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4. 12. 2007 13:50

Transformation of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Montenegro and Serbia in relation to the Czech Presidency of the EU

„Czech presidency of the EU in 2009: Czech Priorities in Relation to the Balkans“

Your Excellencies, dear Jiří, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank you for the invitation to this conference, which comes at times when the whole world is looking at Western Balkans again – both with expectations and a couple of butterflies in the stomach. The Kosovo wake-up call is saying we should not fool ourselves – the Balkan question is far from being resolved. In days like these, it is useful to make a review of where Europe and the Balkans stand today.

Stabilization of the Balkans remains a debt of Europe:
· We ow it to you – 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.
While in the upcoming weeks we will all probably have to go through a hard test in Kosovo, it is important to reiterate, that nothing will change in the long term strategy of Europe for the Balkans: the enlargement.
· 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 – i.e. in Serbia, the GDP is only about half of that in 1989. 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 stregth in social discontent and exacerbate the national issue. And without overcoming nationalism, we will never have stable Balkans.

I must say that EU is already doing a lot for 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. But the only viable longterm guarantee of prosperity is EU membership.

Czechs are particularly responsive to the needs of Balkan countries:
- we have the experience of dismantling our own federation and dealing with issues of ethnicity in politics
- we have close cultural and economic ties dating back to the era of Austro-Hungarian empire
- literally every Czech knows someone in Western Balkans, which is our favorite holiday destination

Speedy enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkans will therefore be one of the main priorities of the Czech EU Presidency in 2009. 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 want to fill it as soon as possible.

The accession of the 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 „recovered“ from its last „big bang“ enlargement. Fears from globalisation are sometimes mixing up with fears from enlargement. It will be one of the Czech top priorities in 2009 to help overcome these fears. I believe we are on a good way – now that Europe stroke a compromise on the Reform treaty EU will be able to start looking outwards again.

In order to succeed, Czechs will need the Balkans on board .Last progress reports of the European Commission on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia were optimistic, but despite much improvement still critical. For us to fight the Balkan cause, we would like to be able to say to the European public that:
- 1) all of your countries have governments with sufficient legitimacy for painful reforms
- 2) your countries have a reliable market economy which will enable you to stand the competition in the common market
- 3) your countries have a generous approach towards minorities and refugies
- Last but not least, a responsible approach towards the Kosovo question will be needed – both from us and from the Balkans. Czech Republic will do its best to avoid that this question holds both the Balkans and Europe hostage.

Only this way the borders, which have disappeared in Europe – and which are still so sacred in the Balkans due to the war experience – will lose their relevance.
Thank you for your attention.

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