The EU and the West­ern Balka­ns in a chang­ing world

Speech by HR Cather­ine Ash­ton, at the Civ­il Soci­ety meet­ing in Bel­grade “The EU and the West­ern Balka­ns in a chang­ing world” 

Thank you for the invi­ta­tion to meet with you today. Dia­logue with civ­il soci­ety is an essen­tial ele­ment of the EU’s engage­ment around the world; even more so when it comes to our clos­est neighbours.

I am hap­py to be in Bel­grade and to be vis­it­ing the Balka­ns at this ear­ly stage of my new respon­si­bil­i­ties as EU High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive. The West­ern Balka­ns are key to the EU.

But before I turn to the EU-Balkan agen­da let me first sketch the wider con­text in which we all oper­ate. It may seem a digres­sion but bear with me as it might help to explain why I believe so strong­ly that secu­ri­ty, the rule of law, the Euro­pean Union and the need to shape our own future, mat­ter so much. None of us can afford to be left behind.

Let me begin by say­ing some­thing about the for­eign coun­try that is the most impor­tant of all. That for­eign coun­try is called the future.

Think back. Last year we cel­e­brat­ed the 20th anniver­sary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which sym­bol­ized the end of the Cold War. Think about what has hap­pened since then. — The Chi­nese econ­o­my has grown expo­nen­tial­ly. India is catch­ing up. Brazil is a suc­cess sto­ry. And even Rus­sia has man­aged to get itself includ­ed in this group though it is a dif­fer­ent sort of coun­try. — In the same peri­od the Inter­net has tak­en off. Mobile phones are now almost uni­ver­sal. — The polar ice has melt­ed more than ever before in human his­to­ry and we have suf­fered a glob­al finan­cial crash such as we have not seen before. All these events tell us that our world is quite dif­fer­ent from any­thing we have seen before. All these events are glob­al events — also some­thing we have nev­er seen before. The scale of change in Chi­na, the inter­con­nec­tions of Inter­net and the finan­cial sys­tem are the future that we see but do not understand. 

In this 20 year peri­od Europe has not done bad­ly. We are not com­plete­ly whole and not com­plete­ly free. But we are much bet­ter off than we were 20 years ago — at least most of us are.

I am not sure if that is true of peo­ple in this coun­try and in your neigh­bors. You have all suf­fered the worst kinds of per­son­al tragedies and col­lec­tive insecurities.

These kind of trou­bles make vic­tims of inno­cent peo­ple. They arise when there is a dis­tur­bance of the state, either through war or through civ­il war.

The state is there to pro­tect peo­ple and to pro­vide them with secu­ri­ty. The secu­ri­ty of our lives, our pos­ses­sions and our fam­i­lies depends on the law. And the law depends on the state.

If you want to have some cer­tain­ty in your life you have to know which state you belong to. You have to have some cer­tain­ty that the state that you live in, where you own your house, where you work, is going to exist in 20 years time. The more cer­tain you are that it will still be there for the days of your grand­chil­dren the more com­fort­able and secure you can feel.

The inse­cu­ri­ty in this part of the world in the last years has been because of the uncer­tain­ty of states and of theirs bound­aries. For the sake of everyone’s future that has to end now and per­ma­nent­ly. I believe that we are all on the right track and that this can be achieved.

But the state itself is no longer enough in the world I am describ­ing. This is a world of con­ti­nents, not of small coun­tries. Brazil is three times as big as any coun­try in Europe. The Unit­ed States accounts for a quar­ter of the world’s GNP. Chi­na has a pop­u­la­tion of 1.3 bil­lion. India may over­take it.

In this world the small and medi­um-sized states of Europe can­not pro­vide real secu­ri­ty. That is why the Euro­pean Union is essen­tial for our future. Young peo­ple can­not be con­fined in the nar­row space in one coun­try any more. I am delight­ed that peo­ple in Ser­bia no longer need visas to vis­it the rest of Europe.

We need big mar­kets if we are going to have cer­tain­ty about jobs and our future pros­per­i­ty. We are going to need a big weight in inter­na­tion­al affairs if we want to deal on some­thing like equal terms with the USA, India and Chi­na. All of these things are pos­si­ble but only through the Euro­pean Union.

So this is the wider can­vass as I see it. This is why the rule of law, the Euro­pean Union and look­ing to the future mat­ter so much – every­where but espe­cial­ly in this part of the world. Hav­ing described the big pic­ture, let me focus more specif­i­cal­ly on the West­ern Balkan region.] To define and grap­ple with the future one has to under­stand the past. 

Where do we come from?
We should nev­er for­get what hap­pened in the 1990s: the years of war, of refugees, of Euro­pean divisions.

Both the EU and the region have come a long way since then. We know where we want to end up – with all the peo­ples of the West­ern Balka­ns in the Euro­pean Union. And we have chart­ed the way there, with a tai­lor-made pol­i­cy and clear conditions.

The core of EU pol­i­cy for the region is the Sta­bil­i­sa­tion and Asso­ci­a­tion Process. This means on the one hand a sta­bil­i­sa­tion process after the tumul­tuous 1990s and on the oth­er it is about ever clos­er asso­ci­a­tion lead­ing towards even­tu­al acces­sion into the EU.

This approach is inspired by the pre-acces­sion process and expe­ri­ences with Cen­tral and South East Europe. At the same time, it sets out spe­cif­ic con­di­tions for the Balka­ns, such as region­al coop­er­a­tion and coop­er­a­tion with the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­i­nal Tri­bunal for the for­mer Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The Euro­pean Secu­ri­ty Strat­e­gy of 2003 already put it clear­ly: “the Euro­pean per­spec­tive offers both a pol­i­cy objec­tive and an incen­tive for reform”.

It is in the Balka­ns that the EU launched its first ever cri­sis man­age­ment oper­a­tions, in Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina and the for­mer Yugoslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia. Ever since it has been a chal­lenge to find the right bal­ance between polit­i­cal con­di­tion­al­i­ty and cri­sis man­age­ment, between “local own­er­ship” and “inter­na­tion­al governance”.

Where are we now?
Com­pared to the 1990s, we have achieved real progress. The Balka­ns today is a dif­fer­ent place. Slove­nia is already a well-estab­lished mem­ber of the EU; Croa­t­ia is close to con­clud­ing its mem­ber­ship negotiations.

The Com­mis­sion has pro­posed to start acces­sion talks with the for­mer Yugoslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia and is prepar­ing its opin­ions on the EU mem­ber­ship appli­ca­tions of Mon­tene­gro and Albania.

Ser­bia, the biggest coun­try in the region has, as you all know, recent­ly applied for acces­sion to the EU.
Mean­while, visa lib­er­al­i­sa­tion has tak­en place with most of the coun­tries in the region, with oth­ers due to fol­low this year. We want the peo­ples of the West­ern Balka­ns to feel – and be – part of Europe.

The EU is draw­ing on all its for­eign-pol­i­cy instru­ments in this region. Mil­i­tary and civil­ian CSDP mis­sions have been con­clud­ed suc­cess­ful­ly in the for­mer Yugoslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia. And the ones in Bosnia-Herze­gov­ina are evolv­ing in response to chang­ing real­i­ties on the ground. In 2008, we launched our biggest civil­ian mis­sion ever, the rule of law mis­sion in Koso­vo: EULEX. At the same time, impor­tant chal­lenges remain. Good neigh­bourly rela­tions are essen­tial. Region­al coop­er­a­tion is emerg­ing but it is still at an ear­ly stage.

Last but not least, the coun­tries in the region need to do more to resolve out­stand­ing bilat­er­al issues. Many bor­der dis­putes remain unre­solved; trade issues still exist which should be a mat­ter of the past, with every­one join­ing CEFTA. Judi­cial coop­er­a­tion on fugi­tives is a real prob­lem; and the pend­ing cas­es before inter­na­tion­al courts show the depth of lin­ger­ing dis­putes and ani­mosi­ties. The way to Europe pass­es through Euro­pean ways of solv­ing dis­putes. Through dia­logue and with eyes set on a com­mon future with­in the EU.

Let me talk about some our spe­cif­ic chal­lenges now:

We wel­come Serbia’s appli­ca­tion for EU acces­sion as proof of the com­mit­ment of the Ser­bian gov­ern­ment and peo­ple to EU inte­gra­tion and our com­mon val­ues. I am pleased that EU acces­sion receives such high pub­lic sup­port.
I hope you will be able to main­tain this enthu­si­asm. As you know, the acces­sion process is a long and hard jour­ney. Con­stant reforms are required. This might be dif­fi­cult some­times. But it will be reward­ing in the end — as it has been for all the coun­tries that have joined the EU since its cre­ation. Coop­er­a­tion of Ser­bia with ICTY remains cen­tral. We wel­come the sig­nif­i­cant progress that has been achieved and hope that the next report by the Chief Pros­e­cu­tor Bram­mertz will be as pos­i­tive as the last one.

I am also pleased that Pres­i­dent Tadic start­ed an ini­tia­tive for a Par­lia­men­tary res­o­lu­tion to con­demn the mas­sacres that took place in Sre­breni­ca more than ten years ago. This is an impor­tant step in com­ing to terms of the crimes com­mit­ted and deal­ing with the ghosts of the past. Across Europe, we have learned that one has to be open and self-crit­i­cal when deal­ing with the past.

We under­stand that Koso­vo remains an impor­tant issue for Ser­bia. How­ev­er, dif­fer­ent views on the sta­tus of Koso­vo should not pre­vent us from mov­ing for­ward in solv­ing prac­ti­cal issues. In par­tic­u­lar, region­al coop­er­a­tion must move for­ward. Koso­vo must be enabled in a prag­mat­ic way to par­tic­i­pate in region­al coop­er­a­tion initiatives.

Koso­vo is an inte­gral part of the EU ’s West­ern Balka­ns strat­e­gy. The EU may have left the sta­tus issue to indi­vid­ual mem­ber states. But the EU as a whole is clear that the future of Koso­vo is European.

We have com­mit­ted impor­tant resources in Koso­vo, includ­ing our biggest CSDP oper­a­tion. In turn, Koso­vo author­i­ties need to do a lot more to deliv­er on their com­mit­ments and improve the lives of all their peo­ple. The EU will be present, help­ing, advis­ing and mon­i­tor­ing. And we look for­ward to the day that Koso­vo and Ser­bia will have solved their differences.

Let me now turn to Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina, from where I have just arrived. Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina too has come a long way since the con­flicts of the 1990s. Infra­struc­ture and insti­tu­tions were rebuilt, and some of the wounds of the war have start­ed to heal. It has seen some eco­nom­ic growth over the years. It has signed a Sta­bil­i­sa­tion and Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment and visa lib­er­al­i­sa­tion is in reach. But numer­ous chal­lenges remain. Every­one in Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina wants to join the Euro­pean Union – every cit­i­zen, and most elect­ed lead­ers it would seem. But the spir­it of com­pro­mise to get there is plain­ly lack­ing at the polit­i­cal lev­el. Let me be clear: Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina can only join the Euro­pean Union as one coun­try, by speak­ing with one voice, and by respect­ing indi­vid­ual human rights and the dif­fer­ent cul­tures of the con­stituent peoples.

Pol­i­tics of divi­sion and flir­ta­tions with seces­sion­ist rhetoric are as harm­ful as they are point­less. The EU will nev­er accept the break-up of Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina; we look for­ward to see­ing the coun­try instead as a mem­ber of the EU one day, with strong enti­ties work­ing with­in a sin­gle func­tion­al state.

Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina will elect new lead­ers this Octo­ber, who will lead the coun­try for the next 4 years. This will be a cru­cial period.

I have encour­aged the Bosn­ian vot­ers to think hard about what they want from their lead­ers dur­ing this peri­od. It is a peri­od where Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina could – poten­tial­ly – reach can­di­date sta­tus and move irre­versibly on the track to Europe. But this will not hap­pen if the cur­rent “pol­i­tics as usu­al” con­tin­ues. As ever: great oppor­tu­ni­ties go hand in hand with tough choices.

Mon­tene­gro, Alba­nia and the for­mer Yugoslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia are also advanc­ing in the right direc­tion. In all these coun­tries the EU worked hard to demon­strate that the Euro­pean per­spec­tive means some­thing con­crete already now. The biggest achieve­ment in that regard was visa lib­er­al­i­sa­tion. Besides Ser­bia this was also grant­ed to Mon­tene­gro, and the for­mer Yugoslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia last year.

The Gov­ern­ment in Skop­je is work­ing on mov­ing the coun­try towards the Euro­pean perspective.

Con­crete progress and a set­tle­ment regard­ing the so-called ’name issue’ would be extreme­ly help­ful. Alba­nia has over the years seen impor­tant progress too. How­ev­er, cur­rent polit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties are endan­ger­ing fur­ther progress. I must say frankly that I am a strong sup­port­er of polit­i­cal dia­logue and not boy­cotts as a way to find polit­i­cal solutions. 

Where do we go from here?

As I said already: the EU is deter­mined that the future of the whole region lies in even­tu­al acces­sion to the EU. Progress on that path depends on the com­mit­ment to reform at home. We still face impor­tant chal­lenges: good gov­er­nance, rule of law and human rights. And bilat­er­al issues have to be solved and region­al coop­er­a­tion must be fur­ther strengthened.

We are work­ing with the coun­tries in the region which do not at the moment ben­e­fit from visa lib­er­al­i­sa­tion to allow them to ful­fil all nec­es­sary con­di­tions to achieve this soon. Indeed, we are work­ing with the entire region to facil­i­tate peo­ple-to-peo­ple contacts.

Togeth­er with local lead­ers, as well as civ­il soci­ety, we have to strength­en our abil­i­ty to explain what the EU means, today and tomorrow.

We will have to recog­nise that the inte­gra­tion of the whole region into the EU will take time. But we are back­ing you up with all our avail­able for­eign-pol­i­cy tools.

Our mes­sage is clear: “the EU is with you until you are in the EU”. 

Euro­pean Union 

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