ADDRESS OF MR. KIRO GLIGOROV: EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES OF THE WESTERN BALKANS COUNTRIES
Belgrade, 29 September 2006
Allow me to welcome you all and tell you that I’m so glad to be here with you tonight.
I will speak in short thesis on the latest current issue, at least in these Balkan areas, and following the statement of the European Commission President Barroso and the German Chancellor, Mrs. Merkel, regarding the process of future accession of new countries to the European Union. Understandably, after the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, on 1 January next year.
I say in these Balkan areas, because the issue of extending the Union for has not been a favorite topic in Brussels in the past year or so, as well as in some European major cities. The reasons for suppressing the issue of enlargement are all known, and are mainly related to the so-called constitutional crisis in the Union, following the negative referendum outcome in France and the Netherlands on the text of the Constitutional Treaty and the badly conceived process of ratification by other member states of the Union, and with a growing sense of disappointment in “older” member states due to the “behavior” and development in some of the newly-accepted East European countries.
I have stressed many times so far that the creation of the European Community, or the Union, is the most positive event or process in the whole history of the European continent. I am confident that the current European leaders will be at the level of their predecessors-visionaries and find a way out of the existing constitutional crisis and thus open the way for the smooth continuation of the European integration process.
Last year, after a one-year-long research and work, the International Commission on the Balkans published its report entitled “The Balkans in the Europe’s Future”. I was one of the members of this Commission led by prof. Amato, a former Italian prime minister. I will not recount the content of this relatively short report, which is rich in findings, reviews and recommendations. I will only mention that the Commission is committed to the goal that all countries of the so called Western Balkans become part of the EU no later than 2014, some earlier, some later, depending on the results of reforms.
In my opinion, a clearer and more time-specified agenda or obligation of the European Union to integrate Western Balkan countries could be of utmost importance. Even if that agenda was filled with the conditions which these Balkan countries need to fulfill. Even if that agenda was to achieve a conditional accession to the EU, with a similar status as will be the case with Romania and Bulgaria after 1 January. And regardless of the fact that the reform of the Union itself is justifiably imposed as a priority issue. That’s all right. And regardless of the fact that positive community law regulates the functioning of the Union with a maximum of 27 members.
I believe that such a Union agenda in relation to the Western Balkan countries would encourage reform efforts, and the political elites in these countries would “commit” to consistently adhere to the proclaimed goal of European integrations.
Geopolitically, all sub-region entities called the Western Balkans can hardly find a different and better option than perspective entry into the EU. The Western Balkan countries are already NATO enclaves, and in a couple of months they will become double enclaves, surrounded by members of the Union.
The question is whether the European Union will allow the Western Balkans to become a “black hole” of Europe for a long time, fenced off with new “Berlin” or “Schengen” walls. I say “long time” because I am firmly convinced that the Union’s policy of enlargement is its strategic approach, which is politically and legally based in the adopted documents of the European Council, especially when it comes to countries of the so-called Western Balkans. That is why their perspective entry into the EU is in no way problematic within the framework of European internal and public debates related to the extent of enlargement and the future external borders of the European Union, the debates inspired by the decision to open the negotiating process with Turkey.
European Commission President Barroso reiterated these days in Sofia that the doors of the European Union remain open to the new members. He certainly did not mean only countries such as Norway or Switzerland, which have long fulfilled all the conditions for membership. However, this is not the case with the Western Balkan countries. It is a positive fact that the ruling political elites in all countries of this sub-region are earmarked and oriented towards Euro-integration. The fact that this orientation enjoys great public support in these countries is very important. This is shown in surveys conducted in the countries of that region.
I want to emphasize the following: without significant support and assistance from the Union, the countries of the Western Balkans cannot cope with the many problems that they face. I will not list all the problems, and the most significant problems are given in the abovementioned report of the International Commission on the Balkans. I would like to emphasize only that the state leadership in these countries must be more productive to cooperate but not only because regional cooperation is a prerequisite without which it is impossible to enter the Union – it is because it is necessary to strengthen mutual trust, overcome prejudices and put aside the conflicts from the past. Ultimately, it is necessary because of the regional character of many problems that can be effectively resolved by the application of a common, regional approach. I will just mention cross-border crime, terrorism, ecological problems, infrastructure…
I would also like to point out the need for greater courage in the implementation of internal reforms in all countries of this sub-region. Is there political will and willingness to do so? This would be in the interest of the citizens of these countries. Even after the most recent enlargements, the European Union has enough troubles to allow the admission of new problematic countries.
These days you have also discussed the occurrences of nationalism in the Balkans. I have to say that I am proud that this cancer did not catch the root in the Macedonian people. I am proud that my people have not developed nationalistic feelings and passions against neighboring nation, although there was a suitable ground for this, for example during the Greek embargo or the inter-ethnic conflict in 2001.