President Pahor: "Let not the Western Balkans become a frozen opportunity for the European Union"
Bled, 1. 9. 2021 | press release, speech
The President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor attended the 16th Strategic forum Bled (BSF).
President Pahor delivered a keynote address at the Leader's Panel on the enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkans.
As the founder and co-leader of the initiative Brdo-Brijuni Process and the host of the recent initiative's Leader's Meeting in May in Brdo pri Kranju, Slovenian President stressed the importance of faster enlargement process for security, stability and sustainable development of the countries in the region. He expressed his support to the efforts of the countries of the region to work more closely together, in particular the Open Balkans Initiative.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA
Below is the text of the keynote address by President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor (Check against delivery!).
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Bled Strategic Forum has traditionally been devoting special attention to the Western Balkans, and this year is no exception, when the leading theme of the Forum is the future of the European Union.
The Western Balkans are part of Europe and should be able to engage in discussions about its future.
I would like to stress the following:
it would be right and beneficial both for the EU and the Western Balkans if all Western Balkan countries joined the Union as soon as possible as the current situation is hardly tenable. Delaying or postponing the enlargement could have unforeseen and unwanted consequences for both sides.
the geopolitical interest in the EU enlargement is mutual. The European Union has – or should have – a geopolitical interest in its enlargement to the Western Balkans, and the Western Balkan countries have or should have a geopolitical interest in joining the European Union.
responsibility for the enlargement is mutual, too. The European Union should insist with strong political will on its enlargement to the Western Balkans as a political priority, and the Western Balkan countries should demonstrate greater willingness to adapt their legal order to the legal order of the EU, embrace its fundamental values and resolve their conflicts.
the EU enlargement is also increasingly becoming a matter of time. The slow pace of the process has at least four negative effects both on the Union itself and on the Western Balkan countries:
a) Weakening of mutual trust;
b) Slowing down reform processes;
c) Rise of nationalisms;
d) Opening up space to the influence of third countries.
The halting of the enlargement process amplifies the meaning of naive and dangerous ideas about changing borders. I firmly believe that new borders can never be drawn peacefully.
Only a swift enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkan countries can strengthen the principle of territorial integrity and thus the security of the region and the entire Union.
I believe that in its enlargement strategy the European Union should view the Western Balkans as a whole, not as particular parts, as is the case now. This, however, does not mean that it should cease negotiating with the governments of particular countries about their accession progress. It only means that the European Union and its member states should do more for the enlargement process to have a positive impact on cooperation between the Western Balkan countries. In short, these countries should see the enlargement process as an incentive for cooperation, and not for competition.
the Western Balkan region itself should make a greater effort to become more attractive. To this end, I have supported the Open Balkans Initiative since its launch in Novi Sad in 2019. I am aware of the differing views on this topic, but am certain that the initiative runs parallel to the accession process of these countries to the Union and supports it. I would never speak in its favour if I thought it was an alternative to the European Union.
The Open Balkans Initiative has great potential to accelerate the processes of economic and political cooperation between the countries of the region, which will lead to their faster development and increase their attractiveness for the European Union.
at the moment, negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania are at an acute halt. The problem is no longer only political; the situation has become a moral concern for the European Union. What has North Macedonia done for its European perspective? Everything and then some. And what has it received in return? Nothing.
In this sense, the integrity of the European Union is being severely tested. I’m trying to understand that the EU enlargement is not a priority at the moment, given all the problems in the Union and beyond. And yet I believe that an all-round effort to achieve progress in the negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania should remain a priority until this issue is closed.
in connection with the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina poses a special challenge for a number of reasons. The international community seems to be happy enough if the country is at peace, but I think the Union should once more ask itself how it could contribute to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress. Regarding the European perspective, Brussels should assume a more political approach, instead of a merely technical and bureaucratic one. Admittedly, heavy responsibility rests with the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but I am not talking about shirking responsibility. What is at stake are mutual interests if there is true political will. And the time is ripe.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I believe that the European Union has sufficient capacity to deal with its enlargement to the Western Balkans more intensely despite all the other topical issues on its plate. Let not the Western Balkans become a frozen opportunity for the European Union.