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Debates
Wednesday, 13 April 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

19. Regional integration in the Western Balkans
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  President. The next item is the Council and Commission statements on regional integration in the Western Balkans.

 
  
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  Schmit, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Council pays constant and close attention to relations between the Western Balkans and the European Union, which, moreover, remains strongly committed to stabilisation and association for this neighbouring region. Under the European Security Strategy, this region is a high priority for the European Union, as is evidenced by, among other things, in addition to civilian aspects, the EU’s police and military presence in the Western Balkans.

The future of this region lies in the European Union. The Thessaloniki Summit of 21 June 2003 clearly emphasised the European vocation of the Western Balkans. Though the Union’s commitment to the Western Balkans is not open to doubt, it is up to the countries in that region to make good use of it. The countries in question must demonstrate, by specific policies and actions, their willingness and their capacity to become candidates, when the time is right, for accession to the European Union, with a view to joining it as members one day. The Union will continue to give them active support in their efforts to bring about political and institutional reform. That will no doubt require perseverance and a firm commitment on both sides because there are still considerable challenges to be met.

Nonetheless, they can be met and mastered, because it is in the interests of the peoples of the Western Balkans, who have certainly lived through unhappy times, to face up to those challenges. It is also in the interests of the European Union to smooth their path towards Europe, because our primordial objective must be peace and stability in the continent of Europe.

The stabilisation and association process is still the general framework for the Western Balkan countries’ European route towards future accession. This process seeks to help the countries of that region to establish sustainable peace, democracy, stability, prosperity and respect for minority rights. These objectives are the same as those of the European Project which, after the most terrible of wars, succeeded in reconciling enemy nations and enabling them to build a common future. It is important to note that this same ideal, this same vision, has also enriched the experience of the latest enlargement. This morning we have just taken a very important decision, that is, Parliament has just taken a very important decision on this subject, in this case in relation to Bulgaria and Romania.

Each year, the Council carries out a review both of the progress achieved by the countries concerned in the process of stabilisation and association and of the unresolved problems, on the basis of the Commission’s annual reports. This review is an important exercise, which reminds us that the Western Balkans are making progress along the path towards the European Union. As had been agreed at the Thessaloniki Summit, in 2004 the Union concluded European partnerships with the countries of this region for the first time. They were submitted by the Commission at the same time as the reports on the partnerships and on the stabilisation and association process. These partnerships, which take their inspiration from the partnerships for the accession of candidate countries, serve as individually tailored roadmaps, adapted to fit the specific situation of each country. They indicate the specific actions which should be taken as a matter of priority. The Commission and the Council are monitoring the progress being made in the implementation of these partnerships.

The Union’s approach towards the Balkans is thus already highly individualised and based on the principle of each country’s own merits. All the participants at the Thessaloniki summit accepted the fact that the rate of progress of the countries of the region towards future accession will depend on the speed with which they implement the necessary reforms and comply with the existing Copenhagen criteria and the stabilisation and association process. Those which perform best will be able to advance more quickly. At the present time only two countries have concluded a stabilisation and association agreement with the European Union, namely Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. At this stage Croatia is the first country in the region to have become a candidate country.

The process is thus a general one, but it follows the ‘each country on its merits’ approach. The prospect of accession, however, which is the only guarantee that the development of these countries will be a reality for everyone, applies in accordance with that approach.

At the time of the last Council review of the stabilisation and association process, in May 2004, the Council welcomed the progress achieved in the region. It found that there was sustainable stabilisation as regards the security situation. However, despite the successes achieved in recent years, the possibility of situations getting out of control, of violence, and of the calling into question of the fundamental values on which the European construction is founded, cannot, unfortunately, be definitively ruled out. That is why we must remain particularly attentive and vigilant regarding possible developments. Peace and stability cannot be taken for granted in this region. The legacy of a dark past, in which a destructive nationalism wrought havoc, has not totally disappeared.

For this region, 2005 will be the year in which major opportunities will arise. Thus the Council will be closely monitoring the continued implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a country which has applied to the European Union to become a candidate country. The political developments in Albania, particularly in the light of the forthcoming parliamentary elections which are due to take place this summer, deserve our full attention.

As for Serbia and Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Council is due to give its opinion during the first half of this year, among other things on the advisability of negotiating a stabilisation and association agreement. Negotiations on such an agreement are continuing with Albania, and later in the year the Council will have to turn its attention, on the basis of the Commission’s opinion, to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s application for accession. As for Kosovo, mid-2005 will provide the first opportunity for a review of the progress achieved regarding effective compliance with the standards laid down by the UN. Progress towards a process aimed at settling the future status of Kosovo by means of dialogue and cooperation between all the parties concerned will be conditional upon a positive outcome of that review. Finally, with regard to Croatia, the intergovernmental conference on the accession negotiations will be convened by a joint agreement as soon as the Council has confirmed – and I hope it will do so soon – that Croatia is cooperating fully with the Hague Tribunal.

This unreserved cooperation with the Tribunal is an inescapable requirement for all the countries of the Western Balkans. We can say that real progress has been made in recent months, but more progress is needed.

The European Union’s initiatives in promoting the regional integration of the Western Balkans, particularly as regards infrastructure, education, the return of refugees, the fight against organised crime, and cultural exchanges, really are essential here.

Regional cooperation encouraging the economic integration of the region is an important tool in promoting reconciliation, encouraging reform and, above all, improving the economic and social situation in this region. In certain parts of the Western Balkans there is endemic unemployment, which has reached record levels and is largely due to a lack of private investment. This is one of the principal factors not only of social instability but of political instability too. Consequently the Council attaches special importance to the promotion of regional cooperation, which is a key element in the stabilisation and association partnership. In its review of this process in May 2004, the Council welcomed the substantial improvements it found regarding regional cooperation, particularly in the areas of infrastructure, trade and energy.

Assistance projects in the areas mentioned in the question are being implemented by the Commission under the CARDS programme and, particularly in Croatia, via the pre-accession instruments, which are particularly important from this point of view. Thus the objective of the CARDS Regulation is, among other things, to implement reconstruction projects, to provide aid for the return of refugees and the stabilisation of the region, and also to encourage regional cooperation. At the present time, discussions are in progress in the Council on the new financial instrument for pre-accession aid proposed by the Commission. With effect from 2007, that instrument is to be the framework for EU assistance to candidate countries and potential candidate countries, which include the Western Balkans.

 
  
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  Rehn, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I thank Parliament, and the rapporteur Mr Samuelsen, for the forward-looking resolution on the Western Balkans and for the commitment of Parliament and of its Foreign Affairs Committee to the region. Currently, most of the countries in the Western Balkans are making tangible progress in their relations with the EU. Yet, many issues still need to be addressed and progress consolidated and reinforced.

The years 2005 and 2006 will be crucial for the Western Balkans in relation to the European Union. We are at a real watershed. We have to overcome certain short-term issues to be able to focus on long-term economic and social development. The most critical immediate issues concern the conclusion of the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia – ICTY – and the settlement of the future status of Kosovo.

As a former Member of the European Parliament, I have always been proud of the strong record of this House in advocating respect for human rights and related international obligations, as well as in supporting the multilateral system based on the United Nations. This is why I particularly welcome Parliament’s views in paragraphs 37 and 46, where full cooperation with ICTY, the Hague Tribunal, is underlined. This support for human rights, the rule of law and UN-based multilateralism is the reason why the European Union has made cooperation with ICTY a condition in its relations with the countries in the region. This autumn, probably in November, the Commission will present the enlargement package and report in more detail on the progress made by the countries in the region.

Let me now take the opportunity to sketch out where we stand today as regards these countries. Looking at Albania, I share the concern expressed in Parliament’s resolution on the political climate, particularly in the context of this summer’s parliamentary elections. I have recently written to Prime Minister Nano to underline that the Commission will only be able to propose the conclusion of negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement if the parliamentary elections this summer are conducted in accordance with international standards. Tangible achievements must also be made in fighting corruption and organised crime.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is actively tackling the priorities we identified in the feasibility report in late 2003. Once the country achieves significant progress in all priority areas, we can recommend opening negotiations on the Stabilisation and Accession Agreement. I hope to be able to do so next month.

On ICTY cooperation, there is significant progress, and the trend must be reinforced to lead to full cooperation. For the opening of SAA negotiations, the police reform is a particularly important condition for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The High Representative and the Union have been instrumental in advancing stability and reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I believe, however, that the country is ready to assume more responsibility for its own future. With responsible and democratically accountable authorities in place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I foresee a smooth and gradual phasing-out of the Office of the High Representative. As we approach the tenth anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, it is indeed time to move from the era of Dayton to the era of Brussels.

I was disappointed that Croatia was not able to ensure full cooperation with the ICTY by mid-March. As you know, in December the European Council decided that accession negotiations could only be opened on 17 March, if there was full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal.

This concerns the willingness and ability of the state structures in Croatia to comply with the rule of law and international obligations. Croatia must now demonstrate that it is fully cooperating with the ICTY. Let me be clear. Croatia’s future is in the European Union. Through the adoption of the negotiating framework, the EU has done what is necessary to start the negotiations. The EU is ready, once Croatia is ready.

Let me turn to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. President Barroso and I met Prime Minister Bučkovski in February when he handed over the country’s replies to the Commission’s questionnaire. My services are currently analysing the 13 000 pages – 45 kg – of replies.

We expect the government to make further progress in its reform agenda, to strengthen the rule of law and to implement the Ohrid Framework Agreement. I am concerned about the OSCE reports on the repetition of irregularities in the latest municipal elections. The authorities must now react decisively and ensure that future elections can take place in full compliance with international standards. Depending on the political development, on the progress in legal, political and economic reforms and on the technical quality of the replies, we aim to adopt the opinion by the end of this year.

Yesterday the Commission took a positive decision on the Feasibility Study for Serbia and Montenegro. We now consider the country to be sufficiently prepared to negotiate a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union.

We need to treat countries equally at equal stages; we must use the same yardstick at the same stage for each country. Negotiating a stabilisation and association agreement is very different from negotiating accession to the Union. We will demand more as Serbia and Montenegro moves forward in the process.

To reach this stage Serbia and Montenegro had to make special efforts. I welcome the agreement concluded last week on the Constitutional Charter, which ensures the legitimacy of the State Union Parliament. I am pleased that the country has finally made significant progress in cooperating with the Hague Tribunal. So far this year, a dozen persons indicted for war crimes have boarded the plane to The Hague. Efforts should be reinforced until none of the remaining indictees is still at large. Accession negotiations proper cannot even be considered until the country has achieved full cooperation with ICTY. With the tenth anniversary of Srebrenica approaching in July, Radovan Karadzić and Ratko Mladić must be brought to justice.

This is the beginning of the European road for Serbia and Montenegro. The country has achieved a great deal over the past few years. Now it is time to move on, time to reward significant progress, and time to show the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro that meeting critical international obligations brings them closer to the European Union.

Kosovo will be high on the agenda in the months to come, with the standards review coming up in mid-2005, likely to be followed by discussions on Kosovo’s future status.

We are focusing on helping the Kosovo authorities to make progress on implementing UN standards, especially the rule of law and the rights of minorities. Once the status has been settled, we will continue to support Kosovo’s progress towards European integration.

The Commission plans to present a Communication next week on ‘A European Future for Kosovo’. It will give a clear signal to the leaders and people of Kosovo that the EU is fully committed to their European future. We also expect the Kosovan leaders to show a constructive attitude, including meeting Serbian leaders who have stretched out a hand to them.

Belgrade also needs to work constructively to settle the issue. In the Feasibility Study for Serbia and Montenegro, we made it clear to Belgrade that the country’s EU aspirations are linked to a successful resolution of Kosovo’s status.

To sum up, although there are difficulties and pitfalls on the Western Balkans’ road to Europe, most countries are currently making steady progress. Those countries struggling to reform antiquated economies, and to build modern societies based on respect for human rights and the rule of law, have, at the same time, to deal with the legacy of war.

In this context I would like to highlight the importance of regional cooperation. Good neighbourly relations and regional economic cooperation are the very essence of the European Union. They are the catalyst for stability, reconciliation and normalising political relations.

This is a major challenge to the countries of the region and to the European Union. It is a tall order, but I am confident that we are on the right track. The less we need to focus on stability and security, the more we can channel our resources to economic and social development, which is rightly underlined in the Samuelsen report.

 
  
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  Pack, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, EU foreign policy ought to focus on South East Europe, and the EU ought to take consistent measures to finish what it started in the mid-1990s. To date, however, such measures have been thin on the ground. The aim behind this report was to allow us to exert a certain amount of pressure on the Council and the Commission, and today we have learnt that this course of action has proved successful, at least at this stage of the game. I was glad to hear the Commissioner say a few moments ago that the Commission now, at long last, plans to present a communication on Kosovo, and Mr Schmit also said that the Council would try to ensure that the increased interest in this region would be backed up by action.

At the same time, however, we must ask ourselves what action the countries themselves are taking. The two previous speakers have already referred to the need for Albania to ensure at long last that the forthcoming elections are conducted properly and that the results are not manipulated in any way. The Albanian Government must also take the business of governance seriously once and for all, by combating corruption and implementing legislation. We are all aware that Macedonia must press on with the Aarhus process in order to enable its Albanians, who make up 25% of the population as a whole, to feel as though they are on an equal footing with other citizens. Until this happens, it will be impossible for Macedonia to act as a stabilising force in the region.

The Commission and the Council have for some considerable time needed to bring pressure to bear on local politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina to amend the Dayton Agreement in such a way that a functioning community can be established. The country will never be able to join the European Union in its current state. There is still too little cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, and not enough refugees have yet returned to Republika Srpska.

Turning to Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, the confederation between Serbia and Montenegro is still far from robust, and a decision should be taken in the near future as to whether it should remain in existence or be dissolved. Belgrade and Pristina must work together under the auspices of the UN and the EU to find a solution to the Kosovo issue as quickly as possible, and there is no reason why such a solution should not be found, given that all the countries concerned wish to join the European Union. I hope that Croatia will be able to persuade the monitoring mission that it is cooperating fully.

All the above-mentioned countries are facing enormous problems with regard to their judicial systems and the fight against corruption, and they also lack administrative capacity. We must take steps to help them in this respect, and indeed we should help all these countries in a more committed and coherent fashion. We should provide them with access to pre-accession instruments so that they develop functioning national economies and functioning democracies. If this happens, everyone will benefit, especially the young people in the countries in question.

 
  
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  Swoboda, on behalf of the PSE Group. (DE) Mr President, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, today we voted by an overwhelming majority in favour of Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU. There can be no question that something resembling enlargement fatigue has set in, both among the Members of this House – including some of those who voted in favour – and among the public. It has been a particularly challenging task of late to discuss the next rounds of enlargement, but the Council, the Commission and Parliament must work together to explain to the public that this is the only way in which this region can be stabilised. We must also make it clear that negative developments in these countries lead to an increased risk of various problems such as cross-border crime, corruption or renewed outbreaks of ethnic conflicts, and that this risk can be averted only if the countries have a clear prospect of European integration. I am extremely grateful to the Presidency and the Commission for having emphasised this point today.

Our attention must now be focused firmly on this region, particularly in view of the decisions we have taken today, and I am grateful to the Council for having found a solution aimed at helping Croatia. This solution involves close monitoring of the steps taken by the country with a view to handing Gotovina over to the Hague Tribunal, and I hope that both parties will set about adopting it without delay, as this would enable us to open negotiations with Croatia in the near future. Croatia made a great deal of progress under previous governments, and there is a real chance that the present government could act as a beacon or a driving force – depending on which analogy you prefer – for the rest of the region. Any agreement we reach with Croatia should therefore not be seen as an attack on Serbia or any other country, as it would be intended to benefit the region as a whole.

Of course, I am sure that we would all be delighted if Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo were to join together in perfect harmony to form one country. Given everything that has happened, however, particularly as far as Kosovo is concerned, this is highly unlikely. I am therefore of the opinion that a way should be found in which these countries – or at any rate Kosovo – can gain independence whilst still maintaining their existing historical and ethnic links. Regardless of whether the Community of Independent States is taken as a model or whether another form of cooperation is established, I would ask the Council and the Commission to be as imaginative as possible when working on this task, as it is essential that we come up with a serious solution to the problem of Serbia and Montenegro, as well as to that of Kosovo, before the end of 2006. I can assure you that this House will be right behind you if the proposals you put forward are good ones.

 
  
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  Samuelsen, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (DA) Mr President, it is true that there are still many problems in this region. That has also been emphasised by the speakers from the Council and the Commission, and I should like to thank them for the accounts they have given. It is also true, however, that this region has a good deal in prospect, including in terms of its integration into the Europe we have today.

I should like to cite an example from Denmark. The latest enlargement of Europe was a real eye-opener for a great many Danes who came to see Europe in a new light: not just as an economic club for the rich, but as a political club that was based upon a number of common values and that could be a driving force in the development of democracies and security. Recently, we have seen how one of the Danish parties that plays a crucial role in the EU debate, namely the Socialist People’s Party, has changed from being eurosceptic to being europhile. Moreover, they have quite clearly done this in the light of the development we saw involving enlargement.

The next major challenge is this particular region, and, as we have recently seen, there are still of course problems in Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia-Montenegro, Kosovo and Croatia, with accession negotiations having had to be postponed. What is important, however, is to insist that these countries have prospects in terms of Europe, for it is those prospects that can be the very driving force they need. Moreover, we in the rest of Europe very much need to show that what we have here is a key area for European cooperation.

We are entering an exciting year. It will be a year in which we shall of course – and hopefully as quickly as possible – have found a positive settlement with regard to Croatia. It will no doubt also be the year in which we can come closer to solving the problem surrounding FYROM’s or Macedonia’s name, and it will also hopefully be a year in which we come closer to settling the matter of Kosovo’s future status.

I should also like to take this opportunity to say thank you for your cooperation in connection with the resolution and its preparation. It has become a useful tool that will help maintain not only the pressure and momentum that are now hopefully part of developments, but also the commitment that the EU must demonstrate if a solution is to be found to the region’s problems. We can then get the process seriously under way, and matters will make sense to all the parties involved and appear to be going somewhere.

 
  
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  Lagendijk, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (NL) It has been stressed by various speakers in this debate and also in various reports and pronouncements by the Commission and the Council. The countries of the Western Balkans are future members of the European Union, but in the present social climate that is easier said than done. We heard it in the debate this morning about Romania and Mr Swoboda has referred to it: there is a certain enlargement fatigue. I am very afraid that this enlargement fatigue will in particular have repercussions on our Balkan policy. I remain convinced that – however unpopular it may be and I emphasise it here once more – the European Union needs a Balkan strategy. Yesterday the International Commission for the Balkans, whose membership includes a good many interesting and expert people, published a report. I quote from that report. It is about the Western Balkans. ‘The wars may be over but the smell of violence is still hanging in the air.’ If you travel round the Balkans, in whatever country it may be, then that is the situation and that means that the EU simply cannot afford to think that it is not very convenient for us for the moment, let us let these countries be for now. In this new strategy, in this strategy for the Balkans aimed at membership, two factors are important.

Firstly – although it is patently obvious, I will say it again – the social and economic development in the region at the moment is disastrous and that is the main source of instability. With high unemployment rates it is virtually impossible for young people leaving school here to build a future locally. This leads to additional criminality, uncertainty and instability, and that should not be what we want. If the European Union is good at anything, it is in the fostering of economic ties between these countries and between them and the European Union.

A second element that we must not abandon is the adherence to the basic conditions with regard to human rights and minority rights. Although we as Balkan spokespersons were divided amongst ourselves about this in respect of Croatia, it has already been proven in my view that the adherence by the Council to cooperation with the Hague Tribunal as a condition for the start of negotiations has positive effects in both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. I am glad and my compliments to the Council that it stood firm on cooperation with the Tribunal.

Then the matter that concerns us all: Kosovo. I have just been there and am convinced that the report about the standards and what has happened so far will come as a matter of course. I am completely confident that this debate about status will be held. In that debate, Europe, whether it likes it or not, must take the lead because we have the root in our hands. We have the reward for Serbia and Kosovo in our own hands. This debate about the independence of Kosovo must be conducted under all kinds of conditions that are clear even now: no separation, no cooperation with Albania or Macedonia and respect for the Serbian minority.

To do nothing and look away, though, to act as if it is too difficult for Europe to deal with the Balkans at the moment, that is an approach that we cannot afford. Doing nothing will lead to an intolerable and dangerous situation. Let us not inflict this on ourselves and the countries of the Balkans!

 
  
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  Meijer, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (NL) In the 1990s we thought we could solve the problems in former Yugoslavia by setting up protectorates, sending external administrators and soldiers there and forcing refugees to return to areas where there was now a different ethnic majority. This American model leads to stagnation. It forces the people there back into the role of under-age children. They are going to bide their time until these foreign busybodies have left. The alternative to this stagnation is that we seek a peaceful, democratic way from the bottom up by taking seriously how the people in Kosovo, Montenegro, the separate entities in Bosnia or the two large language areas in Macedonia itself for example see their future and what they want to call themselves. States and population groups that opposed each other in the 1990s still reject domination by their neighbours but they do want to cooperate with open borders. An early start to the negotiations on accession to the European Union, starting with Croatia and Macedonia, can contribute to this. Europe must now without prejudice seek the real solutions together with all concerned.

 
  
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  Belder, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (NL) Mr President, Bosnia-Herzegovina is a time bomb waiting to go off! Clear language on the part of EUFOR, the European Union’s military mission in that country. Nearly ten years after Dayton the former warring parties are continuing their ethnic struggle unabated in the political arena. By no means did the ad hoc delegation of this Parliament gain a comforting picture of the present situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo and Mostar last week, but it was certainly a realistic one. This underlines once more the usefulness of the EUFOR mission locally.

You might expect a conciliatory contribution from the religious communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Representatives of Council, Commission and EUFOR reported the opposite. I would like to urge Council and Commission to keep reminding the church authorities and the Reis al-Ulema of their great responsibility in this regard. The recent arrest of Bosnians in Chechnya is an ominous sign. It illustrates the danger of religious extremism for which EUFOR sources were seeking our attention.

A moving part of the visit of the ad hoc delegation to Sarajevo was an inspection of minefields. Council and Commission, only the clearance of these fields of death can make the transition to a peaceful existence possible. So please invest extra in the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina in this way!

 
  
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  Aylward, on behalf of the UEN Group. Mr President, we all know only too well that recent years have brought great sadness to the Balkans region and to the many people who lost family and loved ones as a result of the wars there. The final phase of this war resulted in the NATO attack on Kosovo and the collapse of the regime.

I very much support the policies of the European Union, which have been put in place to help to rebuild the economies of the Western Balkans region. The European Union is right in the most part to treat the Balkans area as a single region. Politically, this is a very sensitive issue in terms of the future relationship between the European Union and the Western Balkans. The European Union is, of course, the single largest contributor of economic aid to the Balkans region at this time. Monies are being used to improve basic infrastructures in the field of transport, environment, energy and telecommunications.

European Union support is also being directed towards improving the efficiency of public institutions, focusing in particular on the judiciary, police forces and public administration. That does not mean, however, that the European Union is not critical of political developments in the Balkans region. The European Union is still demanding that war suspects be handed over to the international war tribunal in The Hague. However, there have been many very positive developments in the Balkan region in recent times. I welcome the American Government’s decision to withdraw its troops from Bosnia and hand over peacekeeping control to European Union forces.

It is clear that there is broad political stability in the region. We know that we must keep a very close eye on political developments in that region and I support what is known as the stabilisation and association process.

I am in favour of these countries becoming members of the European Union if they comply with the Copenhagen criteria in terms of respecting the rule of law and promoting human rights. The European Union as a political entity knows and will meet its obligations in this regard.

 
  
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  Papastamkos (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, the Western Balkans have always been the testing ground for trying out the efficacy of the European Union's external action.

European policy to date has been typified by its fragmentary character, scattered actions, lack of coordination and the fact that it is out of step with the development potential of the area. As I see it, the challenges for shaping a more productive European policy in relation to the Western Balkans are:

First, to build measures to further trust, social cohesion and security.

Secondly, to link European support for and the European prospects of the Balkans to strict terms of political adjustment, administrative reform and justice.

Thirdly, to prepare an advanced and cohesive strategic plan for the development of the Balkans, with the intermediate objective of integrated and sustainable growth and the final objective of convergence with the European Union. The plan will articulate the priorities of each country, seek out areas of cooperation and mutual benefit, lay down priorities and lines of action, set out and quantify requirements in basic sectors and make provision for resources to implement it.

Fourthly, to support regional economic integration, with the focus on cross-border infrastructures and the trans-European networks.

Fifthly, to invigorate regional cooperation policy by establishing a structured political dialogue, in accordance with the precedent of the European Conference on Central and Eastern European Counties prior to their accession.

Finally, Mr Samuelsen's amendment and other similar amendments concerning the name of the FYROM are, to my mind, unacceptable for the reasons set out in the joint declaration by the New Democracy parliamentary group, a copy of which has been sent to all the members of the European Parliament. As a minimum sign of institutional and political responsibility, I consider that all the members of the European Parliament and of the other institutions of the European Union should use the official names, the United Nations names, as Commissioner Rehn in fact did.

 
  
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  Beglitis (PSE).(EL) Mr President, the initiative by the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance proposing amendments on the question of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and calling for the country to be recognised by the European Union with its constitutional name force me to take a stand from the outset on this issue alone.

I wish to state in the most categorical terms that this initiative directly conflicts with the resolutions passed by the UN and the decisions taken by the European Union and its institutions, including the European Parliament. This is an initiative which flies in the face of every notion of solidarity with a Member State of the European Union, with Greece, which is one of the parties participating in the negotiating process under way within the framework of the UN to find a mutually acceptable and dignified solution, an honourable and logical compromise. When all of us, including them, have denounced the unilateral action of the United States in connection with the recognition of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, they come along today to confirm and accept the unilateral action by the United States of America, recognising the FYROM with its constitutional name. This stand creates a real problem, when today we should be debating and should be helping to shape a joint, integrated European strategy for the major challenges and dangers of renewed confrontation and instability in the area of the Western Balkans. This would indeed be an important contribution to the defence of European interests and to the strengthening of the European prospects of the countries in the area. Conflict and war in the Balkans should make us all more careful, more responsible and more realistic.

Greece has succeeded in assimilating the lessons of the recent history of conflict in the Balkans and has proven, with peace and cooperation initiatives, to be a stabilising factor. It is the first European country when it comes to investments in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, investments which have created more than 20 000 jobs. It has demonstrated a real sense of responsibility, realism and a willingness to compromise at the UN in order to resolve the problem of the name and find a logical compromise which leaves both countries' dignity intact. That is why I call on my honourable friends in the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance and the rapporteur, Mr Samuelsen, to withdraw their amendments, at least for the time being, just as I call on the President-in-Office of the Council and the Member of the Commission to take a stand on this issue.

 
  
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  Drčar Murko (ALDE). (SL) Thank you Mr President. I wish to speak about the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia from the geo-strategic aspect of the process of the enlargement of the European Union towards the southeast. Its geographical position in the unstable Balkan region is extremely important for the European Union, especially in a situation where the constitutional status of neighbouring Kosovo has not been finalised and is witness to sensitive constitutional reform being carried out on the basis of the Ohrid framework agreement.

The framework agreement is a constitutional documentation of the principle of cultural diversity. In it the majority national group of Slavonic Macedonians express how they will at all levels, from national to local, subscribe to sharing power with the minority national group of Albanian Macedonians. The importance of the agreement for the stability of the situation must therefore be measured by the criteria of a civilisational turning point.

Reform of the fundamental societal relations is progressing parallel to economic reform. In order for it to continue, the country needs a clear prospect of establishing closer relations with the European Union, and our help in consolidating its new identity. And a part of this is the question posed by rapporteur Samuelsen: ‘Has the time not come for the European Union to consider recognising it by its constitutional name – the Republic of Macedonia?’ Thank you.

 
  
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  Kusstatscher (Verts/ALE). (DE) Mr President, there can be no question that all of the nations and ethnic groups in the Balkans that are pinning their hopes on the EU after a long history of suffering are European. On closer inspection, however, it unfortunately becomes apparent that ‘old boy networks’ still operate in many of these Balkan states. The promised reforms often exist only on paper, and for this former members of the nomenklatura are mainly to blame. Virtually no serious efforts are being made to stop corruption, and the gap between rich and poor is growing. The illiteracy rate is rising in some areas, and the situation of minorities, in particular the Roma, leaves much to be desired. Elections are manipulated by means of bribes and sometimes even violence.

All the EU institutions should take a much closer look at what is really going on, and they must not allow members of the ‘old boy networks’ to pull the wool over their eyes. I believe that we should take our time and examine the situation in more depth before we agree to countries joining the EU.

 
  
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  Posselt (PPE-DE). (DE) Mr President, contrary to what these documents claim, Croatia does not belong to the Western Balkans. It is a Central European country, and the only one, apart from Switzerland and Liechtenstein, that does not yet belong to the EU. Given that it meets the criteria, we should open negotiations with it at once.

In the real Balkans, however, there is still more than enough to do. A constitutional reform must take place in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to transform it into a strong federation of three nations with equal rights, and Lord Ashdown’s dictatorship must be brought to an end. Before the end of the year, Kosovo must be presented with a clear roadmap to independence, albeit with conditions attached. Any other approach would be devoid of any basis in reality.

Serbia and Montenegro must allow thorough monitoring of their compliance with human rights. In this respect, I am somewhat concerned that the decision taken this week by the Commission rested rather too much on misapprehensions.

As far as Macedonia is concerned, the name issue must finally be settled, and, much as I respect the Greek Members, I would call on them to abandon their narrow-minded way of thinking on this matter. In Germany, Franconia is a part of Bavaria, and we also have Frankfurt, yet no one would ever suggest that France must instead start calling itself the Republic of Paris, because it might otherwise make territorial claims to Frankfurt or Franconia. We are in the 21st century now, and there is no longer any place for such nonsense.

We must make it clear exactly where the EU’s boundaries lie. Mr Langen belongs to the ranks of those who repeatedly point out that the EU would be overstretching itself if it allowed Turkey to join, yet South East Europe is quite clearly European. We must focus our energies on stabilising South East Europe and Croatia, which is a Central European country that has as little reason to be called part of the Balkans as does the beautiful Bohemian town of Kaden an der Eger, or as do Munich or Altenkirchen in Siegerland. Croatia belongs to Central Europe, and it must be integrated into Europe. This would also stabilise the neighbouring Balkans.

 
  
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  Pahor, Borut (PSE). (SL) Thank you, Mr President. I would like to continue where my esteemed colleague Posselt left off.

I agree with the numerous reports deriving from the resolution, and I will therefore support it. However, in the resolution I miss the important emphasis that the establishment of peace itself does not yet signify a resolution of the complex and fundamental issues of coexistence for the peoples of that region. It would be highly erroneous for us to form the impression that we now have fully formed democratic states in that region, and that with them and the EU everything should be about rapid modernisation and integration with the EU.

In my opinion the EU should take more initiative and responsibility to ensure that the fundamental status of certain states in that region is settled by peaceful means, without the use of force, by agreement and, most importantly, on a more permanent basis.

For instance, the unreformed Dayton Agreement represents a hindrance for the development of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the status of Kosovo must be settled, the majority of Serbs and Montenegrins wish to live in independent countries, and so on. I think these are fundamental issues that deserve a more fundamental response than we are able to give at this moment.

 
  
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  Prodi (ALDE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, when speaking of the Balkans, we cannot think of a stable arrangement except within the European Union. European integration can only be achieved, however, if there is a great impetus from the people. In the Balkans this must also result from a political truth and reconciliation process, alongside the criminal proceedings at the Court in the Hague – which is certainly important but by itself cannot ensure that everybody is aware of who did what in the war of the early 1990s.

The scenario that we are dealing with today may represent a restoration of the situation in which violence broke out and in which victims and persecutors can now confront each other. Such profound confrontations are the only way to turn the page so that nobody can return to it.

This is a necessary step in building a democracy, because it implies mutual respect and trust. The Union is in need of great determination directed towards the future and must not remain imprisoned by the past.

 
  
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  Ibrisagic (PPE-DE). (SV) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, there is not a lot that can be said in two minutes, especially if the subject is as big a one as that of the Western Balkans. I therefore intend to mention a few things that are common to all the countries in the region and to our attitude towards them.

The Western Balkans is an area affected not only by war and destruction but also by 50 years of Communism. We who have experienced a war know how easy it is to start one and how difficult it is to bring it to an end. We who have experienced Communism also know how long a period is required to build up democracy. In all of these countries that we are talking about today, there is some sort of division: in Croatia, between the democratic and non-democratic forces, in Bosnia between the federation and the Republika Srpska, and in Serbia and Montenegro between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians. When we engage in discussions with these countries and impose various requirements, we must keep this in mind and try to help the democratic forces that exist in the Western Balkans but that are not always as strong or even as authentic as we believe. When we talk, for example, about those accused of war crimes in Republika Srpska or Serbia queuing to come to The Hague, there are not many in this Parliament who know that those people and their families are given a lot of money from the authorities for doing so. When we talk about Macedonia voluntarily participating in the negotiations concerning its change of name, there are not many in this Parliament who know that that is only a part of the truth, for only Greek representatives are present at the negotiations and not Macedonian representatives able to put forward their views on the matter.

I also wish to emphasise that all the decisions of this Parliament are interpreted and analysed carefully by both the negative and positive forces in the region. We therefore need to be extremely careful about the signals we send out to the people of these countries, irrespective of whether we are talking about the demands for the return of refugees to Kosovo, Macedonia’s change of name or Croatia’s future membership of the EU. Whatever we do, we must support those fighting for peaceful and democratic development and impose sanctions upon those obstructing such development.

 
  
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  Howitt (PSE). Mr President, I was in Bosnia-Herzegovina recently and saw the successful start of EUFOR, the EU peacekeeping mission.

Bitter enmities remain between the country’s Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian groups. In spite of the fact that up to 10 000 people are implicated in war crimes, only 34 public indictments have been made. The road to Brussels cannot be journeyed until respect for the EU’s standards of justice is achieved. That is why the European Parliament is right today to insist on full cooperation with the ICTY by Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia.

Today Europe invests 25 times more money and 50 times more troops per capita in Kosovo than in Afghanistan. It is in the EU’s economic, as well as political, interest to integrate the Western Balkans, and it is their historic destiny.

The prospect of EU enlargement helped the countries of Eastern Europe to transform. We have to hope and work to ensure that it is the same for the countries of south-east Europe, so that they can join us as well in this Parliament and in our Union.

 
  
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  Schmit, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) First of all I should like to congratulate Parliament for having taken the initiative in holding this debate. In actual fact, as the Commissioner and I have both emphasised, the situation in the Western Balkans is of vital interest to the European Union. I note that we do not, in fact, have any major alternative to the European perspective.

The European perspective is the only tool that we have in order to convince these countries to change, to undertake reforms, to find the way to Europe – which means, first of all, the way to European values – and to find the way to reconciliation. It is not absurd to tell these countries to find the way to reconciliation, because we ourselves set an example of such reconciliation sixty years ago.

I believe, therefore, that so-called ‘enlargement fatigue’ is a fact, and that people are questioning these constant movements towards enlargement, towards new accessions. However, we must explain to them that it is in the interests of every one of us to achieve peace, stability and economic development in this region.

Someone referred to the record rates of endemic unemployment in Kosovo and Bosnia. We are confronted by a situation which at first glance seems impossible to resolve. Why is there unemployment? There is unemployment because there is no economic development. There is no economic development because there is no private investment and there is no private investment because there is neither confidence nor security: no one wants to invest in regions where the future and development are uncertain.

We therefore have a fundamental mission: to consolidate security, to provide security and to convince the people that their future lies in security, in reconciliation, and in respect for minority rights. I believe that this is how we can release a positive dynamic, which is first of all an economic dynamic. In fact, as long as there is no economic recovery in this region we shall not really have a stable peace. This is an important mission for the European Union. Once again I should like to thank Parliament for having realised and pointed out the fact that there is a need for urgent action in this region, by means of all the avenues which have been mentioned and described.

Finally, I agree that there is a risk of extremism. Here in Europe we have a possible focus of radical extremism, in particular Islamic extremism. In this respect too, we must ensure prevention, and the only way of ensuring prevention is via dialogue. We must demonstrate that this part of Europe belongs to Europe, that it shares European values, even if it also includes people of the Muslim faith. I believe, therefore, that what we are doing today is sending an important signal, and we must continue to send that signal throughout the years to come.

 
  
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  Rehn, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I would like to join Minister Schmit in congratulating Parliament on taking the initiative to hold this debate. It is extremely important that you hold this debate at this critical moment to help keep the Western Balkans on the agenda of the European Union and of the international community, both of which have quite a number of other issues to tackle. It is important, therefore, that we discuss the Western Balkans and try to improve our policies in that region.

One of the issues raised by several speakers in this debate was enlargement fatigue and I think this is a very serious challenge. We must bring the peoples of the European Union along with us on our road to enlargement. Our next steps, therefore, must be gradual and carefully and prudently managed. It is also important to underline that enlargement is in itself a security policy. The legal and political reforms, as well as the economic development stimulated by the EU perspective, will reduce instability and conflict, for instance in the Western Balkans. We need to have a dialogue and explain this point to our citizens to ensure that the future of the Western Balkans is not held hostage by unwarranted fears.

I shall try to provide answers to two questions specifically raised here, the first concerning the name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the second a question regarding the constitutional complexity of Serbia and Montenegro. As regards the name issue, the Commission supports the efforts of the United Nations for a mutually agreeable solution to the name issue between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

We hope that the recent proposals by the UN facilitator, Mr Nimetz, will contribute to this objective. A solution to this bilateral issue would clearly contribute to regional stability in the Western Balkans at a delicate moment.

Concerning Serbia and Montenegro, the Commission has deliberately developed a twin-track approach in response to the complex structure of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. This allows both republics and the State Union to make progress in their respective areas of competence. The State Union is mainly responsible for foreign policy and security issues, while the republics are responsible for most aspects of economic policy and trade relations. Thanks to this twin-track approach we have recently been able to sign the bilateral trade agreement in textiles with Serbia, which is important for investment and employment in that republic.

We will report on the progress of Serbia and Montenegro through this approach in the Commission’s annual report on the stabilisation and association process this autumn. The constitutional framework should be respected but at the same time should not hinder the country’s progress on its European road, if it meets other conditions for pre-accession and later perhaps accession.

Finally, one of the biggest challenges we face in refining our policies on the Western Balkans and bringing the countries closer to the European Union is the weakness of the states in this region. They are chiefly weak states. If the state cannot ensure that the basic daily needs of its population are met, it certainly cannot rise to European standards. It is as simple as that.

We must, therefore, find better ways of building institutions in the region, such as the approach to building Member States rightly advocated by the report of the International Commission on the Balkans, which was published yesterday.

I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Samuelsen, the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Parliament, and I very much look forward to working with you for stability, progress and prosperity in the Western Balkans.

 
  
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  President. I have received one motion for a resolution to wind up the debate, tabled pursuant to Rule 103 of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at noon.

 
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