Eu Enlargement In The Balkans: Socioeconomic Cooperation With¬in Eu Context


The year 2009 marks a historic double-anniversary. Twenty years ago, we saw the Iron Curtain crumble, and peaceful democratic change transform Central and Eastern Europe. And in May this year, we celebrate the 5 anniver­sary of the latest enlargement that brought in altogether 12 new Member States....

The year 2009 marks a historic double-anniversary. Twenty years ago, we saw the Iron Curtain crumble, and peaceful democratic change transform Central and Eastern Europe. And in May this year, we celebrate the 5 anniver­sary of the latest enlargement that brought in altogether 12 new Member States.

Today, European Union (EU) is pursuing enlargement policy in a context where the global economic crisis has shaken deeply the EU economies and taken centre-stage in both domestic and international politics. EU has launched a recovery plan, aimed at stimulating the economy by injection of 200 billion Euros (1.5 per cent of the EU's GNP). Together with automatic sta­bilizers that are substantial in European welfare states this amounts to over 3, almost 4, per cent of GNP.

The solidarity and swift support shown for certain troubled member state economies has illustrated very clearly the value of EU membership - and also of Eurozone. This is an important signal and incentive for today's enlargement countries, to press ahead with their own membership preparations. Moreover, they already benefit from EU crisis support.

Regarding the candidate countries and potential candidates for EU mem­bership in South Eastern Europe, 150 million Euros have been set aside in the EU Recovery Plan to support their economic stability and development. The European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and other financial institutions are also contributing with amounts that have been significantly increased to a total of about 5.5 billion Euros in 2009.

In addition to the economic recession, the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty weighs heavily on the minds of European leaders these days. We need the Lisbon Treaty to make the current EU function better and deliver the results its citizens expect. This is clearly a priority for the EU, but it does not mean that our important works in other areas should be put on hold.

While the EU pursues its institutional reform, we will keep on working in parallel on a carefully managed and gradual accession process in South East Europe. It is worth reminding ourselves why the people of the Western Balkans are so keen to join our Union.

Like in Central and Eastern Europe before, the European perspective of South East Europe has already proved a formidable transformational force. The region is part of Europe and we have common security, economic and energy interests. And let us not forget about the region's citizens: They, more than anything, want a European future.

EU Membership brings benefits that we often take for granted. Joining the EU is about personal freedom. The Western Balkans today are entirely sur­rounded by the EU - yet e.g. Serbs or Bosnians, cannot travel to their EU neighbours without often cumbersome visa procedures.

The freedom to travel matters enormously the citizens of the region. That is why the Commission is pursuing dialogue on visa liberalisation with the Western Balkans. The visa restrictions can be lifted by the end of this year.

Croatia's citizens already enjoy visa free travel to the EU. Furthermore, Croatia is currently the country closest to EU membership. Accession negoti­ations are at an advanced stage. In November, the Commission presented Croatia a roadmap for how to reach the final stage of the negotiations. I wel­come that the country has taken up this challenge: Croatian government is pressing to complete its preparation in the various chapters by the end of 2009, as foreseen in November's roadmap.

Croatia has made plenty of progress. Croatia knows, however, that it needs to deliver still more to meet the benchmarks in the negotiations, espe­cially on its fight against organised crime and corruption and restructuring its ship-building industry.

Judicial and administration reform is of critical importance. The EU can only function properly when the rule of law applies. That is why more progress in Croatia on these cross-cutting issues is essential. This is first and foremost in order to improve the everyday lives of all Croatian citizens by guaranteeing their rights, and ensuring that justice prevails.

But these reforms are also necessary if Croatia is to fully benefit from EU policies as a Member State and adequately apply EU law. Deficiencies in these areas can have a knock-on effect on economic issues, as they hamper the development of the private sector, foreign investment, and enforcement of property and creditor rights.

Providing a satisfactory model for restructuring of the shipbuilding sec­tor is also of high importance for both the Croatian economy - such an impor­tant sector needs to be economically viable for the sake of the overall econo­my of the country - and the EU internal market as a whole.

The Eastern enlargement strongly boosted the economies of the new member states. At the same time, it also benefited the economies and job cre­ation of the old ones. To illustrate this with a concrete example: trade between the old and new member states grew almost threefold in less than 10 years. An even more illustrative is the fivefold growth of trade among the new member states themselves.

This is a key factor explaining why, since 2004 until the current financial crisis broke out, there was a robust 1,5% annual growth in employment in the new member states - which went alongside strong job creation in old member states, about 1% per year.

This did not occur either naturally or by chance. Instead, it was the result of thorough preparation and of bold legislative and economic reforms. These factors made EU enlargement a win-win situation.

I am determined to keep it this way, so that Croatia can carry its obliga­tions and meet the challenges of the EU's single market from day one as an EU member state.

The Croatian government also knows that the EU is concerned of the level of cooperation with ICTY (The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia). On this matter, the EU is in close touch with Chief Prosecutor of ICTY and we strongly support his work. The Croatian govern­ment's full cooperation with ICTY remains a necessary condition to move ahead in negotiations.

As you know, to our regret, the border issue with Slovenia is currently blocking Croatia's progress in the accession negotiations. The EU has put for­ward a proposal, which should help solving the border issue and allow con­tinuing Croatia's accession negotiations. All previous attempts to resolve this issue have failed over the past 18 years.

Since I cannot see another viable way forward, I expect a positive response to the EU's initiative by both countries. Otherwise I am concerned that Croatia may be prevented from concluding its accession negotiations in the envisaged timeline.

But I don't want to paint the devil on the wall yet, and I try to remain con­fident that Croatia will conclude accession negotiations in due time because provided that all legitimate conditions are met.

To conclude, enlargement has served as a driver of liberty and democra­cy and an anchor of peace and prosperity in Europe.

We, on the EU side, are advancing our enlargement agenda in the trou­bled context of the economic crisis and other political challenges. In the same way, the Western Balkans has to push their European agenda forward to face the challenges we share.

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Continents ( 5 Fields )
 Contents ( 471 ) Actiivities ( 219 )
TASAM Africa 0 149
TASAM Asia 0 236
TASAM Europe 0 43
TASAM Latin America & Carribea... 0 34
TASAM North America 0 9
Regions ( 4 Fields )
 Contents ( 178 ) Actiivities ( 54 )
TASAM Balkans 0 93
TASAM Middle East 0 62
TASAM Black Sea and Caucasus 0 16
TASAM Mediterranean 0 7
Identity Fields ( 2 Fields )
 Contents ( 176 ) Actiivities ( 75 )
TASAM Islamic World 0 147
TASAM Turkic World 0 29
TASAM Türkiye ( 1 Fields )
 Contents ( 223 ) Actiivities ( 59 )
TASAM Türkiye 0 223

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