Deschiderea Bucharest Forum, cu tema “Facing a Perfect Storm: Perspectives for Europe’s Neighborhood Vision”

Bogdan Aurescu, ministrul afacerilor externe
Bucureşti, Ministerul Culturii


I am honored to be here today for the opening of the 2015 edition of the Bucharest Forum, an event which has gained a well-deserved reputation over the last years and enjoys such a distinguished participation of officials and experts. I trust that this edition will provide very useful insights on the main topics of international agenda for a better understanding of the difficult challenges that we have to face. 

I believe Europe is indeed an entity at the center of a “storm”, as the title of the Forum states. We have been speaking for quite a long time already about supposedly radical strategic shifts and new global centers of gravity, about emerging powers and EU’s decrease in relevance, about (successive) resets, and, now, about a so-called the dissolution of the European security architecture. The last couple of years have been illustrative in their sequence of new crisies superseding the previous ones. We were and are in a constant need for adaptation and fresh policy making.

Nevertheless, the deepening of crises within and around is forcing us to stay focused on our shared strategic interests and the array of complicating surrounding threats.

Somehow, we have started to lose sight of the centrality of our shared values for the EU and NATO projects: the values inherent in our liberal political systems, the force residing in our duty of solidarity, and the importance of substantial and convincing leadership.

We might debate – and this is very much a justified and vital debate – about competing visions of democracy, about the sometimes conflicting human aspirations for freedom, security and prosperity, and to what extent there exists a core of basic universal values. We must have the courage to affirm that there is indeed such a thing as universal values.

In this context of unpredictability of the recent years’ evolutions, in the EU, the neighboring regions and beyond, we have an obligation to re-inject a new trust and commitment in the defense of our values, in their capacity of influencing and shaping the global context. And, when we say that our core values should be the starting point in rebuilding a more successful European and larger regional vision, it is because these values stand at the intersection of the internal and external dimensions of such a vision, at the foundation of EU’s security, continued relevance and dynamism. 

Against this background, we should acknowledge our role as a major stakeholder for our immediate neighborhoods - to the East and South. In both areas, recent trends, as a natural accumulation or stimulated by third actors, breaking internationally accepted rules or established human rights, are not only destabilizing for those regions, but increasingly redrawing our external and internal security environment in a negative sense. But out of the storm, there are also opportunities we need to benefit from.

In the Eastern neighborhood, shoring up these values is essential to ensuring that our partners keep their options free for re-establishing the elements for interaction and cooperation on the bases of international law and respect for the rules of conduct between states.

Last year we have witnessed the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. We also saw the use of hybrid warfare tactics. Furthermore, Russia’s continued support for the separatists in Eastern Ukraine led to a conflict where thousands of people lost their lives.

Thus, an assertive Russia continues to stimulate the belt of frozen conflicts around the Black Sea. It continues to project force in order to promote its own interests on the expense of the international public order and international rule of law. On the Eastern flank of NATO, we are confronted every day with this method, constantly testing our solidarity.

In the South, we need to abandon passivity in order to shape a new picture of stabile, truly developing nations and states and constructive regional conduct. Here too, the values the EU and NATO are defending are directly relevant to the manner in which we can support the re-emergence of our Southern neighbors, with real positive impact on peoples’ lives.

The refugee dossier that is on Europe’s hands is complex and directly relevant to our security. We have accepted our own part of responsibility and solidarity, joining a consensus following the customary EU debate that is part of our rules and way of functioning.

Moving on to the re-arranging of the Middle East chessboard, this will certainly constrain all of us to reassess our interests, our contribution and our means of being constructive in the region, with a view to stabilizing it and relieving the peoples there of their current terrible distresses.

We also witness other continuously emerging challenges and threats. Ballistic missiles and the interest of state and non-state actors to acquire such technology.
Even if a positive result was reached on the Iranian nuclear deal, that country’s ballistic program continued despite maintenance of sanctions. Last Sunday’s Iranian ballistic missile test demonstrated an increased accuracy and that this challenge is more relevant than ever.

Furthermore, cyber attacks threaten security infrastructures and pose increased risks.

In this moment, when our Euro-Atlantic community is at a crossroads of challenges from both the East and South, Romania’s added value resides in its capacity to act as a strong, predictable and active Ally and partner, right at the Eastern boarders of NATO and the EU, in the extended strategic Black Sea region. For the first time in our history as a ‘border’-country, we are inside the community of values we have always been a part of, from a cultural and axiological point of view. We are, for the first time, on the right side, the safe side of the border. We have an extraordinary vocation for being a ‘bridge’ towards this region and, therefore, we have a duty and responsibility, for ourselves as a country, but also for the community of values we are part of, to use this vocation of border – ‘bridge’ to project stability, democracy and prosperity in the region.

We also advocate for an enhanced approach of our Allies and EU partners to deal with the threats and risks rising in our extended region, and to reduce the high degree of unpredictability. That is why, solidarity is essential to our security.

Allow me to highlight some concrete ways that can make us cope better with such challenges.

First, the transatlantic bond is essential to approaching the current challenges in a successfull way. The US presence in Europe represents a strong commitment for our joint security as well as for world security. Only a united and cohesive Euro-Atlantic community will be able to diffuse threats, foster dialogue and project stability.

Romania can testify in this regard. The Strategic Partnership with the US is one of the paramount dimensions of our foreign and security policy and the presence of US forces in Romania is an essential reassurance factor. The US commitment to European security is reflected in many ways: (1) the European Reassurance Initiative demonstrated the resolve of the US together with Allies to complement the Readiness Action Plan; (2) The European Phased Adaptive Approach on Missile Defense, wherein Romania hosts the first Aegis Ashore Facility in Deveselu, operational by the end of 2015, is a proof of the centrality of a strategic relation with the US and its role in European security.

Second, a strong and capable NATO is essential to meeting security challenges in the East, but also in the South. We will advocate for continuous Allied adaptation and consolidation at the Warsaw Summit, beyond the Wales Summit decisions, as the challenges that we face are highly complex and long-term.

Part of this adaptation involves also NATO’s partners. In May, at the NATO Foreign Ministerial, I have advanced the proposal of an integrated NATO policy, with two legs, both for the East and South, with a view to engage partners while addressing their specific needs, in order to advance stability and prevent conflict.

Achieving the full potential of NATO–EU cooperation is a prerequisite for joint added value in answering the common challenges we all face. Such an effort would also benefit the consolidation of an arch of stability at the Eastern and Southern borders of both EU and NATO.

Our approach is also reflected in the debates on a new European Security Strategy – again, here we need to see more engagement on our East and our South, more efficient use of EU instruments in Common Security&Defence missions and operations, a stronger NATO-EU relation, increased focus on EU’s interests in Central Asia, as well as increased attention on energy security and cyber security.

Thirdly, the strategic importance of the Black Sea should be reflected in a platform for regional engagement and cooperation. This area is a melting point of different interests. By securing the Black Sea, we create the conditions both to engage Russia in dialogue and to project stability in Central Asia.

Also, at the NATO summit in Antalya, Turkey, I have proposed a reflection process on the importance on the importance of the Black See for NATO security, which is now under way.

Romania is ready to assume its own responsibilities, helping to foster such initiatives at a regional level with a view to ensure stability and security, to the benefit of Allies, EU members and partners alike.

Together with Poland we have called for a meeting of the Allied heads of states from the Eastern flank, to take place in Bucharest early November. We need to bring our views of a consolidated Eastern flank forward, not directed against any country, but to promote stability and security in the region and as a reassurance of the Eastern flank Allies of NATO’s strong commitments to their defense.

Romania also advanced the proposal for the creation of an International Court against Terrorism. Such an institution can act as an important deterrent, but can also be an efficient instrument in delivering justice through the means of international law. The recent terrorist attack in Ankara highlights, once more, the need for a comprehensive, united approach to the global phenomenon of terrorism, a response that should include the tools provided by the international law. It is my hope that such initiatives stimulate the engagement of more Allies and Partners in processes that ensure our security and stability.

Regional cooperation in the Black Sea region remains a priority. The most difficult problem for this region is the geopolitical fractures between different actors, generated by clashes in the political-military, economic, and energy spheres – reflecting diverging interests among states.

We encourage a complementary approach that needs to take into account all relevant platforms related in one way or another to the Black Sea region, the Eastern Neighborhood and Eurasia at large.

A new harmonization of policies and projects is needed in our area – among those of the Black Sea Synergy, the Eastern Partnership, BSEC, the EU’ Danube, Maritime Security and Central Asia Strategies, so as to enhance the Union’s role as a major relevant actor in relations to its neighbors-partners and its neighbors’ neighbors.

A new Romanian initiative, in the context of the ENP review – Security Trusts -  envisages regional platforms of dialogue on security issues, in the board sense of the concept, aimed at building trust not only among EU member states and its neighbors, but also trust between EU member states – direct EU neighbors – and the neighbors of the neighbors.

We need to step up cooperation with neighboring countries and their own neighbours, as well as we need to engage to other actors interested in the stability of these regions.

Romania has proposed three such platforms: for the Black Sea region and the Caucasus, the Gulf Area and the Middle East and for Sub-Saharan Africa.

These informal platforms do not include a military dimension and are multi-dimensional discussion platforms. They build trust, they can lead to solving conflicts in the Union’s vicinity.

Because the multiplication of frozen conflicts is the last thing this region needed: and the evolutions around the Black Sea, determined by the massive increase in the maritime power of the Russian Federation, following the illegal annexation of Crimea, have broken the geostrategic balance around us.

What all of us should keep in mind then is that hybrid use of classical threats – symmetrical or asymmetrical – makes it almost impossible that one state alone could respond effectively to the whole array of challenges the region and the world face today.

In the current context of multiplying regional complications, we have an important stake in revitalizing EU’s and the West’s action for consolidating the Caucasus and Central Asia as a strategically relevant, stable region. Europe is vitally interested – and we hope it is not the only one – in the emergence of a genuine cooperative framework on the economically essential land and sea corridors of Eurasia, by connecting The Caspian See with the Black See and use the potential of Constanta Port and the Danube River. We need to reach out to the more influential outer powers from the Central Asia, as this is the way to ensure that we are secure within our European borders, secure in our regional environment, and that everybody feel secure, and concretely benefit from it.

The current complex of challenges should serve to build up a rationale for invigorating the European vision and model. Realistic ambitions and expectations are essential for re-establishing the trust of Europe’s own citizens and to preserving its soft power leverage.

In the EU we need to have a deeper, more serious, and applied discussion also on what are the potential and the limits for a European hard power - in the interest of our own security, in the broad sense, as well as for better responses to multiplying global crises and urgencies. The new EU Global Strategy for Foreign Policy and Security that will be adopted next year is a good opportunity for defining our role in changing global environment.

By more genuinely committing itself to an effort of adaptation, Europe should be able to prove wrong those who, from the inside or from the outside, be they populists or power-minded competitors, rush to discard the attractiveness of the EU model.

As I mentioned before, Romania has been a frontier state for almost its entire modern era, which gives us a more sensitive, particular awareness of what it means to be part of a secure community, of sharing in its responsibilities and its benefits.

Our partners in the East find themselves in a regional situation that has significantly deteriorated, and their hopes cannot rely only on themselves. We must insist on defending their freedom of choice, their potential for development, the solidity of their institutions and the wellbeing of their societies.

This means not only that our assistance has to be consistent and effective, but means to keep them on the healthy way towards European integration, towards real security and chances for development – it also means, for us, for them, for their neighbors, that there will be no cherry-picking in terms of our values and the obligations.

Romania is ready to respond to all tests the European community is facing. Our common response must be strong and meaningful, because we absolutely need to succeed, if Europe is to emerge more influent and powerful from these turbulent times. Thank you very much for your attention!


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