Dear President Kövér,
· I am delighted to welcome you to the European Parliament. Our meeting could not have been timelier since it reminds us of our continued commitment to the European Perspective of the Western Balkans.
· I wish to thank the Hungarian National Assembly, in particular President Kövér, the representatives of all the EU's National Parliaments, and the speakers from parliaments across the region for coming today to Brussels to reaffirm our common work "towards a more integrated Europe" - a Europe that includes the Western Balkans.
· The European Parliament remains strongly committed to the European future of the Western Balkans. Since the Thessaloniki summit in 2003, the EU door has remained wide open.
· Last year was particularly important for the region. After lifting visa requirements for Montenegrin, Serbian and Macedonian citizens, we approved visa liberalisation for Albania and Bosnia Herzegovina. Once all conditions are met, the people of Kosovo can count on our support to also get visa-free travel in the EU.
· Last year also saw Serbia and Croatia taking historic steps in reconciliation. Presidents Tadic’ and Josipovic’ numerous meetings exemplified their shared commitment to European integration, which has encouraged former enemies to live in peace, and to become a regional example in bringing stability and prosperity.
· At the end of last year, Montenegro was granted candidate status, while Croatia’s efforts brought it to the final stage in its accession negotiations. This is not just good news for these two countries, but for the entire region.
· However, despite these encouraging signs, the region still shares many challenges. All the countries in the region face a similar set of problems, namely enacting judicial reforms, stepping up the fight against crime and corruption, continuing regional reconciliation and cooperation with the Hague Tribunal.
· Recently we have been particularly concerned with signs of political instability in the region. Bosnia and Herzegovina still has no government since the elections in October and Albania has been hampered by a political crisis for nearly two years. Croatian, Serbian and Macedonian governments are facing calls for early elections. This can affect the normal functioning of institutions and prevent the necessary approximation to EU legislation. It is thus important for all political players to overcome their divisions and concentrate on the common EU goal. The constructive cooperation between the government and the opposition is essential.
· One of our challenges lies much outside the region's hands: enlargement fatigue is a real issue inside the EU. It thus remains crucial to convince our citizens of the merit of enlargement.
· At our meeting two working groups will address important issues: the first one will discuss cooperation in the area of freedom, justice and security, and the second will focus on the Integration of Citizens and cultural diversity.
· Let us remember that we gathered not only to share ideas. Our aim is to improve parliamentary oversight of the European integration process. The more open our debates are, the more successful we will be in providing parliamentary input for the European Council in June.
· Based on my experience, I know that the road to the EU is long and difficult. But judging from where we are today, we can say it was worth it. I thus encourage you to help make the region’s European perspective a European reality.
-Robert A. Golanski
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