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[Check Against Delivery]
José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Remarks by President Barroso following the Western Balkans Summit
Berlin, 28 August 2014
Prime Minister Rama,
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 long term prosperity of all the citizens in our European family and also to defend European stability.
Further accessions depend on our partners own speed of reforms. But they will happen over time. 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.
And I believe that the carefully managed process, built on clear and firm accession requirements, close dialogue and concrete support that has been put in place is one that can ensure that our friends and partners will do what is necessary to prepare them for European membership.
Progress along this European 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.
The Commission is accompanying and supporting the countries of the Western Balkans on their European track. Strengthening the rule of law, facilitating regional co-operation, improving economic governance and public administration are essential in this regard. Of course, the responsibility for key reforms lies in their own hands, in the countries themselves – “Fundamentals first!”, as we have said over the years.
To enable progress, regional integration and co-operation, on which we focused today, are both crucial. They are not a luxury!
Regional integration and cooperation will make accession faster and easier – in political and practical terms: Politically they create stability, and practically they remove obstacles. They also 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 still many practical 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 international support – and certainly strong European support – and in a way that is regionally coordinated and in line with the European Union, speed up infrastructure investments.
For this we have some money, in terms of the “IPA”, Pre-Accession Assistance. But it cannot only be from grants, it also has to be from 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. So this is a very concrete step to put those countries at the same time closer to each and closer to the European Union.
Beyond physical infrastructure, we also want to connect people: young people, as it was mentioned by Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Rama and others, but also training of people, from judges to prosecutors, police officers and many others. We are working in many areas that have to do with the rule of law system.
I am glad that Prime Minister Rama in his capacity as chair 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 targeted financial aid. Under our Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance – the “IPA” – almost 12 billion euros in aid are foreseen for the period 2014-2020. So it’s not just good intentions, 12 billion euros is more than good intentions. Twenty per cent of this funding will be targeted just for regional projects.
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. 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.
I thank you for your attention.