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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Address to EU-Western Balkans Conference

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

EU-Western Balkans High-Level Conference

Sarajevo, 2 June 2010

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to have the opportunity to address you today as I see this conference as the clearest expression of support in the joint strategic goal we all have for a European future for this region.

Allow me to thank Miguel for his unerring determination to make today's event a reality. I am delighted that Cathy and I have been able to do our part in assisting you and the Spanish Presidency of the EU in this respect.

I would also like to thank our Bosnian hosts for putting all the necessary measures in place in record time to ensure that such a logistically complex event will pass off smoothly.

Dear Colleagues,

The EU has played a leading role in promoting stability, security, democracy and fundamental freedoms in the Western Balkans. The region is now firmly anchored in the EU enlargement process. But there are still some political showstoppers to move some of our partners in this region from one category to a higher one of the enlargement process. It is for these reasons why Western Balkans should be a priority for the new EU external policy in the post Lisbon Treaty period and why together with Cathy we intend to make best use of coordinated and reinforced approaches to the remaining challenges.

There are positive developments which we can build on today. Accession negotiations with Croatia have stepped up a gear and are now entering a crucial phase. And from my side I do not have any doubts about the positive outcome. Stabilisation and Association Agreements are being put in place and implemented across the region. And the political and economic reform process continues.

Reforms, however, must be accelerated and consolidated. The democratic foundations in some of the countries remain fragile. Political leaders bear a huge responsibility, in this respect, to overcome differences, and steer their countries and the region towards better governance and away from the risk of destabilisation. I do not believe in so called enlargement fatigue among the Member States and I do not want to start hearing about so called enlargement apathy among candidates and aspirants. Because this is, what is going to happen, if we do not create a new momentum for enlargement process in the Western Balkans.

Let me offer some thoughts how to create such a momentum:

First, let us see beyond the conditionality. I am not at all advocating diminishing the most important principle of the enlargement process. On the contrary - I firmly believe that only our strengthened focus on rigorous implementation of conditionality will ensure that the candidate countries become properly prepared to assume fully the tasks and obligations of the membership. What I mean is political steering. More precisely - a combination of conditionality in terms of well defined technical process with the political steering. It is a political project after all. So let us make sure that we have political instruments to run it. To create appropriate political conditions and incentives if necessary. Insist on conditionality and be political. This conference is a good step in this direction.

Second, let us make a much better use of regional cooperation. Many of the challenges, that the Western Balkans currently face, can only be addressed if there is not just a will - but a collective will to do so. This applies across the board – from the economic and infrastructure development to respect for the rule of law. I am tremendously encouraged by important political signals like reassurances of the importance of regional cooperation at the meetings at the highest political level of the leaders from this region. But unless it is matched by practical and pragmatic cooperation among all regional actors, these messages will have only limited impact.

Regional cooperation, as inclusive as today's event, is more relevant then before for another reason. There is an urgency to address open bilateral issues. Bilateral questions should be resolved by the parties concerned in a European spirit and should not hold up the accession process. I see regional cooperation and not an accession process as a proper place to address these issues. The more we use the word “blocking”, the less we can use enlargement instrument for a thorough preparation of a candidate (or potential candidate) country.

It is only through active cooperation between countries based on the principle of mutual respect that the region will be able to truly come to terms with the past and achieve lasting reconciliation.

Third, let us see today’s meeting in conjunction with ongoing initiatives. Allow me to highlight but a few from Commission perspective:

  • We are taking measures, which will have a real and tangible impact on citizens of the region, such as visa-free travel to the EU. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia already enjoy visa-free travel. And last week the Commission put forward a legislative proposal to the Council and European Parliament on visa liberalisation for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania. This is the result of several months close scrutiny of the efforts of both countries to meet the stringent EU requirements for visa-free travel. I consider of outmost importance that we also launch a dialogue with Prishtina aiming at eventual visa liberalisation once conditions have been met. These are measures that bring the region closer to the EU.

  • The Commission is providing substantial financial support to prepare the Western Balkans for eventual accession to the EU and to alleviate the impact of the financial crisis. We are, moreover, ready and willing to support regional measures that will help overcome legacies of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, such as the long overdue completion of the Sarajevo process on refugee return.

  • We are working intensively on the opinions on the EU membership applications from Montenegro and Albania. The opinions will be fair and balanced, and will reflect the countries' achievements and own merits. Political criteria will play a crucial role. We stand, moreover, ready to prepare an opinion on Serbia's membership application and prepare the groundwork for accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as soon as the Council mandates us to do so. Time to act on these issues has come.

  • And finally, as the region moves forward on its European path, we need to ensure that Kosovo does not lag behind. The European Union is united in its wish to see a stable economy, functioning institutions and effective rule of law in Kosovo, in line with the European perspective for the region. The Commission will continue to assist with required reforms in this respect and to improve the lives of all people and communities.

Dear Colleagues,

We share the responsibility to ensure peace, stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans. Only by working together in a spirit of openness and shared values will this be possible. Today's conference sends out an important message for the European future of the Western Balkans. It is of particular importance that this message is being sent despite the European Union faces the Euro difficulties. To keep the EU working, open and attractive is important job to the benefit of not only Member States but the Western Balkans and last but not least another candidate country – Turkey – playing important role in this region.

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