Speech by Mr Olli Rehn
Member of the European Commission, responsible for the Enlargement
"New Commission - new impetus to the Stabilisation and Association Process of the Western Balkan countries"
EU-Western Balkan Forum
Brussels, 22 November 2004
Foreign Ministers, distinguished guests,
As today is my first day in office as Commissioner for Enlargement, I am particularly delighted to have the chance to meet you all and to outline some thoughts on our common priorities in the Western Balkans.
The move of the Western Balkans to DG Enlargement is a strong signal to the countries concerned that you are part of the process of European integration, and our shared goal is your future membership in the EU. The key priority of my mandate is to set the Western Balkans firmly on the path to European integration, with a pre-accession strategy in place.
The start of the new Commission provides us with an opportunity to assess how we can make our efforts more effective to help you in your necessary reforms and speed up your preparations for EU membership.
First of all, we continue to build our work on the Stabilisation and Association Process, which was reinforced in Thessaloniki last year when we agreed to introduce tools from the enlargement process. The signing today of the Framework Agreements for opening Community Programmes to your participation means that we have put yet another instrument in place. This is a tangible signal that we want you in the EU family. I trust you will make this a real success and that it will enhance the EU perspective also among your citizens, businesses and the youth.
It is worth underlining that the Thessaloniki Agenda is a joint agenda. We both have to do our part. You need to fulfil your commitments, which means implementing all the recommendations of the Commission's annual reports. It means, in particular, full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which is a sine qua non of making progress in pre-accession.
The visa question was is of particular concern to the countries of the region. I understand your impatience and desire to be able to travel easily. However, making progress on this issue depends on making progress on reforms, especially in justice and home affairs.
The Commission's Annual Report on the SAP is a key instrument to measure progress and to ensure a reality check. We are going to move the reporting to the autumn next year, in order to make the SAP Annual Report coincide with the Regular Reports on the candidate countries. This will facilitate a more consistent and systematic approach to assess and advise the countries of the region on their track of EU integration.
Moreover, we need to further reinforce regional cooperation. I find it useful to approach and look at South-East Europe as a whole, where those less advanced can benchmark the more advanced countries.
This applies especially to economic and social development, which is of great concern to the Commission. We should see South-East Europe more and more as one economic space, within the European framework; today it is fragmented, sometimes even within countries.
I note with appreciation the joint statement of the Foreign Ministers of the SAP countries on your commitment to regional cooperation, especially as regards developing free trade, common energy market and transport infrastructure, as well as fighting organised crime and corruption.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The countries of the region have come a long way in the stabilisation process. Yet, there is no room for complacency. The events in Kosovo last March were a reminder of that. The countries should take maximum advantage of the efforts of the High Representative Javier Solana and the CFSP instruments to enhance stability. Now, you need to complete the stabilisation process, cement progress made to date, and move on.
As you get closer to EU membership, the nature of your work will gradually change. The current focus on achieving minimum standards will no longer be enough; the rationale will become one of preparing you to be able to function successfully as future Member States of the EU.
In the coming years, we must be able to move more and more from stabilisation towards association. The recent history of your region has left many of you with particular challenges, such as post-war reconciliation, refugee return and organised crime, which you have to overcome. I am confident that you can meet these challenges.
Working towards EU membership is a joint project which will transform your countries into the stable, prosperous countries we all want them to be. I am looking forward to working with you, with this objective in mind.