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Foreign Minister Droutsas’ speech at Montenegro’s Public Administration Directorate (Podgorica, 27/01/11)

Bringing Europe to the heart of the Western Balkans:
The story of Montenegro

Dear Milan, thank you very much for these warm words of welcome and also for the hospitality today and tomorrow, during our meeting of the South Eastern European Cooperation Council.  You may hear all a little bit of my accent in my English, a little bit of German accent, more specifically an Austrian accent, so this proves that I spent quite some years in Austria, in Vienna, this is why also my personal links also Leopold Maurer are very strong, so I don’t know whether I have to apologize for this accent, but I hope you will understand my words. 

Let me say that it is a particular pleasure for me to be here today and I must tell you that I am really excited to have the opportunity to speak to people in public administration, those people preparing their country’s -your country’s- European future. My aim is not just to give a lecture, although I sometimes look back to my time at the University of Economics in Vienna, in Austria, when I spent some years of my professional career, but I am really, genuinely interested also in hearing your thoughts on Europe, on the future of Europe maybe, but also your future within Europe.  How you see your country’s future in Europe and as the Minister Milan said, of course I am at your disposal to answer any questions you have or to get also in any kind of discussion you would like.

Because, and let me start our discussion with this, the truth is that we, Ministers, at this moment I belong to this species, when we are sitting in closed sessions in Brussels, talking about issues like EU enlargement in the Western Balkans, we lack the input of people who live in this region and feel the impact of our decisions, although I claim for myself that I do know the feelings of the peoples in the region, Greece is part of the region, so this is why I also think that Greece is maybe the most credible voice within European Union to talk about issues of EU enlargement to the Western Balkans.  I think Greece is the most credible voice; when Greece says we want to see the whole region of the Western Balkans, all of our neighbouring countries becoming full members of the European Union.  Outside the conference hall, many of my colleagues are also faced with public opinion, public opinion in their countries that is suffering from so-called enlargement fatigue; this is also one of the modern words we have in the European Union, but unfortunately it also mirrors reality which we have to take into account.  And enlargement fatigue has also to do with this constant institutional psychoanalysis, if you want, that the European Union puts itself through with questions: Are we an intergovernmental or a supranational organization? Do we want a Europe of states and nations, or a Europe of peoples?  These are all questions that, in the whole history of the European Union, the European Union member states and public opinion were faced with.

So, I would like you to tell me, after I finish with my brief introduction, for example, how your fellow citizens reacted to last year’s liberalization of the visa regime in your country. For the Commission and many of our partners in the European Union, this decision was, in a sense, the next stage, if you want, in a preordained process: you met, your country met the prerequisites and the visa requirement was lifted and this is an important development, because it had also great practical impact on the day-to-day lives of Montenegrins and it meant no more waiting in lines outside consulates, it meant the end of an era of limitations.  Maybe it also meant the end of some income for certain countries, like Greece, of the visa requirement, but this is something that we were very willing to leave aside.

But it also meant a lot to us in Greece too, because on that New Year’s holiday, when the visa requirement was lifted for Montenegro and some other countries in the region, there was also an important increase in visitors from Montenegro, Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to Greece, and we also needed to make special arrangements to deal with the increased volume of arrivals at the borders.

By this, I want to say that Greece doesn’t see Montenegro’s European course, and that of the Western Balkans as a whole, as just some bureaucratic process. This is important; the completion of European enlargement in the Balkans is something that impacts us directly. And that is why we have always had –and we continue to have– a vision for the Balkans: a vision for the Balkans as a single space where people, products and services will circulate freely. A European neighbourhood, if you want, in the south-eastern corner of the European Union. 

And it is true that we didn’t get here overnight.  And given the region’s troublesome recent past, we have to be realists, our region, the region of the Balkans is not the most easy region, it’s not the easiest region, we had to invest a great deal of energy and effort in opening a new chapter for the region, based on cooperation and good neighbourly relations.  Good neighbourly relations is also for us a key word when we are talking about the further enlargement of the European Union.  So, the South East European Cooperation Process, which Montenegro is currently chairing and tomorrow we will have our first informal Ministerial Council, was also an initiative Greece has participated in decisively right from the outset.

Enlargement, I am convinced about this, has proved to be one of the most successful EU policies, and Leopold Maurer, who is present here, has been working many years in the competent department, the Directorate General for enlargement, and is well aware of this. 

These things are things that we should not forget when we are discussing, when we are talking about the future enlargement process of European Union towards the Western Balkans.  And again, I am proud to say that it was during Greece’s Presidency in European Union, back in 2003, that the cornerstone, if you like, of the Union’s approach towards the Western Balkans, the well-known “Thessaloniki Agenda”, was laid, including the principle of the European perspective of the region as a whole.

So, today, when the fatigue I described is so prevalent, we cannot stop halfway. And I want you to give me arguments in our discussion, so that at the next Council of Ministers in Brussels, I can argue that despite again growing skepticism and the prevailing enlargement fatigue, we need to reaffirm the EU’s unequivocal commitment to the European perspective of the Western Balkans and especially also during a period of time when we see again some developments in our immediate neighborhood, that are not the best image and the best message also to the European Union; that the countries of the Western Balkans are stable and that the enlargement towards the Western Balkans is something convincing for European Union public opinions.

To this end, may I remind that Greece put forward a new initiative, a new proposal, what we call the “Agenda 2014” initiative, with a view to speeding up the process of integrating our Western Balkan partners and friends into the European family. Our message was very simple, but was also very clear, that full membership is an achievable goal. Τhat the region has to remain high on the European Union agenda and this is the right moment not only to renew the European Union’s commitment to the region at the highest possible level, but also to chart a clear course ahead, in concrete terms and on the basis of the existing conditionality.

Let me try to explain to you in some simple words why Greece decided to take this concrete initiative and why we decided to choose the date of 2014.  Because I am the first who is very realistic about developments in European Union and I know that things take some time in the development of European Union, so we are actually beginning when we said, ok, “Agenda 2014” for me it was clear that this year, 2014 was maybe a not realistic or over ambitious target date.  But as I said, we also have to address common opinions, public opinions in European Union member states and you clearly see that public opinions are hesitant, are reluctant with the idea of a further enlargement of the European Union.  So, my feeling is and my conviction is you also have to play, if you want, or to use, to make use of symbolisms and 2014 was a symbolic date, because it is 100 years after the beginning of the First World War, which started in our region, in Sarajevo, so we wanted to say and remind public opinions and EU member states that the European Union in its core is a peace project, maybe the most successful peace project we have seen in our continent, and this what we also have to remind the peoples of Europe of and to play also with this notion of the peace project.  Because I am deeply convinced that open wounds we are still facing and are still existing here in our region, they can best be overcome and solved through the European accession process.  This is why Greece, this is why we chose 2014, as a symbolic date and not in order to say 2014 the whole thing must be done, because the first thing we had to do was again to wake up, if you want, within the European Union this idea, that we have the Western Balkans, it is part of Europe and the Western Balkans must become member of the European Union. 

As I said, back in 2003 we created this momentum, we created this idea.  Our feeling was that a few years later, 2009, when we came up with this initiative of the “Agenda 2014” that this momentum was lost and that we had to revive it.  This is why we took this initiative, the “Agenda 2014” initiative and I think I can claim that we have achieved our first goal, which was exactly to bring again the enlargement process and the Western Balkans again high on the agenda of the European Union, and I think that also the meeting we had back in the summer, in Sarajevo, under the Spanish EU Presidency, where we had a meeting again of the European Union with all the countries of the Western Balkans, that this was the first sign, the first important sign that the Western Balkans are again high on the agenda of the European Union. 

Let me also say and state clearly that the Western Balkans and the European future of the Western Balkans will once again be an important priority for the next Greek Presidency in European Union; Greece will exercise, will hold the Presidency of the European Union in the first semester of 2014, so building on the successful example of the 2003 Thessaloniki Agenda, our goal is to convene again a new EU-Western Balkans Summit Meeting, if you want we can already call it, right now, “Thessaloniki II Meeting” and our goal is to adopt there a political declaration that sets a specific, ambitious and yet realistic target for completing the accession process of Western Balkan countries.  And in doing this, we have three basic goals, which I would like to briefly describe to you:

First, the creation of what we want to call a “Group 2014”, consisting of member states which will form something like a “preparation alliance” with candidate countries and which will participate actively in the process, meaning that groups of member states shall cooperate closely with a candidate country in the preparation for EU accession.

Second, the development of close ties of cooperation amongst candidate countries on a regional level, strengthening existing cooperation platforms and putting greater emphasis on the interaction among these platforms, and I think we need to capitalize on the experience we have already gained through regional cooperation platforms, like the Southeastern European Cooperation Process, but also the Regional Cooperation Council, and we must also maximize cooperation through sectoral networks [audio discontinued] target for full accession of the Western Balkan countries and I strongly believe that this will be the new catalyst for change and progress. It will be the incentive, the real incentive for reforms and a basis for accessing governments in the region and this will be a vital pledge from Europe, confirming that the Western Balkans are part of the family. We have not really thought about what this target date could be, but if I use the same argumentation and the same philosophy, if you want, we used with our initiative “Agenda 2014”, talking about 100 years after the beginning of the First World War, I could easily imagine that a realistic timetable or target date could be 2018, meaning 100 years after the end of the First World War.

Let me also say very directly and very clearly that Montenegro has a special bond and special place on this course. A special place because it is a true success story that serves as a compass for its fellow travellers in the region and, please, just have a look at your accomplishments in the past year or so.
It was once again a very important year for Montenegro’s European aspirations. Just before the end of 2009, the EU decided to implement the visa liberalization regime for the citizens of Montenegro, as I said earlier. In May 2010, the Stabilization and Association Agreement entered into force. Finally, the granting of candidate status by the December 2010 European Council, and this has probably been the most important development so far in Montenegro’s European course.

Let me also say that we supported the Commission’s proposal that Montenegro be granted the status of candidate country and the European Council’s decision is an acknowledgement of the progress made so far by Montenegro. Moreover, it is an open call, if you want, to follow the path of the necessary reforms and adaptations even more vigorously. And it was in effect a message of encouragement and optimism to the Montenegrin people, valid for the Western Balkans as a whole, because let us not underestimate those messages that go to the region as a whole, when a part of the region, a country of the region is successful.

The challenge now is to deal successfully with the remaining tasks. The Commission’s Opinion, as we all know, has underlined seven key priorities that have to be met. And in its December 2010 conclusions, the Council declared that once the Commission has assessed that Montenegro has achieved the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria and has met, in particular the key principles, the opening of accession negotiations will be considered by the European Council.

So, the Opinion should work as an incentive and may I say that we encourage you to move with the necessary reform agenda and to move this reform agenda forward. Successful performance, especially on the rule of law and the reform of the judiciary, the fight against corruption and organized crime, the strengthening of the capabilities of public administration, just to mention the most important ones and the successful performance on those will be the ticket for the next phase.

The Commission’s seven key priorities are not only closely related to the Copenhagen criteria and the Stabilization and Association Process conditionality, but are also interwoven and mutually reinforcing. For example, a strong legislature is one of the central elements of democracy itself. Equally, the judiciary and the rule of law are not just technical requirements, but a basic condition for the full respect of human rights.

And the same applies, I guess, for the fight against corruption and organized crime, which, in addition, are fundamental to the proper functioning of the market economy.

Finally, the reform of the public sector is not just a prerequisite for launching accession negotiations, but also a key element for their successful conduct, because -do not forget about this- and this is also a political message, if you want, not only for your country but all the aspiring candidate countries, opening of accession negotiations. That’s easy, that’s a political decision that the member states take.  The actual contacting of accession negotiations, this is the difficult thing to do.  This is really hard work, it takes time, there will also be setbacks, there we will also see that member states will come out with also their requirements and their special sensitivities and interests.  This is when the real work then has to be done and I think that US representatives of the public administration, it’s then your turn to play the necessary role.  And in all these key priorities that we have just mentioned, are not just conditions for Montenegro’s eventual integration; they are essential for Montenegro’s preparations for functioning as an equal partner in the European family, once Montenegro has become a member state.

In other words, the criteria and requirements set by the EU are not “frustrating hurdles”, if you want, that need to be overcome. I would say it’s quite the opposite. They serve as a useful incentive to adapt in the best possible way to European standards. Their fulfillment means that the country has incorporated the founding principles and values of Europe.

Let us not forget that the pace at which each and every Western Balkan country moves towards the European Union lies primarily in each country’s own hands; it depends on how each individual country performs and the sooner a country addresses the accession challenges, the better the negotiation process will go.

In this sense, the story of Montenegro, I will not get tired of repeating this, is a success story. It’s a true success story and this is also due to you, it is not only the work of the political leadership of the country and persons like my good friend Milan, it is due to you, the core of the country’s public administration, the motor force, if you want, behind your country’s European course. So, let me appeal to you, don’t leave things in the middle.

I wholeheartedly wish you strength and every success in this path, in the continuation and finalization of Montenegro’s success story and your way to EU membership.  And let me once again state, what I have also said publicly today, I am convinced that the future, the immediate future of Montenegro, but of the entire region of the Western Balkans, lies in our European family, in the European Union, in this community of values.  This is, I think, the only way to go, there are no alternatives.  And rest assured that Greece stands next to you, as it has been standing next to Montenegro all this time, as a reliable partner and friend in this path to the European Union.

So, once again, thank you very much for your time and I am looking forward to your questions and a discussion with you.

Last Updated Monday, 31 January 2011