Mr Olli Rehn
Member of the European Commission, responsible for
"Progress in the Western Balkans"
European Parliament Plenary Session
Strasbourg, 13 April 2005
Chairman, Honourable Members,
I would like to thank the Parliament, and Anders Samuelsen, for the resolution on the Western Balkans and for the commitment of the Parliament and its Foreign Affairs Committee to the region.
Currently, most of the countries in the Western Balkans are making tangible progress in their relations with the EU. Yet, many issues still need to be addressed. I look forward to work with the EP on consolidating the progress made and moving on.
2005 and 2006 will be crucial years for the Western Balkans in relation to the EU. We are at a watershed. We have to overcome certain short-term issues to be able to focus on long-term economic and social development. The most critical immediate issues concern the conclusion of the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, and the settlement of the future status of Kosovo.
As a former member of the European Parliament, I have always been proud of the strong record of this House in advocating respect for human rights and related international obligations, as well as in supporting the UN-based multilateral system. This is why I particularly welcome the views of the Parliament in paragraphs 37 and 46, where full cooperation with ICTY is underlined. This support for human rights, the rule of law and UN-multilateralism is the reason why the EU has made cooperation with ICTY a cornerstone in its relations with the countries in the region.
This autumn the Commission will present the enlargement package and report in detail on progress made in the different countries. Let me now take the opportunity to sketch where we stand today.
On Albania, I share the concern expressed in the Parliament’s resolution on the political climate, particularly in the context of this summer’s parliamentary elections.
I have recently written to Prime Minister Nano to underline that the Commission will only be able to propose the conclusion of negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement if the parliamentary elections this summer are conducted in accordance with international standards. Tangible achievements must also be made in fighting corruption and organised crime.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina is actively tackling the priorities we identified in the Feasibility Report in 2003. Once the country achieves significant progress in all priority areas, we can recommend opening of negotiations on the Stabilisation and Accession Agreement. I hope to be able to do so next month.
On ICTY cooperation, there is significant progress, while the trend must be reinforced leading to full cooperation. For the opening of SAA negotiations, police reform is a particularly important condition.
The High Representative and the Union have been instrumental in advancing stability and reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I do however believe that the country is ready to assume more responsibility for its own future. With responsible and democratically accountable authorities in place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I foresee a smooth and gradual phasing out of the OHR. As we approach the 10th anniversary of Dayton, it is time to move from the era of Dayton to the era of Brussels!
I was disappointed that Croatia was not able to ensure full cooperation with the ICTY by mid-March. As you know, the European Council in December decided that accession negotiations could only be opened on 17 March, if there were full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal.
This is about the willingness and ability of the state structures in Croatia to comply with the rule of law and international obligations. Croatia must now demonstrate that it is fully cooperating with the ICTY so that we can start the negotiations.
Croatia’s future is in the European Union. Through the adoption of the negotiating framework, the EU has done what is necessary to start the negotiations. The EU is ready, once Croatia is ready.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
President Barroso and I met Prime Minister Bučkovski in February when he handed over the replies to the Commission’s Questionnaire. My services are now analysing the 13 000 pages of replies.
We expect the Government to make further progress in its reform agenda, to strengthen the rule of law and to implement the Ohrid Framework Agreement. I am concerned by reports from the OSCE on the repetition of irregularities in the latest municipal elections. The authorities must now react decisively and ensure that future elections can take place in full compliance with international standards.
Depending on the political development, on the progress in reforms and on the technical quality of the replies, we aim at adopting the Opinion by the end of this year.
Serbia and Montenegro
The Commission yesterday took a positive decision on the Feasibility Study for Serbia and Montenegro. We consider that the country is now sufficiently prepared to negotiate a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU.
We need to treat countries equally at equal stages; we must use the same yardstick at the same stage for each country. Negotiating an SAA is different from negotiating accession to the Union. We will demand more as Serbia and Montenegro moves forward.
To reach this stage Serbia and Montenegro had to make special efforts. I welcome the agreement concluded last week on the Constitutional Charter, which ensures the legitimacy of the State Union Parliament. And I am pleased that Serbia and Montenegro has finally made significant progress in co-operating with the Hague Tribunal. So far this year, a dozen persons indicted for war crimes have boarded the plane to The Hague.
Efforts should be reinforced until none of the remaining indictees is still at large. Accession negotiations proper cannot even be considered until the country has achieved full co-operation with ICTY. With the 10th memorial of Srebrenica approaching in July, Radovan Karadzić and Ratko Mladić must be brought to justice.
This is the beginning of the European road for Serbia and Montenegro. The country has achieved a great deal over the past few years. Now it is time to move on, time to reward significant progress, and time to show the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro that meeting critical international obligations brings them closer to the EU.
Kosovo will be high on the agenda in the months to come, with the Standards review coming up in mid-2005, likely followed by discussions on Kosovo’s future status.
We focus now on helping the Kosovo authorities to make progress on the implementation of the UN standards, especially the rule of law and the rights of minorities. Once the status has been settled, we will continue to support Kosovo’s progress towards the EU.
The Commission plans to present a Communication next week on “A European Future for Kosovo”. It will give a clear signal to the leaders and population of Kosovo that the EU is fully committed to their European future. We also expect Kosovo leaders to show a constructive attitude, including meeting Serbian leaders who have stretched out a hand to them.
Belgrade also needs to work constructively to settle the issue. In the Feasibility Study for Serbia and Montenegro, we make clear to Belgrade that the country’s EU aspirations are linked to a successful resolution of Kosovo’s status.
To sum up: although there are difficulties and pitfalls on the Western Balkans’ road to Europe, most countries are currently making steady progress. These countries struggling to reform antiquated economies, and to build modern societies based on respect for human rights and the rule of law, while at the same time dealing with the legacy of war.
In this context I would like to highlight the importance of regional cooperation. Good-neighbourly relations and regional economic cooperation are the very essence of the European Union. They are the catalyst for stability, reconciliation, and normalising political relations.
This is a major challenge to the countries of the region and the EU. It is a tall order, but I am confident that we are on the right track. The less we need to focus on stability and security, the more we can channel our resources to economic and social development, which is rightly underlined in the Samuelsen report.