream of integration in this field had never been realised. In 2018 we turned this promise into reality. In March, for the first time in our history, the Council gathered in the new Permanent Structured Cooperation format: 25 Member States now work together for a more secure and more autonomous Europe, and to strengthen our defence industry. We started with seventeen practical projects, and we added seventeen more at the end of the year. In July we widened even more our cooperation with NATO, from exercises to cuber-defence. And in December we decided to strengthen the civilian dimension of our international missions, with new capacities and shorter reaction time.
The path of European integration has restarted with defence – which always was the most difficult field for European integration. I hope this can show the way, to push European integration forward in other fields too, from solidarity in welcoming migrants to relaunching our economies. With the same pragmatism and courage.
This is an important year for our Union, and it is important to keep in mind that historic steps can be taken even in the most difficult of times.
The two Koreas’ meeting
In April, the South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North Korean leader Kim Yong-un met at the border between their countries. They exchanged hugs and handshakes, and holding hands, they crossed together the line drawn in the ground sixty years ago, to separate two countries and countless communities and families.
This is the demonstration that reconciliation is always possible, even after decades of war. In these months we have accompanied this path towards reconciliation and the negotiations to achieve a full, verifiable and irreversible de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
In August I also went to the border between the two Koreas, and to Seoul, to work with our Korean partners on how to make our support stronger and more effective. The work goes on daily, with the United States, China, Japan, and of course with the United Nations.
It is a difficult path. Some believe it is impossible. But just one year ago, that walk across the border – hand in hand – seemed impossible too.
At the Un General Assembly
Just like every year, the United Nations’ General Assembly week – in September in New York – was one of the most intense moments of 2018. But this year I witnessed something different. Like never before, the European Union was at the centre of the work done within the multilateral system – together with our international partners – for peace, security, human rights and development.
Our partners look at us as an indispensable point of reference to protect and reform the multilateral system. Our work with the United Nations is more intense than ever, from Syria to our support to the Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), from our common work for human rights to sustainable development. Let alone the most innovative multilateral experiment of these years: the new trilateral cooperation among the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations – on migration, economic growth, peace and security. A unique case of cooperation and partnership between two continents – on a local, regional and global scale.
Our work to save the deal with Iran
In May, Donald Trump announced that the United States would stop implementing the deal negotiated by all global powers with Iran. A few minutes later, on behalf of the other countries that negotiated and concluded the deal, I confirmed the international community’s determination to preserve the deal and its implementation. Two and a half years after we reached the deal, it continues to work and to guarantee the exclusively civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.
In September – after a meeting with the Foreign Ministers of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and Iran, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly – European countries have started preparations to create a mechanism to let our firms continue their legitimate business with Iran. The work continues in 2019 – to prevent a new nuclear arms race in al already unstable region, to strengthen the multilateral non-proliferation architecture that underpins our collective security, and also to effectively address our disagreements with Iran – but through dialogue and diplomacy.
The courage of Syrian and Yemeni women
One meeting filled me with sadness and hope at the same time – a meeting with a group of Syrian and Yemeni women. Women with different ideas, identities and stories, who managed to sit at the same table and discuss how to end the war and rebuild the social fabric of their two countries. It is a little big piece of our work for peace in Syria and Yemen: the talks in Stockholm on Yemen, which e supported; the second Brussels conference on Syria, to support the precious work of the UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura; the meeting we organised in New York with Ministers from more than fifty countries, still to support the UN-led mediation and guarantee humanitarian aid to the region. Staffan has just concluded his mandate: he deserves a huge thank for his his determination, patience and his ability to build new pathways where others only saw dead-ends. The work continues in 2019: not only the new UN envoy, but first and foremost Syrians and countries in the region can continues to count on our concrete support.
Three moments that remind us of how solid our relationship with the other side of the Atlantic is, even in difficult times. First moment: in December I was in Harvard, to discuss relations between the United Stated and Europe. The meetings with professors and students told me once again that the United States and Europe are natural partners and our destinies are tied, even if there are disagreements on single issues with the current administration. This is a message that I also read in Jim Mattis’ resignation letter: it was an honour and a pleasure to work with him as Secretary of defence.
Second moment: the meeting of women Foreign Ministers that I organised in Montreal with Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. Canada is today one of our closest partners, with our exact same outlook on global affairs. The same goes for Latin America – as we saw once again at the ministerial meeting of the European Union and Celac. These are all components of strong “transatlantic relations.”
For Africa, with Africa
Not just one moment, but several moments of common work with our African partners. Our new cooperation with the African union, not just on migration. The immense investment plan for Africa that we build together. The conferences we organised to support peace, security and development in the Sahel and in Somalia. But also the meetings with some young Africans at the Development Days in Brussels, the cooperation with singer Youssou N’Dour to better communicate the friendship between Europe and Africa, and the work with Bill Gates to promote growth and jobs in the continent. Not just for Africa, but finally together with our African neighbours and partners.
Back to Tripoli
In July I went back to Libya, in Tripoli, where we re-established a direct presence of the European Union – reopening our embassy as well as our mission in support of border management and criminal justice. This is the result of years of work with the Libyans and the United Nations. And in 2018 the work wen on, with the two conference in Paris and Palermo to support the UN-led mediation, end this endless phase of transition, instability and tension, and help the Libyans rebuild their country, together.
Europe as a global force – in Asia and the Pacific
It was an important year for our relations with Asia and the Pacific. We signed “free and fair trade” agreements with Japan and Singapore, and many other negotiations are well under way. We work together on security and anti-terrorism, particularly with the countries of South-East Asia. It is clear that events on the other side of the world have a direct impact on us – just think of Korea. And our Asian partners see us increasingly as a global security provider.
During my visits to the region in 2018 – from Singapore to Seoul, from New Zealand and Australia to Central Asia – and at the summit we organised in Brussels between Europe and Asia, we strengthened this partnership like never before. And we will keep on though this new year.
Frankfurt Book Fair
One image from within our borders, from our Europe. In October I had the honour to open Frankfurt Book Fair, the most ancient in the world. This year’s guest of honour was Georgia, a close and important partner for the European Union. And it was really moving for me to talk about what binds us together as Europeans, our culture, our identity – or rather, our thousands of identities, which live together as part of a greater European identity.
Foreign policy and technology
In these months we also tried to explore new ways to deal with “foreign policy”, and to place the European Union at the core of a global network that goes beyond traditional diplomacy. Today it is not enough to work with other governments and international organisations. To make our action truly effective, it is essential to cooperate with the private sector and civil society – even more so in sectors where innovation runs incredibly fast. This is why we decided to gather a group of leaders from the world of technology, to explore new possibilities for cooperation between tech and diplomacy – for instance in the field of artificial intelligence, on cyber-security, on sustainable development. And the work will continue in 2019.