Titus Corlăţean, ministrul afacerilor externe
Deschiderea Bucharest Forum 2014 – Unleashing the potential of Eurasia; Strategic choices on the New Silk Road
Palatul Parlamentului, Centrul Internaţional de Conferinţe

As the concept of this Forum suggests, our debates over the next couple of days will broadly revolve around the best ways to take advantage of the premises for Eurasia to become a space for more constructive interaction that would bring together diverse national and regional interests. That would certainly be in the interest of all of us, allowing economic benefits for all the partners involved, from Asia to Europe and would serve our shared interest in security and stability. We are speaking here of a huge landmass, enormous resources, ancient cultures and civilizations, opening now to modernity and globalization. 

The New Silk Road is not a new idea. It is a tested “highway” throughout the history. Coming back to it makes perfect sense, especially in these days. Boosting trade will bring development, which can broaden horizons and create the premises for sustainable growth.

Romania is at a crossroad between the main regions involved in this project and that’s why holding such a conference in Romania is more than appropriate.  

The idea is simple but it has often been a victim of historical context. The dynamics of cooperation between Europe and Asia are deeply dependent on political context. When the context is favorable, it flourishes. I strongly believe that we should seize this opportunity and bring to fruition the concept of a New Silk Road, both embedded in the developed Western world and with a potential to gather strength from the giant emerging economies of Asia.

The end of the Cold War, 25 years ago, seemed to inject a new optimism. We all believed that even a heavy and tragic historical baggage can be surpassed, that we can start anew, with positive attitude, to build a better future. For at least a decade and a half, it seemed that this is the case: many nations have gradually regained their appetite for freedom, cooperation within and between regions across Eurasia has greatly expanded, new bases for prosperity have been laid.

The global economic and financial crisis, in parallel with the accumulation and then spill-over of  historical frustrations and obsolete ambitions on the part of some, going beyond what should be an enlightened vision of national self-interest and multilateral interaction in the 21st century, have refocused and reoriented our attention.

Bearing the above elements in mind, I believe we have to think about the shape that the development of Eurasia will take by 2050. The transformation of this area in a “highway” of trade and communication is a project for more than one generation. 

The need for such an updated strategic vision is made all the more urgent by the political upheavals in the Middle East and the Southern EU neighbourhood, where it seems that emerging trends will take decades to evolve into a more coherent and stable picture.

Uncertainties regarding the restart of economic growth, globalization and accelerating global crises – all these elements are, from a Eurasian perspective, a serious call for us to find new anchoring points of stability. In this respect, the theme of this Forum is timely.

The opening of the European markets towards the emerging and developing economies of Asia is, at the moment, one of the most well-established trade policy directions of the European Union. Romania is a firm supporter of this line of action. Asia is already one of the great engines of world economic growth and is set to become perhaps the largest, in the next decades.

The great Asian economies, especially China and India, which at the moment are still geared towards an export-driven economy, are expected to shift towards a model based on domestic demand, and this demand is going to be proportional to the demographic realities of those countries.

This represents a huge opportunity for both sides of this corridor but also for the many countries placed along its’ long course. We all know that economic development tends to facilitate convergence mechanisms and this is an aspect that we are very interested in.

Romania and other countries in South-East Europe already took some concrete steps in using the huge potential of co-operation with China. In this respect, I recall the very positive outcome of the 16+1 conference in Bucharest held in the fall of 2013. We are convinced that there are tremendous business opportunities waiting to be discovered and explored.

Romania has a powerful network of partnerships with other important Asian actors, such as Japan, India, Republic of Korea and we are looking forward to an equally dynamic relation with countries in the Heartland of Eurasia.

Speaking about the Romanian potential participation to this project, there are two main aspects that I would like to highlight. First, as a member of the most influential trade block, the European Union, Romania is at the crossroads of  major commercial circuits on energy, industry, agriculture and services. Romania has all the assets to become a regional hub for foreign investment, innovation and technological development.

Second of all and equally important: Romania has proved to be a stable political actor in the region and a factor of influence that has the ability and the resources to multiply the beneficial effects generated by the New Silk Road in the field of economic development. This ambitious project has the ability to promote cooperation and to help tackling unresolved regional issues - frozen conflicts, reluctance to commit to reform, border disputes, internal conflicts, economic sanctions. I must stress out that such interaction would require the strong support of all the like-minded political actors along the way and also of other stakeholders, such as the United States of America.

It is true that the current regional context is a politically difficult one. Most recently, the crisis in Ukraine has developed as a central problem for regional and inter-regional cooperation in a context where not all actors are prepared to abide by the rules of international behaviour and international law.

The flouting of basic notions of sovereignty and territorial integrity, of the freedom of all states to opt for their own path without external interference and pressure, has revived the worst spectres of geopolitics in its pernicious understanding of crude power, and of the supposed capacity of the stronger to redraw reality according to its own subjective, isolated interests.

Security threats cannot be addressed in isolation, and the increasing risks in today’s ever more complicated international environment condemn those tempted to think otherwise to deny their own countries, peoples and citizens their rightful chances for prosperity and for developing their real potential.

Security and stability of the Eurasian area depends on understanding that full compliance with rules of international law, as well as accepting the reality of economic interdependence and the huge opportunities that come with it.  

The crisis in Ukraine is a crisis of international law, a crisis for the European security architecture. It affects the Eurasian stability as well and it is has a negative impact on energy security. 

This context, however, has strengthened Trans-Atlantic cohesion. At the same time, the EU mission regarding its Eastern Neighborhood is a good opportunity to re-confirm the Union’s capacity for soft power, while re-invigorating at the same time our Trans-Atlantic link.

We think that the experience of the Eastern Partnership has very good chances to prove its effectiveness. We have already seen the Republic of Moldova’s example of commitment and progress as well as Georgia’s perseverance in pursuing their freely assumed goals of Euro-Atlantic integration. EU’s anchoring policies for the neighbourhood will prove to be more and effective that any geopolitical blackmail.  

Furthermore, the experience and effectiveness of regional formats of cooperation continue to have a special relevance in a complex strategic area such as Eurasia. EU’s valuable initiatives the Balkans, in the Danube and the Black Sea region have proved their political and economic worth.

These formats and initiatives have enabled more effective integration policies. They have helped to foster political stability, institutional consolidation and economic gains in those countries that understand the importance of implementing reforms. I can mention here the Black Sea Synergy, the EU Strategy for the Danube Region, the Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM). 

The European and Atlantic communities and their partners should be able to get together, discuss and find better ways to promote shared interests. Based on this common convergence within a basic set of principles, we can co-opt an increasing number of actors with which to develop and expand the economic and cultural opportunities.  

Even if there are local sets of values that can differ, I am confident that we can work together for a common regional and global good.

The potential of the New Silk Road stems from the fact that this is an area of intersecting regional axes and overlapping interests, cooperative bridges and promising regional gateways towards development, stability and prosperity.

I wish you success for the works of this Forum and I am looking forward to hearing new ideas about promoting such an important project in years to come. Thank you.