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Address on behalf of the EU at the Regional Table of the Stability Pact for South East Europe

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Your Excellencies, Mr Special Coordinator, Mr Secretary General, Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. It is a great pleasure for me to address the Regional Table of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe on behalf of the Presidency of the EU.
  2. Let me thank our host warmly. Sofia is a great host and the city has been the venue of many important meetings of the Stability Pact. This time we come to Sofia for a final meeting of the Regional Table in order to muster all our support for a new venture, nothing less than a new chapter in the history of the region; the transformation of the Stability Pact into the new regionally-owned cooperation framework, the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC). We are thereby adding the final touch to the new architecture for regional cooperation in South-East Europe.
    In a few hours we will adopt a Joint Declaration on the Establishment of the RCC. The Special Coordinator will then hand over to the Secretary-General of the RCC.
    Nine years ago, the countries of South Eastern Europe, supported by the EU initiative, recognised their responsibility to work within the international community to develop a shared strategy for stability and growth of the region and to cooperate with each other and major donors to implement that strategy.
    Today, the countries of the region will take full ownership of the process of regional cooperation. This is an awesome undertaking and it serves a noble cause: the cause of lasting peace, stability and prosperity through cooperation.
    This transformation became possible due to the general setting of progress in South East Europe and thanks to the commitment of the countries of the region, and the tireless efforts of the Special Coordinator, Dr Busek and his dedicated staff, as well as the European Commission.
  3. In the past nine years a lot has been achieved, although further efforts will be necessary to continue to promote stability and good neighbourly relations and to intensify reform. The Stability Pact set in motion an impressive number of useful initiatives and taskforces covering different areas. They are making a real difference in the daily life of citizens.
    Apart from the numerous achievements of the Stability Pact, for example in the area of energy (the Energy Community Treaty), trade (CEFTA), refugee return or border control (the Ohrid Border Process), let me point to what I consider its most important legacy: the Stability Pact has facilitated transition – not only from war economies towards progress in establishing market economies, from divided societies towards gradually achieving multi-ethnic and more tolerant societies but – in more general terms – a gradual shift from an environment of confrontation to one of cooperation.
    This has been brought about by practical achievements and initiatives just as Robert Schuman declared 60 years ago: Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through practical achievements which first create de facto solidarity. 
  4. The RCC will be able to move beyond the legacy of the Stability Pact. It will thereby foster regional cooperation, dialogue and coordination and help to further political and economic reform, respect for human rights, development and enhanced security in the region in support of a prosperous and secure shared future.
    The RCC will have several functions. It will be a key negotiation partner within the EU on regional cooperation matters in South East Europe, it will provide the South East Europe Cooperation Process with operational capacities and it will act as a forum for the ongoing involvement of the donor community.
  5. More intense and regionally-owned cooperation in South East Europe resulting from the efforts of the RCC and the countries of the region is also vital to advancing the EU integration agenda. RCC activities should be compatible with the stabilisation and association process.
    From the point of view of the EU, it is important that regional ownership of individual initiatives is enhanced with a view to ensuring that they can operate on a self-sufficient basis. The countries of the region should be congratulated for their sense of financial responsibility in undertaking to share the financial burden of running a regional network, and I would encourage you to continue providing financial support.
  6. The RCC can play its full role only if the whole region is committed to regional cooperation and if all parts of the region take an active part in the activities the RCC will supervise and develop. Constructive political dialogue between all the parties in the region in a spirit of cohesion and solidarity is essential to the process, by way of strengthening internal political stability and the reform process necessary to progress towards the EU.
    This is an important message: the Pact should be based on mutual support and on avoiding placing obstacles in the way.
  7. The year 2008 is an important year in the itinerary of the countries of the region towards Europe. Our objective must be, while consolidating the progress achieved, to complete the network of Stabilisation and Association Agreements and to work hard on improving people-to-people contacts, including through support for NGOs in South East Europe. The EU is about to start a dialogue on visa arrangements on the basis of roadmaps with all Western Balkan countries with a view to visa liberalisation.
    The EU's commitment through the stabilisation and association process has made a significant contribution to the progress achieved in recent years in the Western Balkans. The relationship between the Republic of Moldova and the EU is advancing steadily on the basis of the European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan.
  8. Full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is an obligation under international law and a fundamental condition of EU integration. Fighting against the impunity of war criminals throughout the Western Balkans must continue since it is of crucial importance. The rule of law is essential for the functioning of a democratic society. This also goes for other pending legal issues in the Western Balkans.
  9. Transition from the Stability Pact to the Regional Cooperation Council considerably enhances your ownership of the process. Its failure or success now depends on your willingness to cooperate, to uphold and even strengthen dialogue, regional cooperation and the ability to solve outstanding issues between parties and countries. The EU will support you by providing assistance and advice and would remind you that the future of the Western Balkans lies within the European Union. Nothing, however, can replace the necessary will and resolve of the countries of the region, the latter being essential in order to fulfil the criteria and conditions laid down.
  10. Let me, in closing, offer a comment – from my national and personal standpoint – on a particularly pressing issue: the European perspective for the Western Balkans. There are, it is true, some serious challenges and misunderstandings in relations between Balkan countries, nations and parties. Instead of dwelling on them, we should look to the future. In the future, all Western Balkan countries will be members of the EU and we shall be working together for European prosperity and world progress. The logical presupposition is that all of the Western Balkan countries should be encouraged to pledge mutual support and conciliation on the road to EU membership. Exclusion and obstructionism must be avoided. The enlargement process may be founded on the regatta principle, but it is important that all the boats reach the destination port.

I wish you, Mr Secretary General, much success in your work in the years ahead.


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Date: 28.02.2008