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The Joint Parliamentary Meeting on Western Balkans - towards a more integrated Europe

The European Parliament

13 April 2011

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Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Parliament, Dear Friends,

Thank you for inviting me to be a Guest Speaker in this Joint Parliamentary Meeting.

I appreciate the initiative to hold the event because the European Parliament's sustained interest and involvement, as well as a more energetic European Commission's engagement in the region are essential for its progress.

I believe that the European Union has reached the point in its engagement in the region when a new approach is needed for those countries which have been for years struggling to meet the criteria for a candidate's status.

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 neighbours.

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 Kosovo state.

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 slowly.

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 entity leadership.

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 between.

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 entity.

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 financial crisis.

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 strategy.

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 radicalism.

At the same time, it is important to bring the European ideas, concepts and values closer to every citizen in the region.

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.



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