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The Rt Hon Chris Patten

European Commissioner for External Relations

Opening statement to the Regional Conference for South Eastern Europe in Bucharest

Regional Conference for South Eastern Europe

Bucharest, 25 October 2001

I am delighted to welcome you all to this conference. Let me at the outset thank our Romanian hosts, and especially the Prime Minister, for your hospitality. I am especially delighted that this conference is taking place here in Bucharest, right here in the heart of South East Europe. What more powerful symbol could there be than that of the commitment of this region to building, with the international community, a brighter future? Let me also thank the HLSG and the G8, our colleagues in the Stability Pact, and in the Commission and the World Bank for their hard work in preparing this conference. And let me extend my personal thanks to Bodo Hombach, not just for this conference, but for his hard work over the last two years on behalf of South East Europe.

Our purpose is to review our progress in bringing to this part of Europe lasting stability and prosperity, based on democracy, the rule of law and the values of an open and free society.

But we do so of course - against a background few of us could have conceived just a few weeks ago.

We live in a changed world, a world on its guard, a world in which our values - the values of decency and progress, the values not of one race or of one religion or of one continent or of one civilisation, but of civilisation itself are in peril, thrust suddenly into the front-line.

So our work here today takes on a new significance for two reasons.

First, because this meeting offers an opportunity to demonstrate unity unity in defence of the values which regardless of our multitude of backgrounds and histories - we all share. Our unity has been strengthened by the horrors of recent weeks. Now is a time - more than ever to show it, in actions as well as words.

The second reason is that the need to build up democracy, to establish the rule of law, and to bring lasting stability and strength to South East Europe is not diminished by the events of 11 September. Quite the opposite.

It is all the more important, because an unstable South East Europe represents a lingering danger to itself, to its neighbourhood, and beyond. The choice, to put it bluntly, is this: either we export stability to the Balkans and South East Europe. Or it exports instability to the rest of Europe, and perhaps the world. So now at a time when donors will face immense new demands on their resources elsewhere we need to stay focused in our work here, we need to summon up a renewed energy, so that this region can become part of the solution, a contributor to a safer and more stable world, rather than the reverse.

Since the Pact's launch two years ago, the political landscape in South East Europe has changed dramatically. Croatia is now a democracy. So too the FRY.

I looked the other day at my speech to the Pact's regional funding conference 18 months ago. Milosevic's Serbia remained a black hole in the region: I spoke then of the need to build a strong, confident ring of democracies around Serbia, to hasten the day we could welcome Serbia back into the fold.

Today Milosevic is in The Hague, and the FRY is in the vanguard of the reform effort. The last piece of the democratic jig-saw has fallen into place.

Of course there have been setbacks and reverses; we must expect to encounter them as we move forward. But the international community has lived up to the promise it made in Sarajevo, and it will continue to do so.

We have concentrated, these last two years, on putting into practice the pact we made two years ago to work together donors and beneficiaries - to drive forward reform, linking very substantial practical and financial assistance from donors strictly to the implementation of fundamental changes in government, in institutions, in the economy, and in society as a whole.

The Stability Pact has played a central role. We held the successful regional funding conference in Brussels 18 months ago, which launched the Quick Start Package; and the Pact has helped forge a network of valuable contacts across the region. Now we must carry this work forward, building on what the Pact has achieved and the experience we have all gathered.

In the last two years, the European Union has also significantly reinforced its efforts in the region. Bulgaria and Romania have moved ahead in the EU accession process. We have set out a clear policy for five further countries of South East Europe, in the form of the Stabilisation and Association process, recognising them explicitly as potential candidates for EU membership. We have provided € 4.65 billion to support the Stabilisation and Association Process over the next six years; and we are improving the delivery of our assistance to the region. I will speak in greater detail about the Stabilisation and Association process, and how it fits into our wider efforts, later this morning.

So this Conference offers a chance to compare notes. It is not, let me stress, a funding conference like the one we held in Brussels eighteen months ago. We are not here to raise great sums of new money. But we are here to take stock, to reflect together on the way forward, and to see how our fundamental strategy, which is in place, and is the right strategy, can be improved to make sure we move forward as rapidly and successfully as we all want.

I look forward to hearing from all of you above all from the countries of the region how things look to you at the moment.

And I look forward to demonstrating to the world at large, and above all to this region, that we are committed to our task, and we are determined to persevere with it and see it through to success.

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