Prime minister, ministers, distinguished guests,
Drawing up a scorecard for the Balkans - the European Commission is well used to doing this!
We do it every year through the enlargement package, with its strategy paper and progress reports. This is an incremental score card we build on year after year.
Today, the conference organisers are asking us to take a step back. To look at the last 20 years. To assess the long term developments and also to look into the future.
I will therefore address today the following points.
First, who has gained over the past 20 years?
Second, how do we ensure that those gains are not lost today or tomorrow?
Ladies and gentlemen,
Stepping back 20 years takes us to the month in which Vukovar fell: one of the emblematic events in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. And one of the lowest points in the history of the region.
The ensuing conflicts left wounds that are still being healed today.
Stepping back 10 years, the Ohrid Agreement was completed, which in many ways represents the end of a decade of instability, violence and conflict across in the region.
Taking 2001 as our starting point, the scorecard for the region deserves credit. Starting twenty years ago, from 1991, it is miraculous.
So, who has gained? In simple terms, all the citizens of Europe have gained - the citizens of the western Balkans and the citizens of our Member States.
-Across the Western Balkans:
-We have political and economic stability.
-The rule of law has been strengthened.
-Fundamental rights and minority rights are broadly respected.
As we heard during the morning session, despite the economic crisis, economies continue to develop.
This progress benefits first and foremost the citizens of the region. But it also benefits the European Union as a whole.
However, the region is not without its problems. Many challenges remain:
-Strengthening political institutions,
-Finishing the reform of the judiciary,
-Fighting organised crime and corruption,
-Ensuring freedom of expression,
-Fostering sustainable long term economic growth.
All of these are identified in our enlargement package as challenges.
But the main point is that the countries of the region wish to become Member States of the European Union. They wish to share our values.
Let us now consider the European Union's own score card.
20 years ago, we did not prevent the region from falling into the abyss of conflict. We did not succeed for many reasons. But we learnt important lessons: lessons with far reaching implications for the Western Balkans, and for wherever in the world that there is desire for change.
Through the Stabilisation and Association Process, we have brought the region to the point where membership of the European Union is a realistic objective. In the case of Croatia, it will soon become a reality.
Croatia today is a country transformed.
Croatia transformed itself because of the reforms undertaken, reforms made possible because Enlargement policy was credible.
For Member States, credibility means applying rigorous conditionality towards the applicants, but also providing them with a tangible European perspective as they fulfil the relevant conditions.
For the candidate and potential candidate countries, credibility needs to be built through a track record of credible reforms and implementation.
Where there is a lack of credibility:
-The incentive to transform is weakened;
-The ability to meet our strategic objectives is weakened;
-We risk losing the chance to cement our values.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the challenge for the future: how to maintain the incentives but also how to ensure that the work is done.
Let's consider this:
To help meet this double challenge, we developed a new approach for issues concerning 'Judiciary and fundamental Rights' and 'Justice Freedom and Security.' These issues are rooted in the core values of the European Union
In future negotiations:
-we suggest tackling these issues first and closing them last.
-We should closely monitor and ensure that Member States are fully involved.
-We will therefore be able to guide every country's efforts.
We need to be innovative in providing the incentives, while maintaining the essential rigour of our process. The alternative - putting these countries in quarantine - will not only harm them but will also harm us, our credibility, our future potential and deprive the people of the region of the benefits of the accession process.
This is why for Montenegro we propose opening negotiations. At the same time, the new approach for Chapters 23 and 24 will ensure that the reform of the judiciary continues successfully.
For Serbia, we have not set new conditions for candidate status. On the contrary, we have proposed candidate status on the understanding that Serbia reengaged in the dialogue with Kosovo and implements in good faith the agreements reached to date. The dialogue has now resumed and a further agreement was reached last week on mutual recognition of diplomas. But tensions in the North of Kosovo are still high and I pay tribute to President Tadic's call for the dismantling of the barricades yesterday and hope that today's meeting of the dialogue can make further progress. The 9 December European Council is close but Serbia can still successfully reach the finishing line and crown its major reform efforts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
These positive examples should not be taken to mean that all is well. Elsewhere in the region, recent developments have been disappointing. There is a lack of progress in reforms and often a lack of will to engage with the European agenda that people want.
Concerning the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, while we maintained this year our recommendation to open accession negotiations, core challenges remain. The prospect of European Union accession has been a driver of the reform process and it is thus all the more crucial that there is finally progress on the name issue. A solution is long overdue. Opening negotiations will benefit not only the country and the region but the EU as a whole.
I am encouraged by the decisive steps in Albania to build consensus on a number of reforms. I strongly encourage the ruling majority and opposition to sustain this constructive political dialogue and create new momentum towards EU integration. 2012 could finally be the year of opportunity.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, progress behind the scenes on the EU reform agenda in the last month, even if not yet represented by adopted legislation, has been positive. A state-level government is now urgently needed to drive forward the reform process and cement some of the recent positive developments. But our commitment and engagement and an increased EU role seems finally to be bearing fruit.
In Kosovo, we need to step up our engagement on a number of fronts. We are proposing to launch a structured dialogue with Kosovo on the rule of law; to advance with a trade agreement and participation in Community programmes and launch a visa dialogue. More generally, we need to ensure that Kosovo can fully benefit from the EU accession process. I would also flag that while the integration of Kosovo Serbs has improved in the South, tensions in northern Kosovo have increased. It is of utmost importance that Kosovo launches a comprehensive agenda for the north.
To conclude, I am committed - and the European Commission is committed - to support those who wish to overcome the remaining obstacles. We are committed to those who wish to build a European future. And we are committed to ensuring that in the years to come the winners on the score card are all members of the European Union.
There is an opportunity to make this happen, Croatia has paved the way. And we will work to support all those who wish to follow in its footsteps.