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SPEECH/01/82

The Rt Hon Chris Patten

Commissioner for External Relations

South East Europe Co-operation Process (SEECP) Summit

SEECP Summit

Skopje, 23 February 2001

I am delighted and honoured to be invited to join your summit.

Winston Churchill once said of this region that it had too much history for its own good. One cannot erase history; and the more of it one has, the harder it is to overlook. But having a history doesn't mean not having a future. This gathering is all about the future a future for this region, as part of modern Europe.

Every country in the region now has a democratically elected government. Every one of those governments is committed to the same goal for their people: a peaceful prosperous future as part of Europe.

At the Zagreb summit, the EU challenged you to build regional co-operation.

Today, you are showing how you are rising to that challenge. I applaud this gathering, and congratulate our hosts for organising it. It ought to be the most natural thing in the world for you - and for us as your guests - to meet like this; only a short while ago it would have been unthinkable.

But times have changed as today's signature of the border agreement between this country and the FRY demonstrates. It is excellent news, and I congratulate all involved.

It is a practical example of the great expansion in dialogue all round the region in recent months dialogue that I hope will be employed to tackle even the most difficult issues. I hope for example that continued dialogue will underpin efforts to resolve the constitutional relationship between Belgrade and Podgorica. The EU has made its position clear we would prefer to see a democratic Montenegro, with its interests properly safeguarded, in a genuinely reformed FRY. And we want to see all involved sitting down and talking seriously, thrashing these issues out rationally and calmly.

Every month, relations between the EU and the Balkans are getting closer. We are about to sign the new Stabilisation and Association Agreement initialled in Zagreb with this country; it will start the clock ticking towards full free trade with the EU. Croatia is well on the way towards concluding a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, we hope by the summer. We have made an excellent start with Albania in the new high level Steering Group, and hope to keep up the momentum in the coming months. I am pleased that a new government with, we hope, a fresh approach - is now in place in Bosnia and Herzegovina; I hope it will quickly get down to business. And we have made a good start with the new government in Belgrade, fully integrating the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia into the Stabilisation and Association process.

Stabilisation and Association agreements deliberately set ambitious goals, combining a timetable for free trade, bringing your legislation up to EU standards, and much closer co-operation in areas like the fight against crime.

Each agreement crystallises some of the core obligations that lie at the heart of the EU free movement of goods, and trade-related disciplines such as competition, state aids, intellectual property which underpin the EU single market.

The Agreements are the vehicle that helps you along the road the road to Europe.

The speed at which you travel along that road is up to you. The faster you reform, the more you show that our values the values the EU represents are your values, the faster we will be able to cover the distance - politically, at least - between Brussels and Skopje, or Brussels and Belgrade, Sarajevo, Tirana, or Zagreb.

That is why we insist that co-operation with the ICTY, for example, is so important. How could we seriously envisage a steadily closer relationship with any country that allowed indictees to continue to play any role in its public life? Full co-operation with The Hague Tribunal is not an optional extra it is an obligation, and it must be fully adhered to. Issues like this will not go away, because they go to the heart of the values on which the EU is founded, and on which our publics and parliaments are rightly insistent.

Reform is hard, but European taxpayers are digging deep in their pockets to help smooth the way. The European Commission alone is spending over €800 million, over a billion and a half DM, this year in the Balkans. When I tell you we are spending some €90m in India this year population 1 billion it gives you an idea of the scale of our effort in this region. The money is justified. It is a wise investment in your peace and security, and ours. But every euro or DM that is spent in this region is money that cannot be spent on other deserving countries, or in hospitals or schools in EU Member States; it has to be justified to our taxpayers, who, not unreasonably, want to see it producing results. So I warmly welcome the Action Plan for Regional Economic Co-operation being adopted by this Summit, especially its emphasis on encouraging direct investment, promoting transparency, and cracking down on corruption and organised crime.

Our help will be carefully tailored to each country's needs. Part of it will also be used to promote regional co-operation expert help with border management, plans for regional energy and transport infrastructure, practical help in removing regional barriers to trade. We will work closely with you and with Bodo Hombach under the auspices of the Stability Pact.

We will help you to find common solutions to the evils of illegal trafficking of human beings, organised crime and drugs; and to drive forward free trade within this region and with the EU. That means help on WTO membership for those countries who have still to take that step, and help developing free trade arrangements between yourselves which are both compatible with the WTO and the ambitions of the Stabilisation and Association agreements. We took a big step last year by opening up the EU market to your goods.

Much progress, then, in a short time.

But recent violence in the Presevo Valley and in Kosovo hang over this summit. It threatens regional stability, and acts as are a stark reminder that peace remains all too fragile. I strongly condemn that violence, and also the recent incidents on the border between this country and Kosovo; I commend the authorities here for their response. The recent violence in Southern Serbia reminds us that there are still individuals determined to pursue their political agenda through ethnic cleansing, murder and terror in this case against Serbs.

Let us be very clear. The international community stood firm in Kosovo for the principle that people are entitled to live together in peace and freedom whatever their ethnic background. We hold firm to that principle today.

That is why the barbaric, cowardly attack on a bus full of Serb women and children so outraged friends of Kosovo.

The people behind these appalling acts, acts of straightforward terrorism, must be very clear: their campaign will not succeed in changing borders. The only way forward for Presevo is through political dialogue, according to democratic standards, and within the current borders of Serbia. The democratic government in Belgrade is offering such a dialogue; and the international community stands ready to contribute to it by helping to improve the livelihood of the people living in Presevo valley region. The European Agency for Reconstruction has made available some € 2m to re-build schools, improve water supplies and make other improvements: but the violence must stop.

But the people of Kosovo need a wake up call too, because it is the whole of Kosovo that risks paying literally and figuratively if this barbarism carries on.

The Kosovars won enormous sympathy around the world, as the victims of Milosevic's oppression - as human beings, whose plight touched our common humanity. Not long ago, Kosovars accused Serbs of complicity in the oppression they suffered because they failed to make a stand against those responsible. I say to the people of Kosovo: don't make it possible for anyone to level the same charge at you today.

It is time for every Kosovar leader, every Kosovar to make a stand time to abandon silent indifference, time to make clear that you will not tolerate this violence, time to stand up against it and outlaw its perpetrators.

If that does not happen, it will be a tragedy. Because the rest of this region is moving forward now, along the road to Europe, along the road to a peaceful, prosperous future; most people across the region are sick and tired of conflict and of war.

That is the message from this meeting: that the road to Europe is open to all the peoples of this region, and now, at last, the overwhelming majority are taking it.


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