I would like to share with you my thinking on why
this new approach is of cardinal importance for the progress in the
region and its relationship with the Union.
While saying that, I want to stress that the
subjects which will be discussed in the working groups - cooperation
in the area of freedom, security and justice as well as integration
of citizens - are highly relevant in the debate on the integration
process of the Western Balkans in the EU.
However, in order to put those topics into the
right perspective we have to have a very clear idea of the actual
situation in the region.
The situation raises a lot of concern because,
unfortunately, some of the states in the region still do not have
essential prerequisites for a genuine democratic consolidation and,
therefore, for a genuine normalisation of relations with their
What is the state of affairs at the moment?
Bosnia and Herzegovina is blocked by its continual
internal crisis, mostly due to the Belgrade policies.
Macedonia is still not strong enough to open a
serious dialogue with Greece: the issue of their relations, which
affects Macedonia's identity as a state, has undermined Macedonia's
position towards the EU and the region.
Kosovo is in a similar situation. The advisory
opinion of the International Court of Justice in The Hague has
confirmed the legality of Kosovo's independence but has not changed
Serbia's attitude to Kosovo. Dick Marty's report on trafficking in
human organs has dealt a serious blow to the credibility of the
Montenegrins are still denied their identity, but
the democratic consolidation is progressing and the country is in a
better shape than some others. It is steadily moving towards NATO
and the EU, at a faster pace than Serbia.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We must bear in mind that there are two parallel
processes at work here: a process of state consolidation and a
simultaneous process of transition to a multi-party democratic
system and a market economy.
Both these processes are proceeding slowly, too
In regard to the former, we have to be aware that
some of the states - as I indicated - are still fragile and heavily
strained by ethnic tensions.
As concerns the democratic transition, the
authoritarian nature of the societies still prevails more often than
not although multiparty systems formally exist.
Some of the past achievements are being abandoned
in the name of "the new values", and anti-communism is used as a
smokescreen for promoting archaic national ideologies.
On the whole, there is a strong resistance to the
establishment of a genuine system of democratic values, political
pluralism and free market.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of the biggest obstacles to a more substantial
progress in the region is Serbia's attitude towards its neighbours,
and, in particular, Serbia's continual ambition for a predominant
influence over them.
Belgrade's policies thus hamper a faster
democratic consolidation of its neighbours, the development of a
genuinely productive cooperation in the region and its progress
towards accession to the European Union and NATO.
The failure of the current Serbian political
leaders to understand the centrality of regional cooperation within
the European perspective two decades after the break-up of
Yugoslavia has resulted in a low level of progress in the resolution
of open questions among the countries in the region in spite of
intensive regional contacts, including at the highest level.
The prevailing belief in Belgrade is still that
"the borders in the region are not yet final".
Bosnia and Herzegovina is particularly at risk
because Belgrade officially encourages and supports not only the
status quo there but also the secessionist policies of the Serb
In fact, Belgrade has not given up on Miloševic's
policies towards the region, although nowadays they are being
pursued by "other means".
Serbia is also the only country in the region that
has not yet made up its mind on its future. Is its future in Europe
or in the so-called East? Serbia's position is still somewhere in
Let me mention two recent developments that have
caused a great concern in the region. They point to the lack of
sincerity in Serbia's policy towards the region and highlight its
ambition to affect the internal situation within sovereign states.
In spite of some progress in the cooperation
between war crimes prosecutors' offices in the region, recent
openings of the cases of Ganic, Jurišic, Purda, Divjak and the
Yellow House have given cause for great concern. It is obvious that
Belgrade continues with its attempts at reinterpreting the war
history since all those situations were provoked by the JNA and Serb
forces in 90s.
The second development refers to the forthcoming
census in Serbia and the region. It is a part of the new strategy to
preserve and strengthen relations between the homeland and the so
called diaspora, and the homeland and Serbs in the region. In that
context, Montenegro continues to be considered as a temporary
On the whole, the recent political and economic
trends in the region are worrying.
Certainly, as regards economic situation, the
region has felt the negative impact of the global economic and
Still, internal problems in each of the countries
in the region and Belgrade's policy are chiefly to blame for the
blockade and stagnation of the societies in the region.
Yes, many things have changed thanks to the
efforts of the EU and its conditionality policy. But, the Western
Balkans has not lived up to its potential because it has been
trapped or blocked not only by regressive and irresponsible policies
of its political elites, and by pervading corruption.
It is becoming more and more obvious that the
region lacks the capacity, the political will, the political
responsibility and the political culture to implement the European
agenda, standards and criteria as expected.
Therefore, there is a need, in my view, to take a
fresh approach to the region and that the EU engages with the region
in a far more intensive and direct way within a more imaginative
I am fully aware that it is easier said than done.
Still, I firmly believe that the only way to reverse the current
negative trends and to prevent the individual nationalistic and
hegemonic aspirations is that all the countries in the region be
granted a candidate status as soon as possible. The conditionalities
should be directed mainly towards and against those who obstruct
reforms at home and at the regional level.
Likewise, the NATO membership, in particular, as
regards Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, is vital to enhance
security and stability, as well as put to rest the issue of borders
and statehood in the region.
In conclusion - and bearing in mind the topics in
the working groups - let me stress that the agendas of the political
elites and citizens in the region do not necessarily coincide.
In fact, the candidate status coincides with the
wishes of the majority of population in the Western Balkan countries
preoccupied as they are with huge economic and social problems.
It is not only a question of pre-accession funds
although they are very important. The candidate status would also
encourage citizens to take up their responsibility for dealing with
priority problems. Both can help prevent a new wave of social
At the same time, it is important to bring the
European ideas, concepts and values closer to every citizen in the
This is not simple because, among other things,
Europe itself is re-examining some of its concepts.
But it is necessary to insist that the rule of
law, respect for human rights and democratic pluralism start to be
genuinely embedded in all those societies.
Finally, it is most important that the Balkans
should begin to feel that it belongs to the one and only European
family and that, within its framework, the region and individual
countries, as well as citizens themselves can find - if not the best
than the optimal - solutions to their vital interests.