Speech Addressing the Serbian Parliament
Dear Madame Speaker,
Distinguished Members, Dear Friends,
It is an honour for me to be in Belgrade. It is a double honour as I am the first President of the European Parliament to speak to the elected representatives of the people of Serbia.
This is a timely address. In the last years your country has cemented its European credentials. In 2008 you held two national elections. In both your citizens voted firmly in favour of a European future.
Three weeks ago the European Commission issued its opinion on Serbia's membership application. I warmly welcome the recommendation to grant EU Candidate Status to your country. Saying that I reflect the views of the majority of MEPs.
Serbia has worked hard these past few years. You pushed ahead with judicial reform, strengthening the rule of law and other areas linked to the Copenhagen criteria. You have made progress in combating corruption and organised crime at all levels. But this is not yet the end of the road and some hard work remains to be done in these areas.
You have as well taken important steps towards establishing a functioning market economy and – despite the global financial crisis – managed to maintain a level of macroeconomic stability. But enhancing competitiveness and tackling unemployment remains a priority as it is in many of our Member states.
And, perhaps just as importantly, you've acted positively in favour of reconciliation by adopting in this house the Srebrenica declaration. You have also arrested the remaining fugitive war criminals. By bringing Goran Hadzic and Ratko Mladic to justice, Serbia has taken a big step towards securing a European future for itself.
As President Tadic said "these arrests mark a new chapter in Serbia's history and a new era of responsibility". We all applauded the courage of this move!
Let there be no doubt. The Serbia of today is very different from the Serbia of the 1990s. The Serbia of today is a forward-looking country full of highly educated young people who are hungry for modernization. Hungry for a European future. It is this hunger for success that has led a new generation of Serbs to succeed on the European stage. Be it in art, in music, or in sport.
I was told recently that Ana Ivanovic started playing tennis in an abandoned Belgrade swimming pool when she was five years old. Sixteen years later, Ana became one of the world's best tennis players.
One of my favourites, Novak Djokovic, is currently the world's number one and a role model for millions of young Europeans. Your tennis players have out-served, out-paced and out-worked their opponents.
Nole's victory at Wimbledon this year and Ana's achievements provide a valuable lesson for Serbia and for Europe: hard work – and determination – can deliver progress and success. Serbs must not let difficult times and the demons of the past come between them and their dreams.
Distinguished members of Serbia's parliament, it is your duty to help the Serbian people realise this future. So what next? How can you build on this progress? How can we – the EU and Serbia - realise the full potential of our partnership?
Part of the answer is through reconciliation and regional cooperation. Reconciliation is key to the European integration process. History is often tragic, but problems which are ignored often come back.
Serbia has already gone a long way in dealing with the legacy of the wars of the 1990s and in promoting reconciliation in the region; it is in Serbia's interest today to step up efforts to normalise relations with Pristina.
The renewed crisis and accompanying violence in northern Kosovo is unacceptable to all of us. I was deeply concerned in late September when over twenty people – including four KFOR peacekeepers – were wounded.
We cannot allow the ghosts of the past to affect peace today. We need renewed dialogue and mutual goodwill. This can be done. You have shown that it is possible.
From March this year, EU-sponsored talks between Belgrade and Pristina were constructive. They led to agreements on several important issues. It is important that these agreements are now implemented and that further constructive steps are made.
All sides need to play their part in defusing the tension in northern Kosovo and in providing long lasting solutions for peace and stability. Allowing the free movement of persons and goods is a must for progress towards the EU. And this is not only for the good of the parties involved, but for the entire region as well as for all people in Kosovo. I strongly believe that Serbia can thereby make a positive contribution to the further integration of our continent.
Reconciliation does not mean forgetting the past. True reconciliation means remembering and bringing justice to those who suffered, and moving on. It is crucial that Serbia and Croatia build on recent steps towards historic reconciliation. The numerous meetings between President Tadic and President Josipovic show that you all share a commitment to European integration. It is my sincere hope that these efforts stay on course.
The story of Europe is a story of reconciliation. European integration helped bring France and Germany together after World War II. They became the economic engine of Europe. Enlargement also helped Poland and Germany reconcile their past. By committing yourselves to a common European future, Serbia and Croatia will achieve a lasting reconciliation.
The European Union and the international community must—and will—do all in their power to further this process. The EU cannot afford to neglect Serbia or the Balkans. We made this mistake in the past, and the consequences were tragic. But we've learned a lesson.
When I look at your country now, I am reminded of a phrase Ivo Andric once used to describe your country: "a small country between the worlds." But Serbia is not small – and it is not between worlds. As part of Europe, Serbia has a big future.
European integration is no longer a fantasy for Serbia – it is within your grasp, but only through hard work and concrete measures. Serbia must keep up its pro-democratic momentum - not only to meet your European goal, but first and foremost for the benefit of your own citizens.
You are very, and I underline this one more time, very close to the opening of the accession negotiations. The key requirement is to take concrete steps to normalise relations with Kosovo - and thereby become the region's frontrunner on the path of EU integration. The integration of the Western Balkans would be incomplete without having the region's strongest country in terms of population, economy and culture.
This will not be easy. I know this from personal experience. Ten years ago, as Prime Minister of Poland, I introduced a series of comprehensive reforms to get us on track for EU accession. My government pushed through four painful reforms: in education, health care, local administration and pensions. We closed down 22 out of 60 coal mines. In my home region!
As you can imagine, I was deeply unpopular. But it was worth it – the reforms paid off. Without these reforms Poland would not be what it is today – a confident and secure country, currently holding the EU Presidency.
But like Poland then, today you too are not alone. The EU will continue to be there for you. In the last ten years we committed over 2 billion Euro to Serbia in the form of grants and almost 6 billion Euro in the form of loans.
Once Serbia was on the periphery of Europe. Now you are on track to join the European Union. And to move closer to Europe's heart. The EU door remains wide open. It is now up to you to take that step. We are waiting to welcome you.
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