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European Commission

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Clear EU perspective for Western Balkans, determination needed to make it reality

Conference "10 Years after Thessaloniki: An appraisal of the EU perspective and challenges in the Western Balkans"/ Dublin, Ireland

24 May 2013

Minister of State, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank the Irish Presidency for inviting me to today's conference marking the 10th anniversary of the European Union-Western Balkans summit in Thessaloniki. 10 years ago, in 2003, the European Union had 15 Member States and who would have thought that a Commissioner from a new Member State would be leading on enlargement 10 years later?

Looking at the conference programme, I am delighted to see that a number of experts that have already been through the enlargement process will be participating in today's panel discussions and giving us the benefit of their experience, including Vasilis Puşcaş who has produced a handbook aimed at helping countries to prepare for accession negotiations.

Today I would like to recall two important remarks made by Minister Creighton during last month's plenary debate in Strasbourg on the 2012 Progress Report on Serbia.

  1. She mentioned that process and not positions were key to settling longstanding disputes, an area where Ireland has long and well established experience; and

  2. She reminded us of the enormous strides that have been made by Serbia over the last decade and more, clear proof of the transformative value of the European Union enlargement process and something we can all be proud of.

Just two days after the debate in Strasbourg, Serbia and Kosovo reached an historic agreement. This is a game changer for these countries and for the western Balkans as a whole.

And as we count down the days to Croatia becoming the 28th member of the European Union on July 1st, I can only echo Minister Creighton's pertinent remarks. Momentum has been maintained and the countries of the Western Balkans continue to move ever closer to the European Union.

Now, let me turn to what lies ahead by making three remarks about the European Union perspective and challenges for the countries of the Western Balkans.

First, there is a clear perspective of European integration for all the countries in the region. The hard work that has been done, especially since the December European Council, means that 2013 is a year of opportunities.

Second, it is for the candidate countries to be aware of the opportunities and to make the full use of the momentum that has been created. That means stepping up the efforts:

  1. to deliver on the rule of law;

  2. to address bilateral issues; and

  3. to deal with economic difficulties.

Third, the entire region needs to show vision and courage to put the past behind it – to promote reconciliation and reforms and move towards a stable future that is clearly anchored within the European Union.

I call on the partner countries to step up to the plate and take these opportunities. Experience shows that the greater the consensus within a country on the European agenda, the faster that country progresses on its way to the European Union. Cross-party political support for the European Union reform agenda is key. That means constructive opposition – not boycotting parliaments.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to conclude with a few words about the Irish Presidency.

You ensured that enlargement was an important priority of your Presidency and I want to thank you for your support and close cooperation during a crucial period. Croatia became a candidate country during the Irish Presidency of the Council in 2004. Croatia's accession will be a fitting finale to a successful Irish Presidency in 2013.

Thank you for your attention.


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