Italy advocate of integration of Western Balkans

Being a strong supporter of the EU's enlargement policy and a convinced advocate of the European integration of the Western Balkans, Italy attaches a great importance to its relations with candidate countries in the region.[1] For the Italian government, it is essential that the Balkan region will be integrated into Europe, as it believes “the anchorage to Europe” is the only way to permanently stabilise this area and to make it more prosperous.
Italy supports EU's opening to Croatia, just as it supported the accession of Slovenia to the EU. However, Italy – together with Slovenia – is part to a dispute with Croatia over the Croatian contiguous zone of the Adriatic Sea: Zagreb’s plan to establish a restricted fishery zone has raised the anger of Italian and Slovenian fishermen. The EU, and especially Italy and Slovenia, are opposed to Zagreb’s unilateral decision. Should Croatia go on with its plans to close a huge Adriatic fishing zone, its chances of gaining entry into the EU by 2010 could be undermined. The Italian government considers this no more a bilateral problem, but a Communitarian issue that needs to be solved through a collaboration among all the Adriatic Sea states.[2]
For the Italian press, special attention should be devoted to enlargement towards Turkey. The election to President of the Republic of the AKP’s number two, Gül, is a decisive step towards the defeat of the military, the historical guarantors of institutional secularism in a deeply Muslim society. Turkey is therefore becoming, according to some Italian newspapers, increasingly democratic, but at the same time less secular, geopolitically more Arabic and less pro-Atlantic. It is up to the EU therefore to play its cards so that Ankara does not drift away from the Western front.[3] On this point, the European Commission’s Vice President, Franco Frattini made clear that it is inadmissible to say that “the most Turkey can aspire to is a strategic partnership” with the EU. A clash between the Commission, which is more ‘possibilist’, and a number of countries – headed by France – who are against accession is inevitable. According to Frattini, the simplified treaty strongly wanted by Sarkozy actually provides better institutional conditions for integrating Turkey. For example, the replacement of the old voting rules will imply that Ankara, with its 80 million inhabitants, will not become the most influential country in the EU.[4] Speaking at the Fourth Turkish-Italian Forum in Istanbul, Massimo D'Alema stated that Turkey is an important country not only for the Middle East area but worldwide. It has become a country that many consult to and want to work together with. This means that the EU would benefit from Turkey’s accession, especially as far as security and regional stability is concerned. D'Alema also stressed the fact that Italians have a positive view on Turkey's membership and Italy wants the EU to endorse an open doors policy vis-à-vis Turkey.[5]
The status of Kosovo and the future of EU-Serbia relations
Taking into account the debate that preceded Kosovo’s declaration of independence of February, the 17th 2008, the Italian Premier Romano Prodi affirmed that working together for the “Balkans cause”, beginning with the issue of Kosovo, is to be considered a top priority for all of the EU member states. In his opinion, “there will never be an ideal moment to settle the question of Kosovo, because no solution will ever fully satisfy both parties involved”. Italy “must therefore act with determination, preventing the stability of Kosovo and the whole region from being undermined by allowing the status quo to drag on indefinitely”. In Prodi’s view, it is in the interest of everyone – Kosovo, Serbia, the United Nations, NATO and Europe – to find a shared solution. In particular, Prodi would like to press for a more welcoming EU stance on Serbia that would illicit such positive results as to avert nationalist gains in the country’s January elections and to be able to compensate Belgrade for the possible independence of Kosovo. However, for Rome any solution to this problem requires a “significant strengthening of the relations between the European Union and Belgrade”, both in terms of stepping up the pace of negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, and in terms of a powerful European effort to help underpinning Serbian economy.[6]
The Italian press also considered the independence of Kosovo as inevitable and affirmed that the EU needed to accept it, acknowledging the impossibility of putting off the region’s independence indefinitely. Warnings directed at Pristina against sudden and unilateral declarations of independence were seen as absolutely essential. But it was recalled that Europe’s coherent acceptance of its responsibility over the region is equally vital.[7] As the Spokesperson of the Italian Foreign Ministry Pasquale Ferrara said, Italy, despite the outgoing government of Romano Prodi, was ready to recognize the independence of Kosovo along with other Western European member states of the Contact Group. Italy wanted EU to adopt a united decision on the status of Kosovo. For the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Massimo D'Alema, in fact, Kosovo independence process could not be reversed anymore and it should have been managed by the EU as a whole.[8] D’Alema, following the failure to settle the Kosovo question in the UN, declared that the EU and the United States would have proceeded without the UN to guarantee Pristina a peaceful transition to territorial autonomy.[9]
The Italian Council of Ministers decided to recognise the independence of Kosovo “in a framework of international supervision” and to authorise the Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema to respond positively to the request by Pristina, starting normal diplomatic relations with Kosovo authorities. The decision was supported by all the members of the Council of Ministers, except for the Minister for Social Solidarity Paolo Ferrero (member of Rifondazione Comunista). As pre-announced by Belgrade, the Serbian ambassador to Rome has been recalled for consultations and a formal letter of protest has been sent by Serbia to the Italian government to complain about the Italian unilateral recognition of independent Kosovo.[10]

[1] See Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, Paesi Membri Italia: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[2] P. Ferrara, “Incontro settimanale con la stampa”, Ministero degli Affari Esteri, 10 January 2008, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[3] L. Carraciolo, "L'Europa si allontana", La Repubblica, 29 August 2007, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[4] A. D’Argenio, "Per l’Europa una buona scelta questo voto scoraggi l’estremismo"(interv. F. Frattini), La Repubblica, 23 July 2007, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[5] M. D'Alema, Foro di Dialogo Italo-Turco, 22 November 2007, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[6] R. Prodi, Intervento del Presidente del Consiglio alla Conferenza degli Ambasciatori slovacchi, 18 July 2007, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[7] S. Fagiolo, "Spetta all'Unione Europea sciogliere il nodo del Kosovo, Il Sole 24 Ore, 14 December 2007, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[8] P. Ferrara,"Kosovo,Farnesina: Italia deve riconoscerlo insieme ai Big UE", Alice Notizie, 7 February 2008, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[9] A. Romano, "Kosovo, un punto per D'Alema", La Stampa, 21 December 2007, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[10] See La Repubblica, 21 February 2008: (last access: 04.03.2008).