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Åbningstale ved konferencen "20 Years that Changed Europe"

Åbningstale ved konferencen "20 Years that Changed Europe – the Copenhagen Criteria and the Enlargement of the European Union” den 14. maj 2013 

Fellow ministers [Lajcak, Grubjesic and Poposki, and Commissioner Füle], distinguished experts, ladies and gentlemen.

In the spring of 1989 I visited the divided city of Berlin as a high school student. It made a huge impression on me to experience the check-points. And to see how families and friends were kept away from each other by force. Even my own group of students was held back for several hours by the border police.

Less than a year later – together with the rest of the world – I watched in awe as the Berlin Wall came down and the people of Central and Eastern Europe embraced their newly-won freedom. Looking back, it was indeed another era compared with today’s Europe where citizens travel, work and trade freely across our continent.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Royal Academy of Sciences and Letters, and welcome to our conference on EU-enlargement and the Copenhagen criteria. I am pleased to see the strong turn-out for our discussion today. It bears witness to the fact that the enlargement process remains immensely important to Europe 20 years after the Copenhagen criteria were adopted just a few kilometres from here. I also want to thank the Danish Institute for International Studies – in short DIIS – for organizing today’s event. It is an impressive line-up of speakers, and I am certain that we will be able to identify some key outstanding challenges as well as provide some fresh perspectives on the road ahead for enlargement.

First of all, a quick word on the Royal Academy of Sciences and Letters, which has kindly provided the premises for our conference today. In line with the aspirations of the Enlightenment, prevailing in much of Europe at the time, the Academy was established in 1742 by permission of Denmark’s King Christian the Sixth. It moved into this beautiful building in 1899, and some of Denmark’s most famous scientists and writers have been among its members. Perhaps the most famous of them all, the nuclear scientist and Nobel Prize-winner Niels Bohr was actually the Academy’s President for 23 years.

But let me now turn to another Nobel Prize-winner, the European Union, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year. The Nobel Committee said in a statement that it regarded the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights as the EU’s most important achievement.  Within the first thirty years of its existence, European co-operation managed to bring about peace and reconciliation between old adversaries in Europe and helped consolidate democracy and human rights in Southern Europe. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, European co-operation has made great strides towards meeting the same goals in Central and Eastern Europe. The key driver in this context has been the EU’s enlargement process. 

Today’s political map of Europe looks radically different from the one that existed in 1952, when the ancestor of the European Union – the European Coal and Steel Community – was established. It is immensely encouraging that countries, which have suffered under totalitarian repression for decades, have decided to stake their future on a close and demanding European co-operation based on democracy and human rights. The EU has turned age-old military enemies in Europe into political and economic partners, thereby making another war in Europe almost unthinkable.

However, the Balkan wars in the 90’ties were a brutal and horrendous reminder that peace in Europe must never be taken for granted. Today the situation in the region has changed entirely. All of the countries in the Balkans have a European perspective and all are engaged in comprehensive reform efforts. Old conflicts are being overcome. The most recent success is the historic agreement on normalisation between Serbia and Kosovo. More than anything else it is the perspective of one day joining the EU that continues to drive reforms and contributes to reconciliation in the region.

Let me also add that many non-European countries regard the European Union as a beacon of democracy and human rights. During the Arab Spring, Egyptian and Libyan activists have looked towards Europe and European values for inspiration on how to reform their own societies.

Ladies and gentlemen. At a time, when the European project is experiencing turbulent times - when the debt crisis, high unemployment and poor economic growth is causing some to ask, if the EU has a future at all - I would like to state the following: If the European Union did not exist already, European countries would invent it as quickly as possible. They would do so, because the current crisis has made it abundantly clear that there is a need for European solutions to underpin the crisis management undertaken at the national level. They would do so, because they would realize that no single European state has the size, the economy or the defence budget to make a real difference on the big global issues like, trade liberalization, conflict prevention and climate change. It is only by acting together that European states are able to affect global change.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Copenhagen criteria, we should not only acknowledge how the criteria have fulfilled the hopes and aspirations vested in them at the time of their adoption. It is equally important that we look ahead and assess how to ensure that the Copenhagen criteria continue to provide an appropriate basis for the EU’s enlargement policy.

Today the Copenhagen criteria are enriched by measures deriving from lessons learned from the enlargements of 2004 and 2007. The criteria remain the same, but there is a strengthened focus on their implementation. Candidate countries are evaluated not on stated intentions, but on tangible facts on the ground with regard to how they actually implement fundamental rights and freedoms, rule of law, good governance, economic reforms and the fight against corruption and organized crime.

From time to time we hear voices talk of enlargement fatigue, pointing either to the risk of weakening the EU or the inadequate preparation of candidate countries. We also hear some people refer to the current economic crisis in Europe in order to make the point that enlargement must await better times. However, it is important to recognize that enlargement has obvious benefits not only for the inhabitants of the new Member States, but also for the old Member States. It affects us all, when our neighbours are burdened by corruption, organized crime, drugs, illegal immigration or human trafficking. And we all benefit from true and sustainable reforms to promote rule of law and functioning market economies. We stand to gain, when our neighbours prosper.

So my message to all the sceptics, who see the enlargement process as causing or aggravating Europe's current economic difficulties – this is not the case! On the contrary! Enlargement is very much a part of the solution to Europe’s economic crisis, because democracy, rule of law and economic reforms in candidate countries will only help to increase stability, thereby promoting trade and business opportunities across Europe. That is for existing EU Member States and candidate countries alike. Enlargement – when it is the result of hard work to meet the Copenhagen Criteria - is a win-win situation. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the viability and continued impact of the Copenhagen criteria serves as a reminder to all of us. The EU is a community built on common values with democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights and minorities and a well-functioning market economy at its core. These basic values are the glue that holds us together in times of prosperity as well as in times of adversity. And it is the consolidation of these values on the whole of the European continent that remains the ultimate goal of enlargement.

So there is every reason to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Copenhagen criteria. They have stood the test of time, and they have served their purpose well. I am confident that they will continue to do so in the years to come. I wish you all a successful conference. Thank you.