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1. 10. 2008 12:26

EU Enlargement: Evaluation of the Progress of the SAP

Speech by Alexandr Vondra, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of the Czech Republic on the Conference: Perspectives on the Western Balkans Expectations of the Czech EU Council Presidency 2009, organised by ANO pro Evropu

Mr. Commissioner, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Stabilization of the Balkan peninsula remains a debt of Europe:
• We ow it to the Balkans – we still live with a bad aftertaste of our failure in the 90´s.
• We ow it to ourselves – throughout centuries the Balkans has been the „soft underbelly“ of Europe. EU cannot aspire on any global role unless we are able to take care of our own backyard.

The responsibility lying in our hands is immense. I am here today to plead that a speedy enlargement is the best possible long-term strategic approach to this challenge. Why do I believe so much in the „spell“ of the enlargement process?
• Europe is a reconciliation method – we do quarrel, but we resolve arguments at the negotiations table, not in the battle field. It is in our vital interest to spread this method to the Balkans.
• Europe is an instrument of prosperity – that is what the Balkans needs most. The social and economic situation of the countries of former Yugoslavia is especially difficult and is improving only slowly. If the impoverishment of the middle class in the Balkans continues, there will no longer be a social base on which to build a new democracy. Without prosperity there is more room for populist arguments, which find strength in social discontent and exacerbate the national issue. And without overcoming nationalism, we will never have stable Balkans.
EU is already doing a lot for the Western Balkans in economic terms – it has allocated 4,6 billion Euros to this region in 2000-2006 via the CARDS instrument, another 3,96 billion are granted to Western Balkans + Turkey over 2007-2009, as well as 11,5 billion Euros from the IPA foreseen for the period 2007-2013. But the only viable longterm guarantee of prosperity is EU membership: Single market and full participation in the European decisionmaking process will do a better job than any imaginable sum of financial assistance.

Czechs are particularly responsive to the needs of Balkan countries:
- We´ve been through an experience of dismantling our own federation and dealing with issues of ethnicity in politics in a peaceful and rational way
- We have close cultural and economic ties dating back to the era of Austro-Hungarian empire
- Literally every Czech knows someone in the Western Balkans, which is our favorite holiday destination
This affinity, as well as the awareness of the gravity of impacts that our decisions will have on the fate of Balkan countries, leads us to elevate enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkans among the main foreign policy priorities of the Czech EU Presidency in 2009.

What will be the main issues of the Czech Presidency in this domain?
1) The negotiations on accession of Croatia will be at the top of the list. We welcome the intention of President Barroso to publish this autumn a road map for Croatia in order to have an indicative schedule for closing the technical part of the negotiations in 2009. We would be delighted if it could be the Czech Presidency, who will conclude the accession process with Croatia – this scenario however requires that Croatia speeds up its preparations.

2) We are hoping that by the time we take over the Council Presidency, all conditions will be fulfilled to open accession negotiations with former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – including a viable compromise on the main contentious issue - the name of the country. Should that not be the case, we will propose our good services to seek a solution acceptable to all member states of the EU.

3) We would also like to pay very much attention to Serbia, who – in our view – deserves lots of credit for the progress, that has been achieved lately. Without Serbia on board, the Balkans will never be truly stable. By handing out Radovan Karadžič the Serbian government has proven determination to cooperate with ICTY and to engage definitively on the path of European integration. We believe that this progress should be rewarded – granting the status of a candidate country fo Serbia could perhaps become a topic of the Czech Presidency, too.

4) We will keep underlining the importance of European perspective for all other countries of the Western Balkans, too. We welcome the intention of Mr. Commissioner to sign Stabilisation and association agreements with all of them by the end of this year. In order to facilitate the rapprochement, one of the tasks of the Czech Presidency could be to examine the possibilities of introducing additional mechanisms that would help candidate and potential candidate countries implement the requirements of the EU – i.e. an advanced screening and pre-screening. Apart from that, it will belong to the goals of the Czech Presidency to implement the visa liberalisation maps and reach visa-free regime with some of the countries of the region as soon as possible, provided the reform process in these countries advances quickly enough.

5) Last but not least, it will be vital to take good care of Kosovo. We have passed a difficult test this year with the proclamation of independence. Our task however has not finished yet – the process of recognition still continues and we should be ready for discussions about the newly born state – be it within the EU, within the frame of the dialogue with the Western Balkans countries or on the soil of the United Nations. We should also start thinking of ways how to include Kosovo into the Stabilisation and Association Process.
The accession of the countries of Western Balkans is not a question of „if“ – there is a wide consensus in the EU on the European perspective for Western Balkans, our promise from Thessaloniki holds true. But it could possibly become a question of „when“, unless we keep the drive. The EU has still not entirely „recovered“ from its last „big bang“ enlargement. The delay in the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty may drive our attention away from external challenges to our internal problems. Also, fears from globalisation are sometimes mixed up with fears from enlargement. It will be one of the Czech top priorities in 2009 to help overcome these fears and to keep insisting that the price for sacrifying long-term strategic interests on the altar of institutional debates would be too high to pay.

In order to succeed, we need the Balkans on board. Last progress reports of the European Commission were optimistic, but despite much improvement still critical. For us to fight the Balkan cause, we need to be able to say to the European public that
- 1) Balkan countries have governments with sufficient legitimacy for painful reforms
- 2) Balkan countries have a reliable market economy which will enable them to stand the competition in the common market
- 3) Balkan countries have a generous approach towards minorities and refugies
- 4) Balkan countries cooperate with the ICTY
Only this way the borders, which have disappeared in most of Europe – and which are still so sacred in the Balkans due to the war experience – will lose their relevance. Since the fall of communism in Europe, EU has stretched all over Europe and members of the former Warszaw pact have become members of the European family. There is just one hole on the map: the Western Balkans and we have the duty to fill it as soon as our Balkan partners are ready to meet all necessary conditions for accession.
Thank you for your attention.

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