Greece paves way for European prospects of Western Balkans
The citizens of the Western Balkans need a specific vision to feel welcome into the fold of the European Union while the concerned governments need to embark on specific road with a goal none other than the EU, according to a Greek package with five specific proposals on giving a new impetus to the European course of Western Balkan countries.
After presenting the proposals to the European Union’s General Affairs Council in Brussels on November 19, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said that Greece took the opportunity of tabling a very specific new initiative on the European prospects of the Western Balkans. She said that the time is very difficult for the Western Balkans and there is an urgent need for a specific vision and a specific goal than can be none other than the European vision.
Calling on the governments of 27 member states and the executive arm, the European Commission to explore the possibility to charter a path of specific moves to implement the Greek proposals, the Greek foreign minister stressed the need to convey a loud and clear welcome message to all the people of the Western Balkans.
“We believe that we will be having the possibility of discussing this proposal in more detail in December at the EU summit,” she said. Bakoyannis added that the initial response by her European counterparts, and by Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, was very positive. “We all realise that it is a difficult period that requires a substantive, aggressive and effective European policy on this issue,” she said.
Recalling that in 1999, Greece had formulated a comprehensive policy, the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) and in 2003, the Thessaloniki Agenda took it a step further along the elements inspired by the enlargement process, the Greek Foreign minister Bakoyannis reiterated the need to take “some new courageous decisions on the Western Balkans.”
Lamenting today’s EU accession prospect for the Western Balkans appearing distant and even uncertain, Bakoyannis said, “A clear prospect of membership is the most important and perhaps the most effective tool at out disposal, to help the countries of the Western Balkans overcome state weaknesses and political, social and economic challenges, and catch up with the rest of Europe.”
Answering journalists’ questions, Bakoyannis said, “We need to send a positive message to the whole region that they are not left alone there and we must do it by giving practical and tangible signals.” “We need to have a specific road map for moving from today’s position to further.”
Presenting the fivepoint proposal package also nicknamed “Thessaloniki II” to the journalists, George Koumoutsakos, spokesman of Greek foreign ministry summarised it as follows:
- Within this framework and as a first step, the EU should immediately sign Stabilisation and Association Agreements with Serbia and at the earliest with Bosnia Herzegovina: the two countries remaining within which internal problems haven’t permitted such a positive step so far
- Serbia, in the first place, followed by the rest of the countries that would have a SA Agreement but no candidate status, should be encouraged to apply for membership. The Commission could present the avis on the application in the fall of 2008. The December European Council of 2008 could decide about granting the candidate status to any applicant country
- A date for the start of Accession negotiations will be decided later on, depending on the progress on fulfillment of specific benchmarks that will be set. Any additional step in the accession process will depend on each country’s progress in meeting the specific and tailormade requirements set by the EU in full application of the principle of conditionality
- However, in order to have, through the European perspective, the effect we desire, we should combine it with measures that would translated this perspective into something practical and tangible for the peoples of the region. Something that corresponds to their basic requests. Already in Thessaloniki we declared, “We were aware of the importance the peoples and governments of the region attach to the perspective of liberalisation of the visa regime.” We had promised to help the countries to deal with these issues to make such a move possible. Following the visa facilitation agreements, that we signed this year, the EU should not provide the countries of the region with a road mal that would eventually lead to the visa liberalisation: A series of concrete and measureable benchmarks and an outline of the necessary steps with an indicative timetable
- Additional financial resources will also be necessary. Within out actual budgetary obligations, we should make full use of the “principle of flexibility” in order to guarantee that any additional available fund will be directed, as a priority, to the region of the Western Balkans. Furthermore and in the light of the net financial perspectives, we should explore all possibilities that would allow a substantial increase of aid, in an effort to meet the increasing needs and serve our own priorities, in this sensitive region at this very delicate of time.
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