24 February shook not just our continent but also much of what we had considered certain.
A war of aggression at the heart of Europe designed to destroy a nation – this is not a distant relic from the past but the horrendous here and now.
24 February also underscores that values and interests are not diametrically opposed but mutually dependent. And that trade with autocratic states does not automatically pave the way to democracy.
We have learnt that freedom and democracy are not something we can take for granted but something precious and costly – something that we, that Ukraine have to fight hard for.
What do these bitter lessons mean for our security policy, our economic model, our liberal democracy? What Europe emerges from 24 February?
That is what you are discussing this year at the Vigoni Forum. I hope to feed in some of my ideas now.
Russia’s war of aggression creates a new strategic reality. A European security environment is emerging before our eyes that is going to be more dangerous, more harsh and more costly.
This holds true for the war in Ukraine which may last a long time – and in which we need to continue to stand by Ukraine.
But it remains true even when the war is over. After all, there will be no return to the times before the attack. For the foreseeable future, it will not be a matter of security with Russia but only of security against Russia.
We did not want this new reality – but we cannot hide from it. Nor should we. To my mind, the last few months have also shown that as the EU, G7 and NATO, we have the strength not just to hold our own in this harsh new world but also the will to actively shape the future.
By granting Ukraine and Moldova the status of candidate countries, we have laid the foundations for a European Union which is taking its eastern neighbours on board and standing up for their security.
And with the EU members Sweden and Finland joining NATO, we are strengthening a security architecture which stabilises northern Europe and the entire continent. This shows that transatlantic partnership and European sovereignty are two sides of the same coin.
It is clear that all these steps mean investing more in our ability to defend ourselves. But it is also clear that more combat aircraft, tanks and ammunition alone do not generate peace and security.
We are seeing in Ukraine how Russia is also waging a hybrid war with hacker attacks, disinformation campaigns and a global grain war which is hitting the Global South particularly hard.
This shows that we can only create security in the 21st century if we take in all its dimensions.
If we protect our liberal democracies from the hatred pumped through social media by troll factories.
If we set up supply chains in our companies so as to ensure that no one can suffocate our economies.
And if we deal with the climate crisis which is enflaming conflicts around the world and threatening our livelihoods with droughts, extreme heat and rising sea levels.
Luigi di Maio,
I am delighted that Germany and Italy are working ever more closely together on all these challenges.
There are not many colleagues I am in touch with as often as you. Since the start of the year – and I’ve done my homework here – I had the privilege of welcoming you to Germany five times for bilateral and multilateral meetings – and it was no coincidence that one of my first trips abroad in January took me to Rome.
With the bilateral action plan that our ministries are currently finalising, we will very soon take the cooperation between our countries to a new level – for example on the digital transformation, energy policy and youth exchange.
Here we are benefiting from the dense network of ties that has emerged between Germany and Italy – not just in our capitals and ministries.
Thanks to the thousands of companies that link our economies. Thanks to hundreds of municipal partnerships which bring our people together. And also thanks to Villa Vigoni with its unique network and programme of seminars and publications.
The Villa has become a real hallmark for German-Italian and European dialogue – and I would be delighted if the Villa were to resonate even more from Lake Como to the broader public.
After all, in times of major upheaval, it is key that the world of science and civil society contribute as much as possible to the debate on the future of our continent.
This is the only way to anchor one key fact in the minds of our societies: democracy and freedom don’t fall from the sky, there’s always a price to pay. We need to stand up for them and defend them – each and every day.
This fight is decisive.
After all, to paraphrase Benedetto Croce, freedom is the only essence of humankind on earth and without it life would not be worth living.