Historic moment for the common future of the Western Balkans
Joint press conference of Prime Minister Rama, Chancellor Merkel and EC President Barroso:
I am pleased to welcome today representatives of the Western Balkans. We have here Mr. Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, in his capacity as chairman of the South East Europe Cooperation Process. I also greet representatives of participating countries, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Slovenia, as well as European Commission President Barroso, who is engaged as everyone else to present a European perspective for these countries and we support him in this regard.
We have talked. In the conference held, the Federal Government has submitted some ideas. 100 years after the start of World War I, we are developing a new situation, so that in the Balkans there will be no more military conflicts. Therefore, we welcomed today eight prime ministers, ministers of economy and foreign ministers of the participating countries, who have been guests of Germany. We are interested and we can say that these countries have experienced numerous developments. The participation of the European Commission President confirms that there is a willingness of these countries to integrate in the EU. We believe that we will be following this imitative for four years. Next year, this meeting will take place in Austria. So, with this we would like to say that this is not a one-day event, but there will be a continuum, there will be a working process, and certainly there is a lot to be done in this process. It is about solving political problems, especially as far as those between Serbia and Kosovo are concerned. It must be said that recently have significant progress have been made in this respect, and I believe that also Bosnia Herzegovina will go even further in the future.
We talked also about regional cooperation. There are some elements, such as infrastructure, transportation, so that people can communicate with each other, so that people in the region can cooperate with each other. We have this idea to set up a network of the youth, where the youth can cooperate. I think we will follow a similar idea.
Prior to this conference, we had bilateral talks. Maybe the Albanian Prime Minister will speak on this perspective later. We talked and made it clear that we want the integration process to move more quickly so that these countries can integrate. Croatia and Slovenia are EU member states. Other countries have made progress; some of them have obtained the status of candidate country. Our intention is to push this process further, but it is up to the respective countries. Of course, people have great expectations, especially in terms of economic progress. I have heard from Mr Barroso that the EC is willing to help. Energy Commissioner Oettinger has spoken with ministers of economy and has shown his readiness. Likewise, Commissioner Füle has spoken as well. So, all together we want to share our experiences. Maybe, hear from representatives of the countries in the region what their expectations, their desires are, what they want from our region to work better, to be more successful economically, but also politically.
Once again thank you very much!
Prime Minister Edi Rama:
Thank you Chancellor Merkel for those comments, and above all thank you for taking the initiative to bring us together here in Berlin. Must be great to be leader of the country that won the World Cup. And a leader that the players wanted to be photographed with – it is usually the other way around!
Thank you President Barroso for being here with us today.
And let me thank all fellow Prime Ministers from the region for the good spirit shown during the preparation of this conference and today, during this historical moment that united all of us together in the name of hope for the sake of a better future.
And last but not least, I want to thank Chancellor Fayman for his readiness to host the next conference and thus insuring the needed process for the period ahead.
This has been an important moment for the Western Balkans. If we think back through our histories, not least the role of the Balkans in the war that began 100 years ago, or the hatreds and bloodshed that have scarred all of our countries since, we should take a moment to reflect why this meeting is so important for the Balkans and its geopolitical situation. It underlines once again the role of Europe as a force for maintaining peace and extending prosperity, and nobody deserves greater credit for that than Angela Merkel. And on behalf of all Western Balkans present here today, I want to express the highest appreciation to the Chancellor, for her personal engagement with our countries to try and improve the situation and give hope to the young generation of Europeans.
I am happy that we agreed today that these become regular gatherings, so that we may continue to deepen the bonds between the EU and the Western Balkans, as we in our countries continue to take the steps to join what has been a hugely successful political union of democracies.
Throughout the EU, I know, there are doubts and disappointments, anger even, and the anti-European tide is strong in some parts of Europe. But to us on the outside, we look to the EU not just as a success, but as an inspiration and hope for a better future. Even in taking the steps needed to be considered as a EU candidate, we have been able to make progress for our peoples: that shows the power of Europe and the EU as a great reforming and transforming idea. All of the Balkan countries here today commit ourselves to continuing along the path of reform so that one day we may join you as part of the European family of nations.
There is still a long way to go. But consider that this year, as the centenary anniversary of the First World War approached, is the very first year in our common history with no conflict between any of the Balkan countries. A region known for war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, taking the necessary steps to a better and more prosperous future.
All over the world we see the conflict that comes when people of differing views, differing values, differing religions, take up the sword and the bullet against each other. We know the danger and the damage in this. Better to work together than to fall apart. The values of tolerance and mutual respect between countries, between faiths and religions, are needed now more than ever, and again Europe can act as a shining light to the world on this, its past teaching painful lessons, its present leading by example.
It is precisely the religious harmony that exists in our region one of the main reasons why Pope Francis is visiting Tirana on September 21st, as his first European destination. The capital of a European country where Muslims and Christians live together in peace and prosperity. Our religious harmony is a fundamental value that we all together as Europeans must treasure. And lets be clear on that, we together are challenged to protect this religious harmony in the very heart of Europe from evident threats at Europe’s doorstep.
Much has been achieved so far, however there is no room for complacency. We know that we not only have to say what needs to be done, but do it, on both sides, and keep doing it, keep making the changes needed to ensure you see us as reliable partners and allies; see us as countries which are governed by the rule of law, with political, economic and democratic institutions that can be trusted; countries which can solve our bilateral issues peacefully and with good intent; countries which hold out for our people the possibility of EU membership provided they, like we, show that we are ready for it.
There will be difficulties for the current EU member states in this process too, which is why the leadership you have shown, Chancellor, has meant so much to us.
But we believe just as Europe can help us, so we can help Europe. We are an important region, both geo-politically, as well as geo-economically. We are a region in no doubt about where our future lies. And that certainty, I believe, can help refresh and revitalize the European ideal at a time of so much turbulence in the world.
What I hope we have been able to do is to show that this is not a one-way relationship, where we ask, and the EU says yes or no; but one where we bring so much to the table: great human capital and economic potential in areas like tourism, energy and infrastructure. We know we have to do more in the area of transport and connectivity, and we together should and will certainly do so.
As the Chair of South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) Albania circulated a Working Document, which set out ideas for large scale joint EU-Western Balkans initiatives in four possible areas:
– Infrastructure projects;
– Energy security;
– Support for Small and Medium Enterprises, human capital financing and education;
– Regional tourism projects.
By working on these initiatives, we will improve the state of our economies and make ourselves more competitive, more ready to become productive EU members. These will be of mutual benefit, and I am excited that we have taken the first steps down this road of major economic co-operation, though aware the hard work to make it happen now begins.
So thank you, Chancellor, for helping to make this happen. Thank you for the support and the leadership you have shown. Thank you for seeing, and seizing, the importance of our region. For our part, we too know that further leadership will be required, more changes, sometimes difficult in our countries, will have to be made. But we know too the prize is great, and we are ready to work tirelessly, and to lead with strength, to ensure it is delivered.
European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso:
Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Rama, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon,
Let me start by expressing my gratitude to Chancellor Merkel, not only for taking the initiative of hosting this summit but also for her strong support to the Western Balkans agenda and to the European policy regarding this region.
Our common goal is clear:
We want to see the Western Balkan countries to ultimately join the European Union.
This is in our joint political, economic and geo-strategic interest. This is the right way to defend the prosperity of all the citizens in the European Union and also to defend the European Union stability.
Further accessions will depend on our partners own speed of reforms. But they will happen over time and we don’t want to leave any doubt about it. We have seen – and recently I was in Albania and I could see directly, in loco, how important the European aspirations are for those citizens. I believe that a carefully managed process, built on clear and firm accession requirements, close dialogue and concrete support, is one that can ensure that our friends and partners will do what is necessary to prepare them for European Union membership.
Progress along this European Union path is tangible and real, as last year’s accession of Croatia showed, but also the recent important steps made by Serbia, Albania and Kosovo. Actually, the Commission is accompanying and supporting the countries of the Western Balkans on their path towards European Union. Strengthening the rule of law, improving economic governance, these are essential in this regard. Of course, the responsibility for key reforms lies in their own hands, in the countries themselves – As we have said over the years, this is fundamental.
Regional cooperation, on which we are focused today, is not a luxury in this region. Meanwhile, regional cooperation will make accession faster in practical and political terms. Politically they create stability, and practically they remove obstacles and will improve the conditions for economic and social development by fostering a positive and predictable business environment. This is what matters to all citizens of the Western Balkans, and today’s discussion showed that this is increasingly being understood.
Today, we discussed notably how to overcome the existing obstacles in the region caused by a lack of regional cooperation. There are simply too many “missing links” in terms of road and rail networks or the energy grid. It is therefore critically important that the countries of the Western Balkans, with strong international and European support, be regionally coordinated and in line with the European Union in order to speed up investments. For this we need to get funds also from pre-accession instruments, but they cannot only grants. They need also to be loans from the European Investment Bank, which is very active in the region, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and other international financial institutions. This is a very concrete step to bring those countries closer to each other and at the same time closer to the European Union.
Beyond infrastructure, we also want to connect people: young people, as it was mentioned by Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Rama and others, but also provide training of people, from judges to prosecutors and police officers. We are working in many areas concerning the strengthening of the rule of law. I am glad that Prime Minister Rama in his capacity as chairman of the South East Europe Cooperation Process is committed to carry this spirit of cooperation even further.
The EU will continue playing its leading part through financial aid and support under the Instrument for Pre-Accession with almost 12 billion Euros, foreseen for the period 2014-2020. So it’s not just good intentions. This is more than just good intentions. Twenty per cent of this funding will be targeted just for regional projects, but more fundamentally, the very fact that we kept our financial commitment at a high level, also in times of a financial crisis in Europe, is a good demonstration of the dedication of the European Union and its member states to this region.
This is message I’d like to convey mainly to the people in the region because, as Prime Minister Rama was saying during the meeting, I know that the people in the region are today looking at what happens here in Berlin. And they want to know if there is a real perspective for their membership. And my answer on behalf of the European Commission is YES, there is! And I’m sure that today’s meeting has helped to create and reinforce that momentum