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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Opening address to the Regional Cooperation Council

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

Annual Meeting of the Regional Cooperation Council

Istanbul, 22 June 2010

Dear Minister Davutoglu, Mr. Secretary General, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start by thanking our hosts, Turkey, for the excellent organisation and warm hospitality. But also, by congratulating you, Mr. Secretary General, and the RCC staff, for the completion of two successful years of regionally-owned cooperation in South East Europe.

Regional cooperation is a key part of EU policy towards South East Europe. My presence here today reinforces the message that the Commission, and the EU in general, place the utmost importance on the development of regional cooperation.

Many of the challenges that the region is called upon to face, from infrastructure development to the rule of law, can best be dealt with on a regional level. We expect our partners in South Eastern Europe to engage in practical and pragmatic cooperation.

The Annual Report on Regional Cooperation which you presented today, Mr. Secretary General, shows the rich and varied activities in which the RCC engages. The Commission stands ready to assist you in continuing this activity and making it more result-oriented.

The Commission also attaches great importance to inclusiveness: our meeting here today, as well as the Sarajevo Conference on 2 June 2010, clearly show that practical solutions can be found, in order to make regional cooperation more productive.

Our commitment to regional cooperation and the success of the RCC in particular, is not only political, but financial as well. The Commission supported the RCC financially for its first three years of operation and we are currently elaborating a new financing decision that will provide for support for the RCC Secretariat as well as for specific activities for the next three years.

The new RCC Strategy and Work Programme for 2011-2013 paves the way for increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of regional cooperation structures, and the Commission is happy to be in the position to endorse it. Efforts should now focus on implementing it efficiently and promoting result-oriented activities.

Let me turn now to the broader picture of developments in the region: as recently as three weeks ago, in Sarajevo, the EU reconfirmed its commitment to the European perspective of the Western Balkans, which is essential for the stability and development of the whole region.

Since the last RCC Annual Meeting, considerable progress has been achieved in the region, and this was reflected in the region's relationship with the EU. Croatia is on the final stretch of its accession negotiations. Progress in reforms allowed the Commission to propose the opening of accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The SAA ratification process with Serbia has been unblocked.

The Commission is currently working on the Opinions on Montenegro and Albania. We are ready to do the same for Serbia when the Council invites us to.

Visa liberalisation for Serbia, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as well as our proposal for visa liberalisation for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, is another good example of progress achieved in the past year in the Western Balkans' relations with the EU.

We should not forget Kosovo: its people have the right to benefit as much as the citizens of the rest of the Western Balkans from measures designed to bring the region closer to the EU. To this end, I think it is important that a visa dialogue will soon be launched with Prishtina aiming at eventual visa liberalisation, once the conditions have been met.

Turkey has also been making remarkable advances in reforms over the past ten years. It is now important that this momentum be reinforced, as the accession negotiations are entering a more demanding phase. Allow me to add that we highly appreciate Turkey's constructive role in the Western Balkans.

EU-Moldova relations are developing dynamically, under the ENP and the Eastern Partnership. Negotiations of a future Association Agreement are progressing smoothly. We have recently made sizeable progress towards a possible future Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. Also, An EU-Moldova dialogue on visa-free travel as a long-term goal was launched on 15 June.

Despite progress achieved, the challenges that the region will face are manifold; in particular questions relating to the rule of law and economic development, regional cooperation is an important tool for overcoming these difficulties. The RCC can play a major role in these areas – as foreseen in its new Strategy.

I see an important role for the RCC in ensuring that the region develops in line with the EU 2020 Strategy, taking of course into account the specificities of the Balkans. The recent Sarajevo conference called for a new regional recovery and recovery strategy, based on knowledge and innovation. The RCC could promote joint actions in the area of innovation and competitiveness; it could contribute to pooling expertise and securing political commitment. The RCC can exploit the elements included in its new Strategy and Work Programme, in order to steer the efforts of the national governments towards the regional 2020 goals

With these short remarks, allow me congratulate once again the RCC, and its Secretary General for his upcoming reappointment, and our Turkish hosts. I look forward to working with the RCC in the coming months in order to promote regional cooperation and the region on its way towards the EU.

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