European Western Balkans: What is the place of the Western Balkans in the global strategy of the EU?
Angelina Eichhorst: The EU Global Strategy on foreign and security policy, presented by High Representative Mogherini to EU Heads of State and Government in June 2016, is a clear signal to our partners in South Eastern Europe that none of us, neither the current nor future EU Member States, can deal alone with the complex challenges of today’s world. The Global Strategy is really about a common vision for facing the challenges, while pursuing our core interests, and holding fast to the fundamental values which underpin our interests. If there is one core message to take from this vision, it’s that we need each other. The EU has a strong interest in encouraging and supporting our neighbours and partners globally, and with the notion that the Western Balkans are Europe we are all one in working together. There is of course accession, a process grounded in strict and fair conditionality; there is the striving for modernity, prosperity and security; and there is the need to make the state and societal resilience of countries in South Eastern Europe really strong. What is also clear is the benefit to people’s everyday lives not just of the final destination, but also of the journey itself towards the EU, which anchors countries in stability and promotes reforms which improve a professional judiciary, economic conditions, service delivery, job creation. This is the only way to achieve our common objectives in a region whose past has too often been scarred by conflict, and it is why the importance of EU enlargement is underlined so clearly in the Global Strategy.
EWB: Bilateral disputes have become a major issue in the Western Balkan region. Do you think that the EEAS could take part in resolving such disputes, like it facilitates the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue?
AE: Regional cooperation and reconciliation, including good neighbourly relations with partners in the region, are central to relations between the EU and Western Balkan countries, and they are also a cornerstone of the Stabilisation and Association Agreements that bind us together legally. The Agreements provide a good incentive to encourage the governments of the region to tackle bilateral questions. One needs to get out of a zero-sum game approach when real problems between neighbours need to be put to an end. Political leaders of the region should, in a spirit of good and sustainable neighbourly relations, be ready to compromise. It is a sign of strength, not of weakness. It is not the EU’s role to facilitate or oversee negotiations on bilateral issues, in particular when Member States are involved, but the EU’s enlargement conditionality, as well as the focus on stronger regional cooperation, helps create the right environment, conducive to bilateral issues being resolved. The facilitation of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue has a very special setting. The EU facilitates, we do not impose. We put as much energy into this as both sides want to put into it, and sometimes a little more, since we are committed, 24/7, to assist, convene, discuss, and agree when needed. It is a slow process, but it is meant to be sustainable, irreversible. That is our goal.
EWB: How can the Belgrade Security Forum contribute to dialogue in the Western Balkans?
AE: I believe that regional events such as the Belgrade Security Forum are really valuable in fostering closer regional ties and more effective cooperation. The European Union itself is a prime example of both the need and the effectiveness of bringing European countries to the same table to forge common solutions to common challenges. Joint work and discussion in frameworks such as the Belgrade Security Forum are useful on a number of levels: they help participants to learn from each other what approaches work best on some difficult issues; exchanging views and experiences can help build common ground and common visions on challenges that affect all of us; and the opportunity to gather in one place provides the opportunity to build formal and informal links which encourage positive relationships across the region. This all the more important in an area like security, where cooperating and coordinating across borders is the only way to address effectively the evolving challenges we face.
EWB: Mrs. Eichhorst, thank you for your time. We are looking forward to see you in Belgrade next year on Belgrade Security Forum 2017.
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