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We begin our journey on the Capitol, the highest of Rome's seven hills, once the religious centre of the Roman Empire.

In the courtyard of the Capitoline Museum we find the monumental head of Constantine, born in Nis (today's Serbia), and only one of a number of Roman Emperors of Balkan origin. For centuries all of South East Europe was part of the Roman Empire. Constantine even moved the centre of his Empire from Rome to his new capital Constantinople (Istanbul) at the very edge of the Balkan peninsula.

The administrative divisions of the Empire into an Eastern and a Western half later gave rise to two Imperial traditions that have continued to shape European history: revived 'Roman' Empires of Catholic Western Europe, still symbolically centred in Rome itself; and the traditions of Byzantium, as Constantinople came to be called, the Rome of the East and of the Orthodox Church. From early modern days until today both of these traditions have shaped the destiny of South Eastern Europe.

Today, however, the Capitol is also a reminder of a political promise: the commitment, expressed in the Treaty of Rome that created the European Economic Community in 1957, to peacefully overcome the divisions of Europe, to revive the Pax Romana as a democratic Pax Europea. The Treaty of Rome was signed by six countries in the richly decorated Sala degli Orazi e Curazi in the Palazzo dei Conservatori (today part of the Capitoline museum) filled with pictures depicting the founding myths of Rome. Some decades later, the European Community welcomed the first country of the Eastern Orthodox world with the accession of Greece in 1981. In 2007 the first Slav Orthodox country (Bulgaria) became part of this community.

Giuliano Amato, today Italian Minister of the Interior, was the president of the International Commission on the Balkans until 2006. His commission travelled through the Balkans in search of answers to a set of questions: how long will it take for all of South East Europe to become part of the European Union, Europe's post-war 'Empire', by invitation? What is the EU's promise to the people of the region today? And how will the region need to change in order to overcome its isolation?

February 2007

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