Press Advisories

30. 3. 2009 8:16

The integration of Balkan countries into the EU must continue

Conclusion of EU foreign ministers after their informal meeting. The Stabilisation and Association Process remains the overall framework for the European course of the Western Balkan countries all the way to their future accession.

EU Presidency Statement

Western Balkans – fostering the integration momentum, Gymnich - Hluboká nad Vltavou

1. The representatives of the Governments of the Member States of the European Union, the candidate countries, the potential candidate countries of the Western Balkans, the Secretary General of the Council/High Representative and the European Commissioner for Enlargement met in Hluboká nad Vltavou on the 28 March 2009 on the occasion of the informal EU - Western Balkans Forum meeting. The EU Special Representative for Kosovo, the EUSR/HR for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EUSR/HoD for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Kosovo, and the Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council were also present.

2. The European perspective of the Western Balkans as set out in the Stabilisation and Association Process, the 2003 Thessaloniki Agenda for the Western Balkans and the 2006 Salzburg Declaration remains essential for the stability, reconciliation and the future of the Western Balkans. Each country's progress towards the European Union must be based on individual merits and rigorous conditionality, guiding the necessary political and economic reforms, in accordance with the renewed consensus on enlargement as expressed in the European Council conclusions of 14/15 December 2006.

3. Referring to current and upcoming elections in the Western Balkans region, the Presidency recalled the importance of ensuring free and fair elections in line with international standards and commitments.

4. The economic downturn in Europe calls for solidarity and close cooperation between the EU, International Financial Institutions and the Western Balkan countries. The latter are continuing to benefit from EU support to economic stability and development and will also receive focussed support from the Crisis Response Package under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance. The participants assessed positively the cooperation during the recent gas crisis.

5. The Stabilisation and Association Process remains the overall framework for the European course of the Western Balkan countries all the way to their future accession. By making solid progress in economic and political reform and by fulfilling the necessary conditions and requirements, the remaining potential candidates in the Western Balkans should achieve candidate status, according to their own merits, with European Union membership as ultimate goal.

6. Stabilisation and Association Agreements and Interim Agreements have been signed with six Western Balkan countries. On 1 April 2009, Albania will become the third country (after the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Croatia) with the Stabilisation and Association Agreement in force. The implementation of the Interim Agreement and the ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia will commence as soon as the Council decides that Serbia fully co-operates with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. An early implementation of the Interim Agreement is desirable.

7. The participants discussed ways of assisting the economic and political development of Kosovo through a clear European perspective, in line with the European perspective of the region. In this respect, they welcome the Commission's intention to present, in the autumn of 2009, a study. Kosovo’s full involvement in regional initiatives needs to be ensured in a constructive manner.

8. Strengthening people to people contacts represents a tangible benefit of the European integration for the citizens of the Western Balkans. A visa free regime should be established with all Western Balkan countries when the benchmarks defined in the visa liberalisation roadmaps are met. Student and young professional exchanges represent a particular contribution to fostering harmony and overcoming prejudice among the people of the Western Balkans and should be further promoted.

9. Good neighbourly relations and the need to find mutually acceptable solutions on outstanding issues with neighbouring countries remain essential elements of the region's way towards the EU. Regional cooperation among the Western Balkan countries is a key element of the Stabilisation and Association Process. It contributes to a shared understanding in the region and to finding solutions for issues of common interest, such as in the fields of energy, transport, trade, fight against organised crime and corruption, refugee return and border control. In this context, the participants commended the first year of work of the Regional Cooperation Council and reiterated that regional cooperation needs to be inclusive.

10. The EU presence in the Western Balkans within the ESDP framework is an essential part of the EU’s comprehensive approach. Sustaining stability is necessary for achieving progress on the way to European integration. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the operation EUFOR ALTHEA and the EU Police Mission have proved to be a significant contribution to stability and security in the country. In Kosovo, the EU rule of law mission EULEX successfully started its activities last year. This largest ESDP civilian mission ever confirms the importance of the region as a key priority for the European Union.

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