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The Rt Hon Chris Patten

European Commissioner for External Relations

European Commission statement at the Regional Conference for South Eastern Europe (Stability Pact)

Regional Conference for South Eastern Europe

Bucharest, 25 October 2001

It is a little over two years since the countries represented here in Bucharest today met in Sarajevo to launch the Stability Pact. They committed themselves to a formidable undertaking: nothing less than the transformation of South East Europe into a strong, stable, peaceful, prosperous region.

Much has happened on the road from Sarajavo to Bucharest. We are dealing with a very different region in 2001 to that of the summer of 1999.

We have, of course, encountered setbacks and reverses, some of them serious. Events in FYROM have reminded us of the chronic fragility that still besets so much of this region. Countries and governments remain vulnerable to sudden crisis and instability.

There remains no one doubts it a great distance to travel. But pause for a moment, and acknowledge the progress.

Croatia today is a democracy. It has already negotiated a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU. Two years ago it was in the political deep freeze.

Milosevic is gone, facing the verdict of the law and of history. The FRY is forging ahead without him.

Bosnia now has a moderate, non-nationalist government, of which much is hoped and expected. Albania is making headway under an administration committed to reform. Kosovo has made good progress in repairing the damage of war, and a decade of neglect and decline, and is about to hold important elections in which I strongly urge Kosovo Serbs to participate.

Romania and Bulgaria have made steady progress towards EU accession.

Every country in the region is now a democracy a necessary, if not wholly sufficient, condition for lasting peace and stability. And, partly as a result, a network of contacts is proliferating, tearing down barriers and prejudices. The region has some of the most energetic and vigorous civil society networks I have seen charities, think tanks, the independent media. They helped keep hope alive when ethnic nationalism swept all before it. Now they have a vital role in consolidating democracy in the fullest sense of the word.

So big progress has been made since the Pact's inception, and it is continuing to be made.

We should take heart from this. We have a long way to go but we have already come a good distance.

I say 'we', but above all I mean you, the people of the region. We must never forget that the people who brought democracy to Belgrade and Zagreb weren't officials in Brussels or Washington or Tokyo or Berlin or Paris or Rome. They were the citizens and leaders in this region. It is they who, by their own efforts, are making the history and shaping the future. Our role is to offer all the support we can.

We must keep up our joint effort, and step it up.

Because, as FYROM shows, the progress we have made is not yet irreversible. It will not be, until we have cured the root causes of the region's instability, pre-eminent among them feeble institutions, which allow the politics of ethnicity to drive out the politics of rights. The tide of history has ebbed and flowed in this part of Europe: strong institutions have never had a chance to take root.

We will only change that by sticking to our strategy of steadily shoring up democracy and the rule of law, and the institutions that sustain it, and by re-connecting the ties that bind peoples of the region together, and to the wider Europe. Our strategy has to be flexible enough to cope with inevitable crises, but also robust enough not to be de-railed by them.

We have such a strategy, in the Pact, and in the enlargement process, and, for the Western Balkans, in the Stabilisation and Association Process.

I have been asked this morning to focus in particular on the Stabilisation and Association Process, what it is and what it does, and how it fits in with our broader effort across the region in the Stability Pact.

Our starting point is that SE Europe, including the Western Balkans, is part of Europe. South East Europeans want the same things as all Europeans everywhere: peace, stability, dependable public institutions, freedom, opportunity.

Our goal is equally clear. It is to make South East Europe a full part of Europe not in the geographical sense, it's that already but a full member of the European family, not a poor, neglected relation.

The objective is to give the countries of this region a credible prospect of membership of the European Union.

The Stabilisation and Association process is a long-term policy. It is modelled closely on our experience of reform in Central and Eastern Europe.

It sets demanding standards. Progress within the Process is linked firmly to progress in implementing reform. The faster reforms are carried out, the faster the progress in the Process. Countries travel along the road to Europe at their own pace, not shackled to the slowest or fastest vehicle in the convoy. But the road is the same for everyone.

The key motor of the process is the Stabilisation and Association Agreement which individual SAp countries negotiate with the European Union. These agreements are legally binding and contractual agreements. They impose obligations and confer rights on the countries concerned. They are exacting agreements, because they embody the core principles that underlie membership of the EU itself - free trade with the EU, and the associated disciplines, covering competition and state aid rules, intellectual property and so on. Because they are so demanding, and because effective implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreements is a prerequisite for any further assessment by the EU of a country's prospect of accession, we want to take time to work with countries to make sure that they are capable of implementing agreements before they reach them, or start negotiating towards them.

The agreements provide agreed benchmarks by which to measure progress, and they focus attention on respect for key democratic principles - human and minority rights, stable democratic institutions, standards of political behaviour and the independence of the media.

This is more than a bilateral process.

The Zagreb Summit placed great emphasis on the need for regional co-operation, and the SA Agreements contain an explicit commitment to it. We want to see countries weave a web of bilateral and regional relationships between themselves, as a basis for greater economic and political stability in the region.

Specifically, we want to see countries of the region establish a network of close contractual relations among themselves mirroring the bilateral relationship with the EU contained in SA Agreements. We want to see the creation of a network of bilateral free trade agreements as part of these conventions, removing barriers to intra-regional trade. We want the gradual reintegration of the Western Balkans into the infrastructure networks of wider Europe transport, energy, border management and environment. And we want to help the countries of the region to work together and with us to tackle common threats to our security.

How each country performs in implementing this part of the SAA agenda will heavily influence the EU's assessment of that country's ability to take on the demands of full integration into the EU.

The preparation, negotiation and implementation of Stabilisation and Association Agreements are backed by very substantial assistance from the EU Budget some €4.65 billion to 2006.

We have substantially upgraded our assistance effort in the region: we now have the means to deliver it much faster, as the record of the European Agency for Reconstruction showed in Serbia last winter, or as we have shown in Presevo, or as we are showing in Kosovo. We are working hard to do better everywhere.

We have put in place a new regulation CARDS governing the programme, offering a long term approach, through a single programme, tailored to the needs of the SAp countries and reflecting the more ambitious targets of the SAp. The assistance is designed to be flexible enough to cope with sudden crises, as we are doing in FYROM at the moment through the provision of emergency support while maintaining a steady course towards the strategic goal of integration into the EU.

The Commission has spent recent months drawing up detailed strategy papers in consultation with SAp participants plus, given its importance, a separate paper on regional co-operation. We expect them to be approved by the end of the year. The regional paper has already been approved and is available at this conference.

The regional CARDS programme will focus on problems of a truly cross border nature, and on projects where there are significant gains in terms of efficiency or impact by delivering assistance through a single regional programme instead of five national ones. We announced this week that some 10% of the CARDS budget over the next three years € 197 million will be devoted to regional co-operation.

We are, as I said, paying a great deal of attention to building strong institutions. We are tackling this challenge systematically, tailoring our efforts to the circumstances of individual countries. But there are common themes across the board: public administration reform, budget and financial management, familiarisation with the acquis communautaire, making sure that new legislation is compatible with EU practice, customs and trade facilitation measures such as phyto-sanitary controls, enabling countries to take real advantage of the nearly completely free access to the EU market that we have introduced for SAp participants. We also intend to extend the practice of twinning, which has been very successful in the candidate countries where Member States send civil servants to work directly with their counterparts in local administrations.

Just as important is our expanding effort in the whole 'justice and home affairs' field, an important area of the Pact's activities. We are working across the region to create effective national police and customs services, effective border management arrangements, both through the provision of equipment and training of personnel, and by building up strong and self-confident judicial and prosecutorial services. But this work will be meaningless if it is not accompanied by much closer co-operation between countries, on police work, on border management and so on. It is a sad fact that perhaps the most effective regional co-operation right now is between the region's criminals. Their activities pose a grave threat. We cannot tolerate a situation in which criminals work together better than democratically elected leaders do. So I urge you to give this issue the priority it deserves. We are working with the Stability Pact to nurture the habit of co-operation between countries and their institutions, on issues like border management, the sort of co-operation that is second nature amongst EU Member States.

Popular and political support for an ambitious even tough reform programme over several years will depend on how successfully the region creates thriving market economies. CARDS cannot do everything. We are concentrating on getting the legislative framework right for business. In areas still suffering from the direct consequences of war we are also investing in local development, particularly where we need to sustain refugee return.

The infrastructure needs of the region are clearly enormous. The stimulus provided by the Quick Start package which we launch with the World Bank and the Pact has helped focus attention. The task now is to integrate the transport, energy and environmental networks of the Western Balkans with what is happening in the rest of the continent. Our job is to help define those needs, develop the strategies and studies that will enable the IFIs and other donors carry forward the individual projects. That is precisely what we have been doing and there will be a presentation on what this work has achieved later in the Conference.

I hope it is clear from what I have said that while the EU must and is taking the lead in transforming South East Europe, we cannot hope to succeed in this work on our own. It must be a team effort, politically and financially.

The Stability Pact has played and will continue to play a central role in bringing a sense of shared purpose to this effort, between the region and the rest of the world, between the EU and non EU donors, above all, in fostering that vital ingredient regional co-operation and a growing measure of trust between the countries of the region. Bodo Hombach deserves great credit for the way he has persevered at that task, and for all that the Pact has achieved in a short time.

The Pact has pushed forward that shared agenda in a number of key respects:

  • The Memorandum of Understanding on trade liberalisation and facilitation set a clear road map for the next two years. It gives the EU a firm basis to help the countries of the region develop the policies and capacity to break down barriers between them and plug themselves fully into the world trading system.

  • The Agenda for Regional Action for refugee return is bringing the regional strategic dimension to the massive investment the Community and others are making bilaterally to find lasting solutions to the more than 1.3 million refugees and displaced persons in the region. Only such an approach will enable the region one day to draw a line under this issue and allow us as donors focus resources on the other priorities I have outlined.

The Stability Pact is especially well placed to bring together expertise and resources in support of efforts like these. I hope that will be a key feature of its work as we move ahead with the integration of this region into mainstream Europe.

The European Union is totally committed to the success of our work in South-East Europe. We have a profound and direct stake in it, and we have a moral responsibility too.

The events of 11 September, it is said, changed everything. But they have not changed our values; and they have not changed the importance of standing by those values here and now in this region.

That is what we intend to do. We intend to see this task through to the end.

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